The Block Pull: My New Favorite Exercise

Today, I set another PR. This time it was with the 3″ block pull. Many powerlifters prefer to pull off of 4″ blocks when they perform block pulls, but I like 3″ more.

Block pull

Since I started following the 2 x 4 template (which I will release on Monday), the block pull and the front squat have become my favorite exercises. I feel that they’ve definitely contributed toward building my powerlifting total.

The block pull is not the same as a rack pull. It just feels different. I never liked rack pulls much. But I freakin’ love block pulls. Some lifters are much stronger off of blocks than they are off of the ground, some lifters are equally as strong, and some are weaker off of blocks. The blocks do tend to keep you in better position, and they don’t beat you up as much as deadlifts from the floor, so they help keep you fresh. Here’s a video me pulling 585 lbs.

 

If you haven’t experimented yet with the block pull, I recommend giving it a try.

18 Comments

  • will says:

    Bret,

    Is there a reason that 45lb plates are a certain height? I find that the bar is too low to the ground for my body type. I lack hip flexion range of motion, so in order to get down into a deadlift I need to round my spine.

    If 45lb plates were made taller, similar to the block pull height, I think a lot of people with back injuries wouldn’t fear deadlifts or get injured as much because they are in more of a neutral spine.

    I just wanted to know if the 45lb plates are a certain height on purpose or if they are just an arbitrary height.

    The larger the diameter of the 45lb the higher up off the floor the barbell would be.

    • Bret says:

      Will, I suppose plate height is just tradition. I’ve thought of this same thing often over the years and I completely agree with you.

      • Doctor Octopus says:

        If you do a web search you can find 45# plates that are 26 inches in diameter. The ones I’m looking at are called “Wagon Wheel” because that is what they look like.

  • will says:

    Also Bret,

    You can probably explain this better. I was reading something Rippetoe said about glute activation here:
    http://startingstrength.com/resources/forum/showthread.php?t=22529&page=1

    I will quote him below:
    “You cannot believe how often I hear this ridiculous shit, and we were just talking about this yesterday. I frustrate more easily than you, I assure you. Apparently, there is some government agency tasked with the job of convincing everybody that the entire American populace has sleeping glutes that won’t “fire” and that a special exercise must be performed to wake them up.

    People: nerves make muscles contract. If you perform a movement that requires the contraction of a muscle, like a squat that incorporates the external rotators because you squatted in a way that produces external femoral rotation, and hip extension because the hips have to extend when you stand up, then the muscles that produced the external rotation and hip extension are working, or “firing” if you are a PT. This means that the nerves that make them contract are working too. You know this because the femurs externally rotated and the hips extended, and the muscles caused this to happen since they are what move the bones. And here is the really fascinating part that is apparently so much like integral calculus that nobody seems to understand it: if you learn to squat in a way that uses external femoral rotation, you’re “firing” your glutes BECAUSE YOU CAN’T SQUAT THAT WAY IF YOU DON’T. ” – Rippetoe

    I think what he is not understanding is that the glutes will still fire but they will have decrease motor unit recruitment. Meaning that not all of the motor units will fire. They will have some glute motor units firing and more motor units firing from the hamstrings.

    Reciprocal inhibition is a real phenomenon. If the the hip flexors are adaptively shortened, they can inhibit the recruitment of all of the motor units to the glutes. The hamstrings will pick up the slack.

    Also in regards to externally rotating the femur . Couldn’t the external rotators of the leg externally rotate the femur during a squat? like the piriformis, superior gemellus, obturator internus, inferior gemellus quadratus femoris ?

    The glute medius and glute minimus could also externally rotate the femur if the glute maximus was reciprocally inhibited or injured.

    • Bret says:

      Will, I can see Mark’s point. There aren’t many world class squatters and deadlifters with small glutes. However, there are thousands upon thousands of lifters who have improved their glute activation and also their squat/deadlift mechanics from incorporating glute activation drills and hip thrusts. You can’t possibly understand it if you haven’t tried it. If I were in Mark’s shoes, and I’d squatted and deadlifted my whole life (and prescribed them to thousands of lifters) and never tried a hip thrust, I’d probably make the same assumption (he has badmouthed hip thrusts before). But I conducted an experiment here that examined this exact topic: https://www.t-nation.com/training/mind-muscle-connection-fact-or-bs. Moreover, many of the powerlifters I train with have noticed enhanced performance getting out of the hole when they squat and locking out deadlifts when they started incorporating hip thrusts. Many benefit from simple glute activation drills. I can name several 800 lb squatters and deadlifters who have noticed this, so Mark should keep a more open-mind. I wish that the hip thrust was an accessory lift in his Starting Strength book. He should put it in a future edition – people benefit from doing it and it’s different from a power clean. The constant tension is great for glute growth, and what’s good for glute growth is good for basic barbell strength. Anyway, people’s nerves aren’t “severed,” and they’re definitely able to contract their glutes. If you make them sprint or squat heavy (properly), they’ll use their glutes. But they won’t use them optimally unless they learn properly and focus their attention on glutes. Over time, it becomes second nature. And for some lifters, activating the glutes comes naturally. For others, it does not. The latter category stands to benefit greatly from glute activation drills and hip thrusts. At any rate, I have a lot of respect for Mark and have learned from him over the years. But in this case I think he’s not telling the entire story.

    • SS physical therapist says:

      words such as “shut down”, “firing”, “activating” are used to “dumb it down” and explain things to someone who may not have a strong background in anatomy/physiology.
      Glutes do work in the squat, but if you are not using the proper form they may fire less (look up motor neuron recruitment) and other muscles may compensate. Using more weight than weak glutes can handle can also alter your form and utilize stronger muscles to compensate.
      Therefore performing some isolation exercises, such as hip thrusts, may help recruit more motor neurons and teach the glutes how to extend the hip with less assistance from other muscles (motor learning). Proper training/coaching for squat is needed to follow it up.
      Others choose to not perform isolation and just concentrate or retraining squat mechanics to get to the same goal.

  • Tyler Satnick says:

    In response to Will,
    Bret and Rip are not at odds. Rips message is that you get great glute function from squatting properly, Bret’s is that an entire arensenal of exercises leads to the greatest glute development compared to squats alone. The same applies to developing another other region of the body, compound lifts are phenomenal but to really bring up something like the Lats, Glutes, Quads, Pecs, etc you need to use movements that force them to handle a significant amount of the work, not exactly totally isolating them. Bret doesn’t think the Glutes don’t work in the squat he just thinks there are better loading parameters, positions, vectors, etc that do a better job. Rip is quoted saying “he doesn’t have a favorite muscle” and therefore isn’t interested in the glutes to the same degree “the glute guy” is. Nothing wrong with that, his job is to spread the word about barbells and Bret’s about glute development (among other things) I hope that helps.

  • Sandy says:

    I never pull off of the floor. Exactly like Will said…. the bar doesn’t come up high enough for me.

    Eliminating that initial range of motion means what exactly? Less erector use?

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      Hmmm.. good question. Less everything use would be my guess, Sandy.

      For those who struggle with mobility for DL at regular height, consider experimenting with a “bottoms up” OLY style set up:

      You can use light weight, OLY bumper plates, or even use blocks to prop up an empty bar to 8 1/4″, this is the standard start position.

      Full squat, stay on heels with extended spine. (This may be another mobility issue in itself!)

      Grab bar firmly and pull it to your shins. Got it? Here we go..

      Your spine will NOT MOVE through this drill. You now have the ability to brace your spine while the hamstrings are fully flexed and thus not tugging on your pelvis and low back.

      Extend the knee which will swivel the hips back and up. The knee is extending, and you are pivoting at the hip. You are loading tension into the hamstrings.

      Again, do not let the spine break off into pieces, it stays one long lever. You can practice this over and over until you get the groove. Yes, it is uncomfortable, and yes your abs and quads are going to scream at first. This is almost pure knee extension, erecting your planked torso from a nearly vertical lever, to a more angled, horizontal lever.

      Finally, squeeze the lats, and drive the heels into the floor, until the bar starts to come off the floor. Is it at your upper shin? You are now at “block pull” launch position. And you did it off the floor, and you are arriving at that position with a spine that is solidly braced.

      Even for DL’ers with adequate mobility, this is an effective alternative way to now setup for a deficit, or snatch grip pull. FWIW.

      • Derrick Blanton says:

        Doh! 🙂

        By spine “not moving”, I mean by segment. i.e., the lumbar does not round, the thoracic does not round, etc.

        The whole length of the spine moves as a unit from vertical to inclined forwards.

        Anyway, just another way to try to arrive at the starting line, braced and stable.

  • Chuck says:

    So the 2×4 program will be out next week? Been looking forward to it. Any insights as to how the 2×4 program will differ from others?

  • Well another Inspiration the time when I can hit the gym again. I can not go to the gym because there is no gym where I work for the next 2 months. Which freeweight exercise would you do if you were in my situation?

  • maureen says:

    I do a lot of rack pulls as I find the deadlift from the floor almost always hurts my low back. Even though I try to keep good form. I will give these a try .
    Our gym has no blocks can I use plates instead ? Your new program 2×4 looks very cool !!
    good luck

  • Charles says:

    i, like many, have highly squashed lower vertebral discs as a result of bad sports “mechanics” as a youngster and a 6’4″ frame. when i try to incorporate romanian deadlifts, having done so again very recently, i am left with bad results i.e. pain for quite some time. my main goal in training is basic health, and so i feel i have to drop any form of bent-over lifting.

    so my 1x/week legs day is:
    1. superslow sumo front squat with plates hung around neck 🙂
    2. superslow hip thrusts
    3. then i am going to experiment with Reverse Hypers or Back Extensions and Gliding Hamstring Curls (hanging/trx/cable/swissball) – as strengthening/rehab/integration for the posterior chain.

  • Smokewillow says:

    I will always be a full range guy. I’ll lower the weight before I ever shorten the pull.

  • Lupita says:

    Hola Bret. Muchas gracias por todo lo que nos compartes. Estoy muy interesada en seguir tus rutinas de entrenamiento, pero desafortunadamente me cuesta mucho trabajo porque entiendo muy poco inglĂ©s. Espero pueda ayudarme. Y una duda, el ejercicio para glĂșteos se hace diario?

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