Training Partials for Stronger Tendons and Bones
I would say that 99% of the fitness and strength training is focused on the muscles and/or the cardiovascular system. But what about the rest of the body? In studying both modern and old-time strongmen you come to realize they had a slightly different take on things. If you want to become super strong you need to focus on tendons, ligaments and even the bones themselves.
How do you do this? Not with conventional, or even most unconventional exercises. There are a few different methods to strengthen tendons and bones, but one of the best will be discussed in this article.
Partials are any exercise where you purposefully do a shortened range of motion instead of the full range of motion. Partials don’t take the place of full-range lifts, but are used as a adjunct to them. If you’ve ever been stuck on a weight with squats because it felt heavy, doing some partial training will make the weight you use for a full range feel much lighter.
You’ll typically need a power rack and lots of weights to perform these. While partials can be performed with any range of motion, we’ll be focusing on just a short range of motion. Remember when watching the video examples that the idea here is to strengthen your connective tissues and even the bones themselves. The movements are going to look different and small, but that doesn't mean they are either easy or without value.
Partials can be done with any set and rep range. I focused most on singles and handling a maximum weight, but occasionally will do sets of higher reps. In the top-end of the range of motion in most exercises you will be much stronger than through the rest of the movement. This is because you have much better leverage than in the rest of the movement. For this reason, after some practice, you can typically handle two to three times the weight you can handle in the full movement.
As with anything else, you’ll need to work into doing partials slowly. Don’t go for a maximum effort the first time you try them. But once you’re broken into doing these, they’re actually quite safe to do, even with maximal loads. And because of the strengthening effects of these exercises you’ll be more resilient against many injuries.
Partials are most often done with the big compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press. But you can do them with other movements with a little more ingenuity. The partial squat and partial deadlift, also known as a rack pull, are described below.
Our first position places the barbell across the shoulders as in a back squat. Usually this is done with a quarter range of motion.
To handle maximum weight take a wide stance with the feet. This stance, more of a powerlifting stance than an Olympic squat stance, gives better leverage for the lift. Try to keep your back as upright as possible. The least amount of forward lean will allow you to handle the biggest weights. I personally prefer to do all my partials without any gear, even a weight belt. The reason for this is I want my body to be doing all the work, and nothing else.
Here is one example of me doing a 725lb quarter squat:
And here is an old video of Chris Duffin doing partial squats as well:
This is one of my favorite exercises. I love the deadlift and just working a quarter range of motion makes it even more fun as the weight goes higher and higher.
For this exercise you’re going to need to use lifting straps. I’m all for building grip strength and using as little support as necessary but in this exercise the weak link will always be your hands. Thus, to challenge your structure completely you’ll need the aid of straps. I recommend not using straps with any weight you can handle by grip strength alone. But as the weight goes up, use them when you need them. The cool thing is that you’re still training your grip while using straps. If you think the straps are doing all the work when you handle 1000lbs you’ll have another thing coming.
As before, you can do any range of motion as a partial and they’re all beneficial. The closer you get to the ground the more carryover it will have for a regular deadlift, but they all help to some degree.
Here we’re going to focus on a quarter deadlift range of motion or even shorter. The technique for this exercise is slightly different than a conventional deadlift. What allows you to get the most massive weight is to keep your back upright and straight when lifting. This means instead of bending your hips, you get your legs under the weight and keep the back upright. In the first, case the back would limit what you could pull. In the second, its just going to work to support while the strong legs do a partial drive to get you up to the top.
In order to handle more than a thousands pounds, which was my goal, I had to get creative by hanging kettlebells off of my weight stacked on the barbells:
Here is a second example of a rack pull:
Beware: If you do this in a commercial gym people will look at you in odd ways. Also make sure the bar you are using can handle this weight. Doing partials with huge loads will cause most bars to bend to a slight degree, but if the bar you’re using is cheap it might not be able to handle the load at all.