Partial reps are like the fast food of fitness.
Sure, that greasy burger has some protein in it. But is it really your best option?
Uh, of course not.
But we all see those half and partial reps happening (and some of us even do it).
Only going about a quarter of the way down on the squat. Lowering the bar about halfway to your chest on the bench.
Some folks might look at these workout halfers and think cheater… but there might be a little more to those partial reps than meets the eye.
Now, I could go over a butt load of studies that show why partial reps are inferior to the full range of motion ones. Like the study that showed that people who did the full range of motion gained 10x more strength than the partial reppers. Full reps engage more muscles, require more muscle activation, yada yada yada.
But I think that point is fairly easy to understand. Would you put a fast food burger next to one made from organic meat, grain free bun, lots of veggies and call them equal? No.
So we get it – full reps are better for your overall strength goals.
But there is a time and place for those partial reps.
THE STRENGTH CURVE
In every exercise, the amount of weight you can lift varies at every point in the movement. For most people, you are the strongest at the upper portion. Somewhere about 2-5 inches from wherever it is you’d ‘complete’ the rep.
So for a squat, you’re at your strongest just before you have your legs straightened out.
But in every movement, you also have a sticky point – a place where you’re the weakest and you struggle the most to move the weight.
And half or partial reps can help you tackle those sticky spots. You can set up your exercise, your bar height, your weight, everything – to allow you to practice moving that weight only through your sticky spot.
Giving that spot tons of time and attention until you no longer struggle through it.
For most of us, that would only require a partial rep. A halfsie.
And then as we gain strength, enhance our neuropathways, smooth out the stickiness – we can get back to the full reps with a greater overall load.
That means greater strength development from those full reps we will be doing. Better and more efficient results by practicing a few partial reps.
So a half or partial rep can be helpful.
Now some folks can argue a few other benefits:
That if you load up a butt ton of weight and only move the bar a few inches, you can still increase your strength – because you are lifting more weight, activating for muscles, increasing the muscle threshold. Okayyy that makes sense, but is strengthening the top 5 inches of your exercise going to give much overall benefit? Not really.
The other perk – if you’re hardly moving the bar but you can carry a crap ton of weight, it gives you a big confidence boost that might transfer over to your full range reps. Maybe that’s helpful – but only if it works.
HERE’S MY RECOMMENDATION
The large and in charge majority of your reps should be through the full range of motion of any given exercise.
Occasionally – you can use partial reps to tackle sticky spots. Or add in quarter reps on top of a full rep for an extra kick in the backside.
But if you struggle to complete the full range – it’s usually one of the following issues:
1. You don’t know what the full range is.
On a squat, that means ass to grass. Stopping at parallel isn’t full range (and no, going beyond parallel won’t hurt your knees). Check with a trainer to confirm you know what the safe and effective full range of movement really is.
2. The weight is too heavy.
You can’t go full range because you aren’t strong enough through the entire strength curve. Drop your weight until you master the full range. Then steadily increase.
3. Your mobility is limited.
Some folks just aren’t physically able to do full range movement. Your hips, ankles, shoulders, or any other joint could be restricting your ability.
In this case – focus on mobility before you focus on increasing strength. By increasing your mobility and hitting the max range, you will get more strength production and muscle activation out of the same exercises – a far better use of your time than piling the weights on a partial rep.
But overall, work hard to make a full range of motion rep your normal. Not only will you see better and faster results, you’ll keep yourself from getting injured down the line.
Train heavy but always train smart.
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