Some rules are made to be broken: Like only eat tacos on Tuesday (we’re here for #TacoThursday) and don’t wear white before Labor Day (go ahead and put on those white lifters). Here’s another rule it can actually be beneficial to your body and goals to forget: go full rep, or go home.
These partial reps, or half reps as they are also called, are just that: a rep that is completed by executing a shortened range of motion (ROM), explains certified strength and conditioning coach, Mike Donavanik CSCS, CPT. That means instead of going through the full range of motion (FOM) of an exercise, you are going only a quarter, half or three-quarters through a full rep. That may includes not breaking parallel when you squat, only lowering the barbell a few inches when you bench press, or only pulling the first 2 feet of a deadlift, he explains.
“If the choice is between either partial or full range of motion, reps the full range of motion wins,” says Donavanik. That’s because studies have shown that while partial ROM can lead to strength gains, full ROM movements may lead to more strength because they more effectively catalyze muscle hypertrophy. “That said, partial reps are a useful tool to add to your training arsenal. Because combining full and partial range of motion can lead favorable results results such as bigger, stronger muscles, heavier lifts, and even increased calorie burn, says Donavanik.
So while full range of motion reps should still be the default, partial reps may be helpful if you’re trying to take your gains to the next level. Below, 4 times partial rep training can be beneficial to athletes.
1. Break Through Plateaus
Partial reps allow you to train through the “sticking points” or “holes”, the parts of a rep where the weight feel it’s heaviest, by working the muscles and areas around those muscles that have not yet been fatigued. “This gives the body a chance to adapt to a heavier training load, which can ultimately lead to increased muscle mass and busted plateaus,” explains Donavanik.
There are a two ways to use partial reps to bust through plateaus: You can either start doing partial reps once your full range of motion reps have gone to failure, or overload the bar with weight and begin doing partial-reps with heavy weight from the get go.
When you reach failure on a particular movement, the muscles of the “sticking point” might be worked past exhaustion, but that doesn’t mean that the muscles at the beginning ROM and the end ROM are equally as affected. By continuing to work parts of the muscle that are not as exhausted through half reps, you can continue to crank out reps over a smaller range of motion. This encourages the muscle to work beyond failure, which can ultimately help with muscle growth.
Or, an athlete can start using partial reps immediately. That might mean overloading the bar so that it’s heavier than your 1 rep max deadlift and just working on the first 12-inches of the pull. This strategy works because you’re overloading your central nervous system, so that full reps actually become easier at your 1 rep max weight, because your central nervous system is primed for that level of intensity, Donavanik explains.
2. Improve Form
“Partial reps are a great way to supplement technique work because they can help build the neuromuscular pathways for the portion of the movement that is hardest for each individual athlete, so that the movement begins to become automatic,” says Donavanik. For example, for a snatch you might work on just the pull from the floor to pop at your hips which will strengthen the lower-portion of the lift by strengthening the athletes hamstrings, glutes, lats, and core.
But if you’re using partial reps to focus on technique, you need to go pretty submaximal in weight (light weight) to focus on that movement and feel what muscles are moving. Going too heavy any time you are working on form will actually work against the goal. Load doesn’t matter here, explains physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company.
3. Compensate for Poor Mobility
Poor mobility and poor range of motion are connected. Athletes who have poor mobility may not be able to complete full-range-of-motion reps due to tight hips, rigid ankles, and stiff knees. For these athletes, partial reps may be the best they are able to do. “If an athlete who does not have the mobility to perform a movement tries to perform that movement to full range of motion, usually, they’ll end up compensating with other parts of their body which can lead to injury overtime,” says Wickham. If you stay within range of motion that you do have, it keeps your body from compensating, while also helping you develop some strength, he adds.
While full-reps and full range of motion should be the goal and partial reps are never a substitute for full ROM reps, when used in conjunction with mobility-improving practices like physical therapy or yoga, partial reps can help strengthen the muscles of athletes for whom full reps are simply not an option, says Wickham. (This mobility workout is a great place to start).
4. Rehab Injury
If you have an injury, you should go to your doctor, who may send you to a physical therapist. If your PT suggests or allows it, adding partial reps into your rehab and training may help you recover. When someone is coming off an ankle or knee injury, for example, PTs will often have them start squatting with half reps, because going through the full ROM will put a lot of pressure on those joints, explains Donavanik. “This is usually because there is some type of damage to the muscle or joint. So the athlete can’t physically go through the full ROM. So partial reps are used in order to gain strength and advance ROM in that area,” Wickham adds.
How partial reps are used in rehab will depend on the exact injury, and athletes should consult with a specialist before trying this on their own. But Wickham says that as a general rule: if you’re in pain, stop.
Featured image: @emmaferreiraaa on Instagram
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.