The block pull is one of my favorite deadlift variations for improving top-end pulling strength. This variation is different from a rack pull because you pull from a lower starting position.
From a coaching perspective, I’ll program and use block pulls for building deadlift strength from mid-shin to lockout. This range of motion can be tough for some lifters and block pulls help you improve through this range of motion efficiently.
In my block pull guide, I’ll cover how to properly set up and perform block pulls and discuss the benefits of block pulls along with mistakes to avoid.
Block pulls can be an awesome exercise for lifters wanting to improve their deadlift strength from mid-shin to lockout. This exercise focuses on targeting that specific range of motion and can be great for building the posterior muscles.
How To Properly Perform Block Pulls
Perfect your setup
The first step of great block pulls is mastering your setup. Whether you’re using stacked plates or blocks you want to make sure they’re set to an appropriate height.
In general, most lifters will want to aim to have the barbell sitting around mid-shin to just below the knee. Once your blocks are set, set up like you normally would for deadlifts with your normal stance and grip.
Coach’s Note: If you use stacked plates as your blocks make sure you account for the ridges in the plate when setting up and performing consecutive reps. Barbells hitting the shins or rolling away are never fun.
Pull and press into the ground
After you’ve set, create tension like you normally would for your deadlift and start to initiate your block pull. Think about driving the feet through the floor and pressing while pulling up on the weight.
I love using the coaching cue, “Press the earth away”, because it gets the quads more active when extending the knees which can help you move more weight efficiently.
Glutes through the bar and squeeze
As you lock out your block pull, think about driving the glutes through the bar and squeezing the quads. The squeeze of the glutes and quads signals that both joints have hit full extension and you’re ready to progress into your next rep.
Since block pulls can typically be performed from an overload context and start higher off of the ground, they can be great for building the posterior muscles hence why I love the cue, “Glutes to bar.”
Control the weight and repeat
After you’ve locked the weight out, you want to control the eccentric or lowering part of the movement. You DO NOT need to move with a super slow tempo here, but you want enough control so the weight doesn’t bounce off of the blocks.
As your weight gets heavier, it’s important that you create a nice harmonious flow between reps. This is when consistent sequencing of the hips and knees can be important.
Block Pull Benefits
The devil’s in the details with block pulls and the why behind using them. Below are some of my favorite block pull benefits and reasons for using them with my clients and my programming.
1. Great for Working Through Mid-Shin Sticking Points
A sticking point in the deadlift is an area that typically causes you to miss reps or struggle to maintain form. The mid-shin is a range of motion that can give a lot of lifters issues especially when working with heavier weights.
If you’re wanting to work through a mid-shin sticking point, then using a block pull can be more productive for addressing this range of motion compared to a normal deadlift.
By elevating the barbell to mid-shin height, we can focus on starting a block pull from the exact area that causes issues. This in turn can be great for giving you a better means to direct all of your attention and effort to this specific range of motion.
Plus, in a normal deadlift rep, you’ll accumulate more fatigue when breaking the floor, so a block pull can be a good tool to work around this and get even more specific with the range of motion you want to train through.
On top of this, since we’re elevating the barbell we can typically load block pulls heavier compared to traditional deadlifts while working with higher volumes so we can get a lot of exposure to building on our mid-shin deadlift skills.
2. Useful for Building the Glutes and Hamstrings for Deadlifts
In the deadlift, different muscles will be more or less active depending on the range of motion you’re working through. In general, you’ll have more quad and hamstrings off of the floor, then as you lift the weight your hamstrings and glutes will start to take over.
Basically, as you lift deadlift reps higher you’ll have more posterior muscles take over as your glutes are becoming more advantaged to extend the hips and lock reps out.
If you notice that your hamstrings and glutes are lagging in your deadlift and you want a deadlift variation that’s super specific to your deadlift reps then a block pull can be a good variation to explore.
While I love Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) for building the posterior, block pulls can be even more specific and can help you not only build the hamstrings and glutes with heavier loads but also improve your skill of deadlifting so it can be a win-win.
Don’t forget the deadlift is a skill and how our muscles move and produce force during different exercises is individual and should be trained frequently. If your goal is building the posterior muscles for a deadlift-specific goal, then block pulls can be useful.
3. Better for Barbells Compared to Rack Pulls
While some coaches and athlete love rack pulls, I think they’re overrated and pretty useless for most lifters. In my opinion, a block pull is not only more productive than a rack pull for deadlift strength but it also saves a gym’s barbells.
Heavy rack pulls can wreak havoc on your own or your gym’s barbells. The way the barbell is positioned on the rack and with the weight typically used with them barbells will bend at a faster rate which is not great for anyone.
In a block pull, you won’t run into this issue since the plates are what’s sitting on the elevated surface. Plus, if you are wanting to do rack pulls for the “lockout benefit” you can elevate a block pull to the same elevation as a rack without breaking barbells.
I’ll save my rant for another piece of content but rack pulls are overhyped and often not needed for most of the intermediate lifters that use them for deadlift lockout purposes.
Block Pull Muscles Worked
While a block pull may not be my go-to exercise for muscle hypertrophy, it’s worth noting what muscles will get trained with this exercise. This way you can more efficiently program intensities and accessories to accommodate your goals.
Primary and Secondary Muscles Used In Block Pulls
- Gastrocnemius (calves)
*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement
Coaching Note: If you’re new to block pulls experiment with them for a few blocks with different volumes and intensities to see how you respond. You may find that they give you an awesome stimulus for posterior muscles at certain heights and weights.
Block Pull Mistakes
If you’re programming block pulls for strength and building your posterior, then you want to make sure you’re executing them correctly. Here are two block pull mistakes that I constantly see lifters make.
1. Rushing Through Reps
The first mistake that I see lifters make is rushing through their reps. Block pulls can be awesome for overloading specific ranges of motion and if our goal is a particular range then we want to spend time producing effort in said range.
For example, if you struggle just below the knee with your deadlift, then I’d suggest working with a slow start block pull from that height or using a tempo and starting your pull just below that range of motion.
By doing this, you’ll get to put a ton of effort into the area you want to improve and this effort paired with a slower tempo can improve both your physical abilities through your sticking point and also increase your mental capacity to stay in tough pulls.
2. Changing Deadlift Setup
Another mistake I see lifters often make with block pulls is changing elements of their pull or setup. For example, just because the weight is elevated doesn’t mean you should change your deadlift stance or grip width.
Your stance and position should reflect the height at which you’ve set your barbell and if we were to film you from a block and without a block your position should be similar.
Remember, you’re using block pulls for carryover to your deadlift so the more consistent you can stay with your form the better off you’ll be regarding deadlift skill and strength carryover.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:What are block pulls good for?
Q:What is a block pull?
Q:What muscles do block pulls work?
Q:What is the best height for block pulls?
When used with strategy block pulls can be an awesome exercise for building your relative and top-end deadlift strength. This exercise can also be great for working through deadlift sticking points.
I also like block pulls over rack pulls because they can be easier on barbells and it’s easier to micro-adjust a block pull’s height.
If you have additional questions on block pulls and programming them for your goals, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).