Talkin’ About Lockouts: Partial Reps for Overhead Strength

If your goal is to increase the amount of weight you can press over your head, sometimes you need to be a half-repper.

I’m a big fan of partial lifting as it provides certain benefits that differ from those of full-range lifting. While working through full ranges of motion is crucial for overall strength and fitness, to only ever do complete ranges of motions is stopping you from reaching your full potential.

How Is Full Range of Motion Stunting Your Potential?

Quite simply because you’re stronger in shorter ranges of motion. Thus, if you aren’t putting your capabilities to the test in these areas, they’re not going to get much stronger. In a full-range lift, you’re being held back by the point in that lift where you’re weakest.

Besides, you’re not actually always doing “full” ranges of motion anyway. A back squat goes to parallel, not all the way down. A deadlift starts from the height where the bar is set because of the size of the plates on it. These aren’t actually “full range.” So let’s just let go of criticizing partial reps done with purpose.

Some of my favorite partial movements include shortening the movement range of the deadlift and squat even more. But in this article I’d like to focus in on an exercise that isn’t done as often. Recently, I’ve fallen in love with this exercise, and I’d like for you to give it a try, too. (Chances are most people reading this have not ever done this move or the variations here.)

I’m talking about overhead lockouts. You might call it a partial press, but as you’ll see, a press might not even be involved.

The Challenge of Going Overhead

Handling a maximal weight overhead challenges just about every fiber of your body. It doesn’t just involve the arms and the shoulders, but takes tremendous stabilization throughout the torso. You might be surprised at how much of an ab exercise the lockout can become. And the legs are definitely working, too. The one drawback is that a solid power rack and lots of weights are needed for training these exercises.

“A deadlift starts from the height where the bar is set because of the size of the plates on it. These aren’t actually ‘full range.'” 

Legendary weightlifter John Grimek is said to have supported 1,000 pounds overhead in a similar manner to what I’m about to explain. But back in the York days, they hung barbells from chains off of the ceiling beams in order to be able to do this, before power racks became popular.

Note: Despite heavy weights being used, these lockout exercises are usually very safe since the range of motion is limited. As long as you have a solid rack, there is not much danger. Of course, as with anything else you must progress smartly.

The Partial Press

There are a couple different ways to approach overhead lifting in this manner. One of them is to do a partial press. Of course, the more of the press you do, the less you’ll be able to handle. For maximal weights, you’ll want to just work the last inch or two of movement. This will build very strong triceps, which can be useful for all kinds of things.

Overhead Squat Lockout

To get the heaviest weight overhead, your triceps probably won’t be strong enough to get the load in place. Instead, you’ll want to start with the arms already locked out and then basically do a partial overhead squat. The legs are much stronger than the arms so you’ll be able to handle more weight like this. Even if you do the lift in this way, your arms and shoulders will still be working heavily.

Overhead Support

Once you’ve begun either variation of this exercise, you don’t have to stop. You can press the weight for reps or you can hold the weight in place once you’re standing tall in the squat version. This latter approach turns the exercise into more of a support.

Adding Lockouts to Your Current Program

Personally, I like to do overhead lockouts for reps, but most typically work with singles. When I do reps, I usually keep it to fewer than five per set. I recommend playing around with this exercise after your normal press workout. This way it works as a finisher. Or do it before your other pressing. This way you’ve overloaded the muscles and what you press may feel that much lighter.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you. If you have questions, post them to the comments below.

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