How to Build Joint-Friendly Size & Strength
Nothing beats a full range of motion, but try these when your mobility is limited, or you need to strengthen a weak point.
Partial lifts are controversial. Some say a full range of motion (ROM) is the only way to go and view partials as cheating. Others think partials are only for ego lifters trying to move bigger weights or get social media clicks.
They’re not wrong, but partial range lifts actually do have benefits if you use them correctly. While nothing replaces working through a full ROM, partials are an excellent fix for spot-specific sticking points and mobility limitations.
Here are five proven partial exercises to help you build strength and size:
This is a shortened version of a power clean, so begin the lift from the tall position and limit the range of motion to around knee level. This eliminates the most problematic position for most lifters: pulling from the floor. It reduces lower back stress and simplifies a complex movement for better performance.
You’ll improve explosive hip extension for power and athleticism and improve type-II (fast twitch) muscle fiber recruitment. Hang cleans stimulate the forearms and traps along with nearly 200 other muscles. Because of the eccentric or negative component, it may be a superior muscle builder to cleans and power cleans from the floor.
Sets and Reps: Do 5 sets of 5 with 2 minutes rest between sets. Use 70-85% of your 1-RM.
The dead-stop from pins forces you to maximally engage the core and get tight through the thoracic spine.
Most lifters miss front squats when their elbows drop due to poor mobility and strength through the thoracic spine. Starting from the bottom, the stretch reflex is eliminated, and you’re forced into an optimal position to safely complete the lift.
Set the pins or safety racks at the deepest point to maintain optimal position. Set the bar down on the pins for one second while staying tight and holding position, then drive up.
Sets and Reps: Do 8 sets of 1 rep and rest 90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets. Use 80-90% of your 1-RM.
Seasoned lifters call the back squat the king of exercises. Unfortunately, many have the mobility of a crowbar, resulting in a lack of depth without diving into posterior pelvic tilt. Using a box to adjust the range of motion teaches improved eccentric control and reduces the risk of back injury.
By adding bands, you change the resistance curve. By adding a box, you avoid the positions requiring the most mobility. As the bands stretch, a greater load is placed at the top range of motion, overloading the movement through the full strength curve while having less stress in the hole.
Sets and Reps: Do 5 sets of 6-8 reps and rest 2-3 minutes between sets. Use 75-85% of your 1-RM.
4. Trap Bar Deadpull
This is a modification of the conventional deadlift. If your back rounds over like a dog taking a dump while pulling, this exercise is for you! There’s no more problematic position than excessive lumbar spine flexion when pulling deadlifts off the floor.
The trap bar deadpull solves this issue in two ways:
To do it, get into your typical trap bar position. The trap bar deadpull involves a dead-stop deadlift to mid-shin, followed by a paused hold for 3-5 seconds before returning the bar to the ground. This reinforces a perfect off-the-ground pulling position, addressing a common weakness in lifters.
This hits your quads and spinal erectors while helping you build a ton of stability on the initial pull. Play with a few ranges of motion:
- Stop at mid-shin
- Stop at the base of your knee
- Stop at the top of your knee
Adjust the range of motion based on where your sticking points are.
Sets and Reps: After your main lift, do 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps and rest about 120 seconds between sets. Use 60-80% of your 1-RM.
This variation of the Romanian deadlift is also known as a one-and-a-half deadlift. You do a full deadlift followed by a deadlift to the base of the knee before locking out. This increases time under tension, reinforces trunk stiffness, and adds volume to your training.
The trap bar reduces shearing stress on your spine while still allowing you to overload the movement. The trap bar hanging deadlift trains the muscles of the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings while challenging your grip strength and trunk stability.
Sets and Reps: After your main lift, do 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps and rest 90 seconds between sets. Use 50-70% of 1RM.
Nothing can completely replace full ROM lifting. Nothing can replace healthy joints, either. Adding partial range exercises strategically into your training helps you overcome joint stress and spot-specific weak points to make gains without as much pain.
By targeting the specific range of motion causing issues, you can unlock new levels of strength and growth while protecting your joints and promoting longevity in your training.