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Are Full or Partial Reps Better for Building Strength and Size?

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If you want to know the pros and cons of partial and full range of motion reps, how each affects muscle growth, and when you should and shouldn’t use both in your training, then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. Partial reps involve shortening the range of motion on an exercise, such as only going halfway down when squatting.
  2. Full reps involve moving through the entire available range of motion on an exercise, such as squatting “ass to grass.”
  3. In general, full reps are going to produce more muscle growth and strength gains than partial reps, but both can have a place in your training.

Mosy around any gym, and you’ll see something like this:

And a few questions come to mind.

Is he really getting anything out of those reps?

Is he just doing that to stroke his ego?

Should I train like that?

Some say yes, that partial reps, or repetitions where you only complete part of the movement, lead to superior gains in strength and size.

Others say that unless you take every single rep in your training through the full range of motion, you’re cheating. This pretty much sums up their view:

The truth?

They’re both wrong, and you’re going to learn why in this article.

By the end, you’ll know the pros and cons of partial and full range of motion reps, how each affects muscle growth, and when you should and shouldn’t use both in your training.

What Are Partial Reps?

To answer that question, we first need to define a related term—range of motion.

Range of motion (ROM) means, “The full movement potential of a joint, usually its range of flexion and extension.”

When it comes to strength training, range of motion generally refers to how much you can extend or flex a joint during a particular exercise.

Flexion is when you shorten the angle in a joint, like when you’re curling a dumbbell.

Extension is when you lengthen the angle of a joint, like when you lower the dumbbell toward the ground.

Here’s what this looks like:

So, a full range of motion repetition is one wherein you move your joint from the farthest point of extension to the farthest point of flexion and back.

For example, if you can squat so that your butt almost touches the ground (Ass-To-Grass), then you’re using a full range of motion.

On the other hand, a partial range of motion repetition, sometimes called a “partial,” is one wherein you only move your joint well within the limits of flexion and extension.

Like moving between 50 and 100 degrees in this diagram:

Often, you’ll see people bouncing a weight in the middle part of a movement, like this:

People use partial reps on all kinds of exercises, but they’re usually used on isolation exercises like barbell curls, triceps extensions, crunches, and the like.

Are Partial Reps Better than Full Range of Motion Reps?

There are three reasons people use partial reps in their training:

  1. They let you use heavier weights while doing the same or a greater number of reps.
  2. They give you a pump, which many believe will lead to greater muscle growth.
  3. They allow you to keep constant tension on your muscles, which isn’t always the case with full range of motion reps.

Aside from the third justification, the first two make some sense.

Heavier weights are generally better for muscle growth and doing some pump training can be helpful, but there’s more to the story.

Partial Reps and Muscle Growth

The first reason people train with partial reps is because it allows them to use heavier weights.

For example, let’s say you currently bench 225, bringing the bar all the way to your chest. If you start doing partial reps, only bringing the bar three to four inches above your chest, then you could probably start benching 250 without a problem.

Heavier weights are generally better for muscle growth, so, what’s wrong with shortening the range of motion to get the job done?

While this makes sense on the surface, it’s missing another piece of the puzzle.

Partial Reps and Training Volume

What really drives muscle growth is increasing the volume of mechanical tension you expose your muscles to over time.

In this sense, tension refers to how much resistance your muscles need to generate to move a weight, or how much you’re lifting.

Volume in this case means how much weight you lift, for how many reps, over what distance.

In order to build muscle, you need to increase one or all of those variables over time, which is referred to as progressive overload.

Partial reps allow you to add more weight and reps, but at the expense of shortening the range of motion.

Full reps allow you to use a longer range of motion, but force you to use lighter weights and/or fewer reps.

As you’ll see in a moment, this is sometimes a worthwhile compromise, but most of the time it leads to less muscle growth.

For example, let’s say that you currently bench 225 for 3 sets of 6 reps through a full range of motion every week.

225 x 3 x 6 = 4,050.

In that workout, you bench a total of 4,050 pounds.

Now let’s say you cut the range of motion in half (only bringing the bar about 6 inches above your chest), but add 25 pounds and 2 reps to each set.

Now, you’re benching 250 pounds for 3 sets of 8 reps.

250 x 3 x 8 = 6,000

Now you’re benching 6,000 pounds per workout!

You just upgraded from coach to first class on the gainz train… or so you might think.

There’s just one problem—you’re only moving the weight half as far, so really, you’re only benching 3,000 pounds per workout.

Despite benching 25 pounds more, reducing the range of motion cut your volume by 25%.

This is why most research shows that partial range of motion reps result in less muscle growth, even when people train with heavier weights or more reps.

So, as a general rule, sacrificing range of motion to add weight is only going to make it harder to gain muscle.

What about the pump you get from partial reps, though?

Surely that must count for something, no?

Partial Reps and “The Pump”

The “pump” refers to the temporary increase in muscle size that occurs when you lift weights, especially when you use higher reps and shorter rest periods.

When you contract your muscles, metabolic byproducts like lactic acid build up in and around the cells.

In response, your body pumps more blood into the muscle to shuttle away these compounds and to provide more oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cells.

A combination of high reps and short rest periods causes a rapid buildup of these metabolic byproducts and a large spike in blood flow, while simultaneously making it harder for blood to escape.

Thus, you get a pump.

Using a shorter range of motion allows you to do more reps in less time, which makes it easier to get a pump.

Does that lead to more muscle growth?

No.

If you want to learn more about pump training, then you can check out my article on that topic, but the short story is that “pump” style training causes about the same amount of muscle growth as heavier lifting.

Heavy weightlifting also has a few other benefits that you can’t get from pump training.

This isn’t to say that it’s worthless—some training styles like blood flow restriction and rest-pause training work partly because they cause a pump—but they aren’t better than traditional lifting techniques.

Partial Reps and Constant Tension

You’ve probably noticed that the difficulty of some movements waxes and wanes depending on where you are in the range of motion.

This is because the amount of tension your muscles need to generate changes throughout each rep.

This is known as the “strength curve” of an exercise, and exercises that expose your muscle to a greater amount of tension throughout each rep are said to have a better strength curve.

For example, squats are almost always hardest about a quarter of the way into each rep, and become easy when you get close to standing. They have a good strength curve on the whole, though, because there’s really never a point during the rep where your muscles aren’t working hard.

Biceps curls are hardest when your arm is extended and become easy as you lift the bar closer to your shoulder. They have a decent strength curve, but not quite as good as squats (which is true of most isolation exercises, that’s one of their faults).

Triceps presses are hardest when your arms are fully flexed and become easy when your arms are close to straight. Thus, this exercise has a poor strength curve. That doesn’t mean you should never use it, but it’s a limitation you’ll need to consider.

This means that the muscle is working harder during some portions of the movement than others, and thus isn’t getting trained evenly throughout the exercise.

So, what to do about this?

Well, one solution would be cutting off the easy part of the movement.

If your triceps are breezing through the top portion of the exercise, why even bother doing that part?

Wouldn’t that improve the quality of our reps, since we’re keeping tension on the muscle during the entire set?

Researchers tested that idea in a study published in 2017 in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. They found that people who used a partial range of motion for the triceps overhead press gained twice as much muscle as people who used a full range of motion.

Let’s not get too excited, though.

There are a few confounders in this study, such as the fact that the group using the partial range of motion was probably able to train harder. There’s also some question as to how accurately the measurements were taken, but all in all, it does seem that using partial reps might be useful for some exercises.

You probably don’t want to start using partial reps for all of your exercises, though.

Most studies show that even for accessory exercises, a full range of motion causes more muscle growth.

In addition, this probably works best on exercises that get significantly easy during certain portions of the lift (ones that have a poor strength curve), like triceps overhead press or side raises.

For example, maybe you don’t need to lower dumbbells all the way down to your thighs when doing side raises. Instead, you could only bring them down about 5 to 6 inches from your thighs, where the exercise starts to get easy.

For skull crushers, you could stop the rep when your elbows are still slightly bent.

For leg extensions, you could stop the rep when it starts to get easy (usually when your foot starts to get close to the floor on most machines).

I also wouldn’t use partial reps on all of your isolation exercises. Instead, you could use full range of motion reps for your first set or two, and then finish with a set of partial reps, aiming to do more total reps with the same weight.

Here’s what this might look like for something like leg extensions:

Set 1

6 to 8 reps at 75 to 80% of your one-rep max (1RM)

Full range of motion

Set 2

6 to 8 reps at 75 to 80% of your 1RM

Full range of motion

Set 3

10 to 12 reps at 75 to 80% of your 1RM

Partial range of motion

Partial Reps and Strength Gains

When it comes to strength training, the results are more clear cut:

Full range of motion reps are almost always better than partial reps.

This is true for accessory exercises, like leg extension and curls, as well as compound exercises like the bench press and squat.

There is one exception to this rule, though.

Partial reps generally only make you stronger during the portion of the lift you train. If you only trained with partial reps, then you’d likely end up weaker on the parts of the lift that you didn’t train.

For example, if always do half squats, the day you try to do a full squat is going to be a painful reckoning.

The second you dip below your normal range of motion, you’re going to be significantly weaker.

If you have a sticking point, though—a part of the lift that’s particularly challenging—then training that part of the movement with partial reps might help you become stronger. Powerlifters often do this with bench press, for instance.

Many people have a sticking point about 2 to 4 inches above their chest, so powerlifters will often do board presses, which look like this:

This limits the range of motion to the part of the lift that’s hardest, and allows them to train that “sticking point” with more volume.

These people have also racked up years under the bar, though, and unless you’ve also paid your dues, you’re better off using other techniques to break through strength plateaus.

Unless you’ve been following a well-designed strength training plan for two to three years, and you’re sure you aren’t plateaued for some other reason, then it’s not worth playing with partial reps on your compound lifts.

How to Use Partial Reps Properly

By and large, full reps are better than partial reps for building muscle and strength.

This is particularly true if you’re new to weightlifting, in which case you’re going to get the best bang from your training buck by training exclusively with full range of motion reps.

If you’ve been lifting for more than two or three years though, and you’ve exhausted most of your newbie gains, it might be worth incorporating some partial reps into your training.

Here’s how:

1. Use a combination of full and partial reps.

Most research shows that full reps are better than partial reps for all kinds of exercises, so you don’t want to eliminate full range of motion reps entirely.

Instead, do several full range of motion sets first, and then do one or two partial range of motion reps to squeeze in more volume.

Here’s that same example from earlier:

Set 1

6 to 8 reps at 75 to 80% of your one-rep max (1RM)

Full range of motion

Set 2

6 to 8 reps at 75 to 80% of your 1RM

Full range of motion

Set 3

10 to 12 reps at 75 to 80% of your 1RM

Partial range of motion

Or, you could do full and partial range of motion reps on different days.

For example, you could do bicep curls with full range of motion reps on Monday, and train them with partial range of motion reps and heavier weights on Thursday.

Here’s what this might look like:

Monday

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps at 75% of your one-rep max (1RM)

Full range of motion reps

Thursday

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps at 75% of your one-rep max

Partial range of motion reps

Note that normally, it would be difficult to use 75% of your one-rep max for 12 reps, but by shortening the range of motion you’re able to use heavier weights.

2. Use partial range of motion reps on accessory exercises.

The main benefit of partial reps is that they allow you to keep constant tension on the muscle throughout the movement. This isn’t normally a problem with heavy, compound lifts, which cause a large amount of tension through the full range of motion.

It can be more of an issue, though, with exercises that don’t stress the muscle evenly throughout the full range of motion, like curls, tricep extensions, and leg extensions.

If you’re going to use partial reps at all, use them on your accessories, not your main lifts.

(The one exception is if you’re following a powerlifting program that calls for partial reps, but unless you’re an advanced lifter, you probably aren’t.)

3. Make sure you’re still getting stronger.

All of the normal rules of muscle growth still apply regardless of what range of motion you use.

If you don’t get stronger, you won’t get bigger, and that’s true whether you use partial or full range of motion reps.

Keep track of how much you’re lifting workout to workout, and make sure you try to add weight as often as you can while maintaining good form.

The Bottom Line on Partial Reps for Muscle Growth

Many people think that partial range of motion reps lead to more muscle growth than full range of motion reps.

The typical reasons for this are that partial reps…

  • Allow you to use heavier weights for more reps
  • Give you better pumps
  • Keep more tension on the muscle

In reality, partial reps actually reduce the amount of total work your muscles have to do, and often lead to a decrease in muscle growth.

While they do cause larger pumps, that doesn’t lead to more muscle growth.

Finally, keeping more tension on the muscles might be helpful for some accessory exercises, but in most cases you’ll get as good or better results with full range of motion reps.

In the final analysis, you aren’t missing out by not using partial range of motion reps.

If you want to use them, though, stick to these three rules:

  1. Use a combination of full and partial reps.
  2. Use partial range of motion reps on accessory exercises only.
  3. Make sure you’re still getting stronger.

And above all else, don’t forget to keep adding weight and tracking your workouts. Do that, and you’ll see results.

P.S. Did you enjoy this article? If so, would you mind sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you like to hangout online? Thanks!

What’s your take on full or partial reps? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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Partial vs. Full Reps… or Both?

Partial vs. Full Reps…or Both?
By Menno Henselmans

A potentially game changing study has just been published. It may change how you perform your exercises forever. Or it may not. Let’s have a look.

The study titled “the efficacy of incorporating partial squats in maximal strength training” is about combining partial and full reps in your training. The debate on whether training with a partial range of motion (ROM) has any benefits compared to training with a full ROM has been going on for decades.

One reason many people have trouble understanding the effects of ROM is because they think ROM is equal to the distance a weight or body part travels. It’s not. ROM is equal to the amount of degrees a joint flexes. Look at the illustration of elbow flexion ROM below.

Now that we’re clear on the definition of ROM, here’s the Cliff notes on the current state of the research on full vs. partial ROM training.

Muscle Growth Research

  • In a study comparing Scott curls with a full compared to a partial ROM, there was a trend for greater growth of the arms in the full ROM group .
  • Research comparing full to partial squats, including unpublished work by exercise scientist Truls Raastad in Norway, shows that full squats lead to more muscle growth of the quadriceps than partials .
  • A full leg training program including squats resulted in more thigh muscle growth when performed with full reps than with partial reps .
  • Training the quadriceps at long muscle lengths results in higher muscle activation than training at shorter muscle lengths. This remains true when absolute or relative training intensity is held constant. In general, at long muscle lengths a muscle is under greater biomechanical stress (shorter moment arm, reduced cross-bridge formation and reduced force production per sarcomere).
  • Over the course of a partial rep leg training program, quadriceps muscle activation decreased in the part of the ROM that wasn’t exercised .

Strength Training Research

  • Full reps led to greater strength development than partials for leg extensions, Scott curls and squats .
  • Full ROM bench pressing did not build more strength than partial reps in one study, but in this study ‘partial’ reps just meant avoiding the last 2-5 inches to lock-out . Since the bench press has a steeply increasing strength curve, once you’ve passed the sticking point the last few inches are incredibly easy. So easy you may as well not do them?
  • A replication of the bench press study showed that full ROM bench presses did in fact lead to greater strength development than avoiding lock-out and keeping ‘tension on the muscles’ .
  • Partial reps build strength specifically in the part of the movement you train with limited transfer to the rest of the movement .
  • Whether partials are better than full reps at improving the exercised portion of a lift varies. In untrained subjects study deep squats outperformed partial squats in building partial squat strength . In a study on leg extensions partial reps were no better than full reps at any part of the movement . In a study on recreationally active subjects there was no difference . In a study on resistance trained subjects partial squats were better at building the partial squat than full squats .
  • In general, more advanced lifters and more complex exercises benefit more from partial reps due to the principle of training specificity. Beginners and simple exercises do not require ROM-specific training to induce maximum muscle growth and build strength across the entire movement.
  • Core training may be an exception. Research on back extensions found that training with a greater ROM did not benefit strength development in the spinal erectors . Stuart McGill’s well known research shows the functional anatomy of the core is best suited towards stabilization, not actual movement. A full review of optimal core training is beyond the scope of this article though. They call these things bullet points and I already have more bullets than there are chambers in most guns.

Power Training Research

  • Full squats are better at developing power and jumping performance than partial squats . This is a strong finding in favor of full squats. Partial squats have visibly greater movement specificity to jumping and result in higher power output than full squats . Still, full squats are better to increase power than partial squats.

Note that all the above research compared training exclusively with a full versus a partial ROM. Competitive bodybuilders, powerlifters and to some extent Olympic weightlifters still regularly train with partial reps, but they all perform partials in addition to full reps. This is where the new study comes in.

Combining full and partial reps: double the strength and power?

Bazyler et al. compared advanced trainees with an average squat of 324 pounds (147 kg) on a program of either 6 sets of full ROM squats (group F) or 3 sets of full squats and 3 sets of partial squats (group FP). At the end of the program, the group performing both partial and full squats developed more strength and more power than the group that always used full ROM.

Case closed: using both provides the best of both worlds, right? Not so fast. A few caveats are in order.

  • None of the measures of strength were statistically significantlydifferent between the 2 groups. Now this may have been due to lack of statistical power, but it’s certainly reason to take these findings with a grain of salt.
  • Moreover, in the sticking point of the squat, the full squat group gained a significant amount of isometric strength, but the full+partial squat group did not.
  • The full+partial squat group only gained more power on 1 measure (impulse scaled) and not the other (rate of force development) and it was only in the sticking point, not at the top of the squat. Even worse, the reliability of the results was low. Several results suffered from what statisticians call heterogeneity of variance, which basically means the 2 study groups were not strictly comparable.

Ok, recap: the results in favor of using both partial and full squats instead of just full squats to develop strength and power in the squat are questionable. Theoretically, however, it makes sense that incorporating partial squats increases power development. Partial squats allow for far greater power production than full squats . If I ask you to jump, you will intuitively do a partial squat before jumping. No one sinks down into a full Olympic squat, ready for take-off.

When the results of a study are unclear, we need additional research. Fortunately, Bazyler et al. weren’t the first ones to study combined full and partial rep training. Massey et al. compared groups bench pressing with an equal number of sets of either full reps or a combination of full and partial rep sets. Although the difference in strength gains were not statistically significant, the full rep group gained 25 pounds on their bench press compared to just 16.5 pounds for the full+partial group.

The authors replicated this study and found the almost exact same strength increases in both groups. This time, the strength difference was statistically significant: the full ROM group gained more strength than the full+partial ROM group .

These studies on the bench press provide strong evidence against the use of partial bench pressing. However, the subjects in Massey’s bench press studies were all only recreationally trained. As you read earlier in this article, advanced trainees may benefit more from the use of partials than beginners. In athletes, variable ROM training for the bench press improved power production even though it did not increase strength gains compared to regular full ROM training . This corresponds with the findings by Bazyler et al. The subjects in the full+partial rep group gained less isometric strength in the sticking point of the squat, but their dynamic squat strength improved more because they became more explosive and could push through the sticking point better.

How can someone’s form be so bad yet so good at the same time?

What about partials for muscle growth?

Here’s where it gets really interesting. The diets of the subjects in this study were not controlled. As a result, the average body fat percentage in the full squat group fell by 10.3%. Body weight did not change in either group and body fat percentage did not change significantly (-5.3%) in the full+partial group. The only way body weight can remain stable while fat percentage decreases is by gaining lean mass. So the full squat group must have gained more lean body mass than the full+partial group. I emailed the corresponding authors about this, since they did not discuss this in their article, but I have not received a response.

Full reps have several advantages over partial reps to induce muscle growth. Full reps activate muscles along their entire length (with the right exercise selection at least) . Stretching a muscle under load is a strong stimulus for muscle growth. It results in the addition of sarcomeres in series and in parallel, basically creating a thicker and longer muscle . The addition of sarcomeres in series is also why heavy weight training over a full ROM increases muscle length while stretching does not increase muscle length.

In in vitro muscle cells, animals and bio-artificial muscles, the combination of muscle activation and stretching has been shown to strongly increase protein balance, anabolic gene expression, anabolic hormone signaling – particularly insulin-like growth factor-1 and mechano growth factor – and muscle growth . Basically, stretching a muscle or activating it is a stimulus for the muscle to remodel itself and prevent damage in the future. Combining stretching and activation is therefore optimal to create a stronger and bigger muscle.

On the other hand, there are some theoretical benefits of using partial reps for muscle growth, such as increased metabolic stress. However, this is likely only relevant when training at a low intensity when there is otherwise not enough tension in the muscle for high muscle activation. (If you don’t understand how muscle grows in response to tension, read my article on structural balance in Alan Aragon’s Research Review where I explain this.) So far, partial reps have at best resulted in equal muscle growth as full reps in research.

And yes, that means most pro bodybuilders are training in a suboptimal way. If you can’t fathom the idea that a largely poorly educated and underground subculture’s intuitive way of manipulating the human physiology is not perfect, you have much to learn about this world.

As much as I love these guys, I do not consider them the foremost authority on exercise science.

So how does this all fit together? It depends on your goal.

Conclusion: hypertrophy

Partial reps do not seem to have any advantage over full reps to stimulate muscle growth. Full reps stimulate muscle activity over the entire muscle’s length. They also stretch the muscle under high tension. Exercise selection and accommodating the resistance curve to your strength curve are generally superior methods of adding variety to bodybuilding training than partial reps.

Conclusion: strength

Including partial reps can be beneficial in advanced trainees to strengthen parts of a movement as per the specificity principle. Geared powerlifters in particular can benefit from strengthening their lock-out due to the lack of passive assistance they get from knee wraps, squat & deadlift suits and bench shirts at the end of these exercises.

Novices are better off building a good strength base by sticking to full ROM training, because they are not developed enough to require ROM-specific training.

Conclusion: power

Partial reps for many exercises allow for greater power production, which can benefit power development. Just as for strength training, these benefits are greater for more advanced trainees.

About the Author

Bayesian bodybuilder, popular science author and online personal trainer, Menno Henselmans helps serious trainees attain their ideal physique using scientific and Bayesian methods. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter and check out his website for more free articles.

Are you a fitness professional looking to further your education? Have a look at Menno’s course for personal trainers.

3. An analysis of full range of motion vs. partial range of motion training in the development of strength in untrained men. Massey CD, Vincent J, Maneval M, Moore M, Johnson JT. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Aug;18(3):518-21.

7. Impact of range of motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. McMahon GE, Morse CI, Burden A, Winwood K, Onambélé GL. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):245-55.

9. Electrodiagnosis in New Frontiers of Clinical Research. Edited by Hande Turker, ISBN 978-953-51-1118-4, (2013). Chapter 8: How Deep Should You Squat to Maximise a Holistic Training Response? Electromyographic, Energetic, Cardiovascular, Hypertrophic and Mechanical Evidence. By Gerard E. McMahon, Gladys L. Onambélé-Pearson, Christopher I. Morse, Adrian M. Burden and Keith Winwood.

11. The Efficacy of Incorporating Partial Squats in Maximal Strength Training. Bazyler CD, Sato K, Wassinger CA, Lamont HS, Stone MH. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Mar 20.

12. The influence of variable range of motion training on neuromuscular performance and control of external loads. Clark RA, Humphries B, Hohmann E, Bryant AL. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Mar;25(3):704-

14. Mechanical stimulation improves tissue-engineered human skeletal muscle. Powell CA, Smiley BL, Mills J, Vandenburgh HH. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2002 Nov;283(5):C1557-65.

15. Expression of insulin growth factor-1 splice variants and structural genes in rabbit skeletal muscle induced by stretch and stimulation. McKoy G, Ashley W, Mander J, Yang SY, Williams N, Russell B, Goldspink G. J Physiol. 1999 Apr 15;516 ( Pt 2):583-92.

16. Changes in muscle fibre type, muscle mass and IGF-I gene expression in rabbit skeletal muscle subjected to stretch. Yang H, Alnaqeeb M, Simpson H, Goldspink G. J Anat. 1997 May;190 ( Pt 4):613-22.

17. Changes in muscle mass and phenotype and the expression of autocrine and systemic growth factors by muscle in response to stretch and overload. Goldspink G. J Anat. 1999 Apr;194 ( Pt 3):323-34.

Partial Reps vs Full Reps

How many times have you walked into the gym and seen somebody on the leg press loaded up with plates upon plates only to see them barely moving the sled up and down?

Probably more times than you can honestly remember.

After seeing these partial-rep phenoms, you’ve probably wondered:

  • Are partial reps helpful?
  • Should I try it?
  • Do partial reps build muscle?
  • Or, are they just trying to boost their ego and impress others at the gym?

Some die-hard gym bros swear by partial reps, while others say it is a complete waste of time, and that you should only use a full range of motion when lifting weights.

What’s the truth concerning partial reps vs full reps?

You’re about to find out!

What Are Partial Reps?

When discussing partial reps vs full reps, we are referring to the range of motion that your muscles go through during a single repetition of an exercise.

A “full rep” would be a repetition that starts with a muscle fully extended, bringing it into a fully flexed (contracted) position, and then bringing it back to full extension.

You can also view the range of motion from the perspective of the angle between two bones, also known as the joint angle.

When you flex a muscle, you decrease the angle between two limbs, and when you extend a muscle, you increase the joint angle.

To help illustrate this concept, let’s use a simple example — the bicep curl.

When your arm is fully extended, the angle between the upper arm and the forearm is largest and the biceps is in the fully stretched position.

As you flex your bicep, the muscle fibers start to contract (shorten), decreasing the angle between your forearm and upper arm. When your biceps are fully contracted, the angle between the upper and lower arm bones is as small as possible. As you start to lower the weight, the muscle fibers of your biceps lengthen and the angle between the upper and lower arm bones increases until they are back at the fully lengthened position.

Therefore, a “partial rep” would be any rep that is not performed from full extension to full flexion back to full extension.

A common example of partial reps are “21s”, where you perform 7 partial reps from the bottom of a curl to the midpoint, then another 7 reps from the midpoint to the top of the curl, and finish with a set of 7 reps using a full range of motion.

Are Partial Reps Beneficial?

The implementation of partial reps is nothing new to the world of resistance training. “21s”, box squats, and rack pulls are all examples of exercises that use a partial range of motion and have been a component of some of the world’s most prolific bodybuilders, powerlifters, and physique competitors.

But, what about for the average fitness enthusiast?

Does performing partial reps serve any legitimate benefit, or should they just stick to full range of motion repetitions in their training?

It really depends on which training adaptation you’re seeking to improve in your training — hypertrophy (muscle building), strength, or power.

Hypertrophy

Based on the current body of scientific research, using a full range of motion leads to better muscle growth than partial reps.

The reason that using a full range of motion leads to superior muscle growth is two-fold:

  • Full reps require that your muscles move a load over a greater total distance, which means you’re performing more total work. And seeing as mechanical tension is a primary driver of muscle growth, it stands to reason that you would want to perform reps that allow you to maximize tension on the muscle.

  • Reps using a full range of motion also stretch the muscle under high tension, compared to partial reps that do not. Loaded stretches have also been shown to induce hypertrophy

If you’re looking to address a weak point in a lift, select exercise variations that place your muscles at a mechanical disadvantage and work on improving your strength and performance on that exercise as opposed to performing partial reps.

For instance, you could switch from performing standing dumbbell curls to preacher curls. Standard curls are hardest at the midpoint, but relatively easy at the bottom and top, while preacher curls place greater amounts of stress on the muscle at both ends, due to the change in torso angle and the moment arm.

Strength

When it comes to building strength, more advanced lifters using more complex exercises tend to derive greater benefit from partial reps more than novices due to the principle of specificity.

The reason for this is that advanced lifters can use partial reps to help break through sticking points on their heavy hitting exercises. Less experienced lifters aren’t yet at a point in their lifting careers where they stand to gain much from performing partial reps. They would be better served by focusing on getting stronger using a full range of motion.

For instance, a high-level powerlifter may be weak during the lockout portion of the bench press, which ultimately undercuts their ability to lift a maximal amount of weight in competition.

However, by working on exercises like board presses or floor presses, they can improve the lockout portion of their bench press and see bigger increases in their competition scores. The novice lifter doesn’t have much to gain from performing partial reps due to the simple fact that they aren’t developed enough as a lifter to require these range of motion-specific exercises.

Power

For power output, the current body of research shows much the same thing as strength — partial reps can improve power output , but it tends to be more effective in advanced lifters rather than novices.

Full range of motion squats has been shown to lead to greater overall power output, while partial reps translate to better performance in jumping.

Until now, most of the research has compared using only full reps or partial reps in a training block, but what happens if you were to combine them in a training program?

Is there an additive effect?

Let’s discuss further.

What About Combining Full Reps and Partial Reps?

A few studies have looked at the outcomes in terms of strength, power, and hypertrophy when using either full reps or a lifting program that combined full reps and partial reps.

The results are a bit mixed, but they do tend to favor the application of partial reps benefitting advanced lifters more than novices or intermediates.

The Bottom Line on Partial Reps vs Full Reps

The majority of research shows that using full range of motion reps leads to superior training adaptations than partial reps. As such, you should prioritize using full reps in your training program.

More advanced lifters may stand to benefit from incorporating some partial rep work in their training, but for the average gym rat looking to build muscle and lose fat, they aren’t necessary.

Partial Range of Motion is Way Easier and Gets You Stronger Faster Right? Wrong!

August 3, 2011 / Jacob Luckey /

At most health facilities in the world if you were to look out on the weight room floor I’m sure of two things… people will be doing curls, and people will be doing partial range of motion. Usually these go hand in hand, but people can do partial range of motion (ROM) in many different exercises; the most common being pushups, squat, & pullups/chinups.

I’m sure many of you have great reasons for only doing half of the motion; starting back in the 80’s some research even came out to say that you can have the same benefits from doing half reps as the full rep. Many people say that their bodies react to it better, it’s safer on their joints, they are stronger and can workout harder etc. etc. Well let me tell you what the science says about partial range of motion exercises:

  1. Partial range of motion can be used to gain strength & size, especially if you have plateaued. They go on to state that it is not a workout regiment you do every day, more of a once every two weeks and it must be accompanied by a full range of motion exercise using the same muscle groups within the same workout. Partial ROM is also supposed to be utilized AFTER a base strength has been achieved!
  2. The strongest muscle fiber is a fully elongated (stretched) and fully hydrated. If we take that first concept, a fully elongated muscle fiber means working a muscle through the full ROM. If you do partial reps, you are strengthening only one half of the muscle fibers. Let’s take pushups, if you just push yourself up halfway off the floor, or only lower your body halfway down…what happens when you fall and need to catch your body with that muscle fiber that is never worked. My guess would be injury. This may not happen right away, but I guarantee if all you ever work is partial ROM severe injury will plague you at some point.
  3. What happens with muscle fibers that are continually contracted but never stretched or relaxed? They become very tight and shorten up. A prime example of this would be with the bicep curl. For those of you who curl the weight up to your shoulders and then as you lower it shoot your elbows backward keeping a large bend in the arm, you will end up with locked elbows. Ever see those people who cannot straighten their arms out all the way? Well your bicep can actually fuse to your arm if you do too many partial ROM exercises and never incorporate straightening your arms all the way. The only way to have this fixed once it happens is surgery where they have to tear the muscle off the humerus… doesn’t sound like too much fun to me! (Women are allowed to have a soft elbow, meaning an ever so slight bend in their arm, when doing curls because of a hyperextension issue only with females).
  4. Now the big question, squats…should someone go below parallel? Isn’t it bad on the knees? Here is my opinion on this topic; since the science goes back and forth with some research stating it is bad on the knees & others stating it is just fine. One…when we were born could we squat our hips below our knees? If you are ever in the SAC go check out the day care; I bet you a dollar you will see kids squat down their diapers below their knees to pick up toys! Two…look at other countries like China and Japan, everyone there sits with their knees below their hips to do everything. You will see people of all ages reading newspapers, eating, holding a conversation sitting in a deep squat. So if we were born able to do it and other counties do it (and they have a lot less knee/hip issues than the USA) I would assume it would be ok to perform a deep squat, but even smarter to utilize a trainer to help you get going first.
  5. Are there exercises it is ok to do partial ROM? Yes there are, but for the general population who workout in the gym, there is no need for them to do them; and if you really want to know what they are, come find me ill let you know which ones. A hint is they are usually associated with the shoulder complex!

All in all, if I was to recommend someone do partial ROM it would be to get over that plateau in strength, but I would still make them do that same movement full ROM within the same workout. Women may have a soft bend during curls to prevent hyperextension of their elbows; other than that there is no solid evidence of any full ROM exercise (to my knowledge) being a safety concern. If you have questions about your form on an exercise, grab a PFT in a red shirt and ask them to check out your form; we would gladly assist you in correcting any unsafe movements!

Fitness Advice, Sports Conditioning, Strength Training

bootcamp, Personal Training, Range of Motion, rehab, Seattle, Sports Conditioning, strength training

Why You Should Add Partial Reps to Your Training and How to Do It

4. Compensate for poor mobility.

Poor mobility and poor range of motion go hand in hand. Things like tight hips, rigid ankles, or knee pain limit flexibility and ROM, making partial reps perhaps the only option, at least temporarily, when strength training, explains Wickham. “It is much safer and better for the body to sit part of the way down into a squat than to go to full depth if you don’t have the mobility,” he says, so you don’t put too much pressure on weak joints. That said, strength work needs to be combined with mobility exercises and stretches in your training to avoid injury and gradually increase the ROM over time. (This mobility workout to keep you injury-free for life is a great place to start.)

Exercises to Do with Partial Reps

Almost every exercise can be turned into a half-rep movement (with the exception of something that puts too much pressure on the shoulder joint), but some lifts and movements are going to be more beneficial as partial reps, so those are a good place to start, says Beatty. The weight and rep scheme that you use will depend on your current training and fitness level. Incorporating partial reps of each of the following movements one time a week in addition to your regular full ROM work can help you reach your muscle-building, fat-blasting, and even weight-loss potential, he says.

Biceps Curl

Using a weight that is about 40 to 50 percent of your one-rep max (or a weight you can lift for seven reps with proper full ROM form), perform the following rep scheme without stopping. You can increase the number of reps or the weight, if necessary.

  • 7 bottom-half curls (from straight arms to 90-degree angle)
  • 7 top-half curls (from 90-degree angle to chest)
  • 7 full ROM reps

Romanian Deadlift

Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) are technically already half-rep deadlifts because you’re doing about half of the full range of motion of a regular deadlift, says Beatty. Plus, they are a great exercise to see those booty gains, he adds. To shorten the movement, start by moving the bar from hip-height down to your knees, then standing back up. You’ll want to pick a starting weight that’s about 50 percent of your one-rep max for a RDL. You can make the movement even more isolated by stopping four inches above the knee, and focus on really contracting and squeezing the glutes every time you come up, he says. Aim to complete 3 sets of 6 to 8 partial reps. (Need some more booty-building inspiration? These four deadlift variations are exercises everyone can add to their workout.)

Bench Press

The bench press is a foundational strength movement that not many do, but should, says Luciani. “My recommendation is that you first begin incorporating bench pressing into your training with the full range of motion, but work in half or quarter reps, when you’re comfortable,” she says. Half rep bench press movements are a great way to target the chest and triceps muscles, explains Beatty, which are often underworked muscles for women. (Here, more important muscles women ignore.)

Squat

“To complete a half-rep squat, you would not break parallel, which-while you don’t want to get in the habit of stopping above the breaking point-can be an effective way to increase strength,” says Luciani. This means, your butt never drops below your knees. Try doing 1 rep with full ROM followed by a half rep, she says. “Using a full rep and a half rep within the same sequence increases a muscle’s time under tension. More time under tension means more muscle breakdown, which with proper recovery, means that the muscle will grow back stronger.”

Here’s how to do it: If you know your one-rep max for the back squat, put 50 percent of that weight on the bar and do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps, resting 1 minute between sets. If you don’t know your 1 rep max, start with an empty barbell and slowly add weight until you find a load you can do comfortably for 6 to 8 reps, suggests Luciani.

Split Squat

“Bulgarian split squats are a great way to strengthen the glutes and the quads,” says Beatty. “Doing half reps can help build muscle, protect from any hamstring tension or tendonitis, and keep from aggravating old injuries.” Follow the same rep scheme as you did with the biceps curl, switching legs after completing all 21 reps.

  • 7 bottom-half reps (from 90-degrees to bottom of squat)
  • 7 top-half reps (from 90-degrees to standing)
  • 7 full ROM reps
  • By By Gabrielle Kassel
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4 Moves To Solve A Stalled Bench

Almost nothing feels better than beating your old bench-press mark. And while it may have happened regularly during your early days of lifting, those fast gains start slowing down as you become more seasoned. Pretty quickly, you’ll require a more disciplined approach than simply getting under a heavy bar and pushing with everything you’ve got.

If your bench-press gains have stalled, it’s time to examine some proven approaches that can get you back on track again. They address specific weak links along the movement, giving you help where you need it most.

In The Beginning, There Was Form

Before we dissect the bench press and its associated maladies, let’s first make sure your form is dialed in. Poor form is often misattributed to weakness (this applies to many other lifts, by the way). However, you might not need to work on improving your bench-press starting strength or lockout; you may instead simply need to tighten up your form.

A long-winded diatribe on the intricacies of the bench press is beyond this article. I can, however, hammer home the necessities. Make sure you have these points down before diving any deeper into assistance training:

  • Straight wrists, knuckles pointed to the ceiling
  • Eyes under the bar before unracking it
  • Feet in a position where they can forcefully drive into the ground
  • Glutes tight
  • Bar squeezed as hard as possible
  • Bar touching a position on your chest that keeps the elbows underneath the bar
  • Elbows underneath the bar for the entire press

If you can confidently check off all the items on this list, you’re ready to talk about selecting assistance lifts. If not, work on getting better at the full-range barbell bench press. Once you’ve mastered that, come back to this article for assistance advice.

Identifying The Problem

Now put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and do some sleuth work. There are no arbitrary assistance solutions; you must investigate to find the problem, and then plan assistance training based on the evidence.

Bench pressers must overcome two weak areas: the start and the finish.

Bench pressers must overcome two weak areas: the start and the finish. Lots of ladies and gents can lock out a Volkswagen, but they have a hard time getting the bar to launch out of the bottom position. Some exist at the other end of the spectrum: They rocket weight off the chest, only to fail as the press progresses into the mid- and upper-range.

If you’re unsure which describes you, have someone film you doing a heavy bench-press set. Warm-up to about 90 percent of your 1-rep max, and press it for as many reps as you can. When you’ve finished, watch the video and note where you begin to struggle. Then note where you begin to fail on your last rep. You’ll get an instant visual of which group you belong in.

Group 1: Trouble Off The Chest

Do you have a hard time getting the party started? In most cases, you can best address this by either picking up the pace with some dedicated speed work, or doing the absolute opposite and hanging out for a few interminable seconds at the bottom of the bench-press range of motion. Here’s how to program both.

Speed Bench Press

The speed/dynamic-effort bench press is a powerlifting staple popularized decades ago by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. It’s a great means for increasing bench-pressing volume without overtraining, while also improving speed off the chest.

You’ll do this by progressing the speed bench press for one month, doing lots of sets of just a few reps with 50-60 percent of your 1-rep max. For example, if your max bench press is 275 pounds, you’ll use just 135 pounds during the first week.

Speed Bench Press

Set it up like this:

  • Week 1: 6 sets of 3 reps at 50 percent 1RM
  • Week 2: 6 sets of 3 reps at 55 percent 1RM
  • Week 3: 8 sets of 3 reps at 55 percent 1RM
  • Week 4: 6 sets of 3 reps at 60 percent 1RM

Make the speed bench your main bench-pressing movement one day per week, or your first-level assistance exercise after your heavy bench presses. If you choose to use the speed bench as a main exercise, bench heavy on one other upper-body training day per week, keeping the loads between 80-85 percent.

Paused Bench Presses

An isometric pause in the bottom bench-press position does wonders for building strength and power out of the hole. That’s because under normal conditions, when you reverse direction out of the hole, built-up elastic energy helps propel you over the bottom portion of the lift. But when you stop at the bottom momentarily, that built-up energy is lost, so you now have to work harder getting the bar out of the hole.

The process is simple. Use loads between 80-90 percent of your 1RM and pause for 3-5 seconds in the bottom position, holding the bar slightly off your chest while maintaining full-body tension. Once you’ve paused for the prescribed time, press the bar as fast as possible.

Paused Bench Press

This method works well in conjunction with speed bench presses, by the way. Perform the paused reps on your other weekly bench-press day.

Here’s a simple way to program paused bench presses:

  • Week 1: 4 sets of 3 reps at 80 percent of your 1RM with 4-second pause
  • Week 2: 4 sets of 3 reps at 85 percent of your 1RM with 3-second pause
  • Week 3: 5 sets of 3 reps at 85 percent of your 1RM with 3-second pause
  • Week 4: 3 sets of 3 reps at 80 percent of your 1RM with 5-second pause

Remember, you need to know you one-rep max for the bench press, and then simply multiply it by the percentage you’re doing that week. That becomes the load for all your sets.

Group 2: Trouble At The Finish

So you can blast the weight off the chest, but falter at lockout? I have solutions for you as well. In both of these cases, you’ll be overloading the top of the bench-press movement.

Board Presses

Like the speed bench, the board press is a powerlifting staple. Bench-press boards are two-by-four or two-by-six planks that are nailed, screwed, or taped together and placed on your chest to shorten the bench-press range of motion, so you’re doing only the upper half of the lift. Once the boards are placed on your chest (and usually held there by a lifting partner), you bring the bar down to touch the boards, and then press it back up.

Board Press

Board presses do a couple of things for a poor lockout. First, they allow you to use more weight than normal bench-press sets do. This overloads the movement and trains the nervous system to handle more weight during full-range efforts. They also help you practice pressing through your deficient range of motion. The combination is deadly.

Board presses are a great main bench-press exercise, but they’re also great as a first-level assistance exercises, meaning they’re done immediately after finishing all of your normal bench-press sets.

I’ve found three-board two-by-fours or two-by-sixes stacked on one another to be the most productive. They seem to have the best carryover to full-range bench pressing. They also offer have programming versatility, since they work well with heavy sets of 1-5 reps, but are equally great for sets of 5-10 reps.

Let’s say your main, full-range bench-press sets are heavy sets of 3 reps, and you’re using board presses as your first-assistance exercise. In this case, do 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.

Reverse-Band Bench Press

Reverse-band bench presses are a full-range bench press with help at the bottom of the movement from elastic training bands. The bands are hooked around the bar and also to the top of a squat rack. This gives you a ton of help out of the bottom position, while requiring you to bear the brunt of the load as the press continues toward lockout.

Reverse-Band Bench Press

These are great for training you to press hard and fast through the full range of motion, while also overloading the press over the top half to train your nervous system to handle heavier weights.

Programming is simple: You program these the same way as board presses. Do 5-10 reps if this movement is a first-assistance exercise, and perform 3-5 sets.

Start Gaining Again

There’s an upside to having a stalled bench press: Many people have been where you’ve been before, and they’ve come out bigger and stronger on the other side.

Another upside: The methodology isn’t complicated. It’s almost always one of three points: Improve your form, get stronger out of the bottom, or get stronger at the top. Do your detective work, find the flaw, and then do your reps.

The half-bench single-arm press is a valuable addition to your training routine that can help to strengthen your chest, but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?

For this movement, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a killer exercise that can serve as a simple addition to your training plan. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.

Before you take to the bench and slide yourself into place, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention the movement here. Hitting the proper form is essential to make sure you’re getting the most out of the exercise—particularly because of the subtle details with the position and what you need to do to make sure you’re actually getting work in. Let’s break down everything you need to know.

Ebenezer Samuel/Men’s Health

Be Picky About What’s Off the Bench

Eb says: This is a half-bench press, but it’s more than that. You want to be very intentional about the parts of your body that are off the bench and how you set up on the bench. You need to set up with your butt near the bottom edge of the bench, so your legs can’t brace against the bench and take strain off your core. Then you’ll also want one full glute, one half of your torso, your spine, and half your head off the bench.

Be intentional about getting these off the bench and feel how it changes your body’s balance demands; if you don’t, you’ll instantly make the move too easy. The best way to get in this position; hold the weight in your working hand overhead, then shimmy off the bench into proper position.

Glutes Alive

Eb says: Once you start doing reps, you’ve got to active fire off with your glutes. This isn’t just about squeezing your glutes; it’s about squeezing them as hard as possible. Your knees are going to want to cave in at the bottom of every rep because that’s the path of least resistance, but you want your knees driving open aggressively.

So squeeze your glutes hard, as if doing a squat. Videotape yourself if you can, watching your technique to make sure your knees stay strongly open and your feet stay grounded to the floor.

No Rest

Eb says: Don’t let the dumbbell come to rest on your chest at the bottom of your reps; make sure it’s an inch above your chest. You want the bottom position of each press to be a position of work for your core, and making sure you’re an inch above the ground. You’ll need to control the weight in this position, both with your chest and with your abs and glutes.

Want to master even more moves? Check out our entire Form Check series.

Brett Williams Brett Williams, an associate fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. Ebenzer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men’s Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience.

This Little-Known Tricep Exercise Will Build a Bigger Bench Press

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The Bench Press is much more than a chest exercise. Your entire upper body, including your arms, works to lower the heavy weight and drive it off your chest.

Think about it. You straighten your arms as you press the bar off your chest. What muscles help to straighten your arms? The triceps. When the bar is close to your chest, your pecs do the most of the work. As the bar continues to rise up, the role of the triceps increases, and they play an essential role when you move through the top half of the rep.

That’s why Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage Training (Bloomingburg, New York) prioritizes triceps strength when developing a bigger Bench Press. And he’s had some great success. At the age of 55 and weighing 200 pounds, Scarpulla can raw Bench Press 440 pounds. Many of the high school athletes he trains can lift well over 300 pounds on the movement.

RELATED: 5 High-Rep Workout Finishers That Will Give You a Serious Muscle Pump

His silver bullet? The RS Press.

Scarpulla developed the RS Press (as in “Rick Scarpulla Press”) as an assistance move to the Bench Press. It’s essentially a hybrid between a Close-Grip Bench Press and a Skullcrusher.

How to perform the RS Press

  • Hold the bar with a close grip so the inside of your hands are on the edge of the knurling.
  • Keeping your elbows tight to your sides, lower the bar until your elbows are aligned with your body.
  • Rock the bar backward a few inches.
  • In one fluid motion, rock the bar forward a few inches and press it explosively off your chest.

The unique part of the RS Press is the rocking motion.

“When you do the small swing backwards and come forward, it activates the delts and the firing back up develops triceps strength,” Scarpulla says. Compared to the Close-Grip Bench Press, the triceps are firing through a greater range of motion, which makes it more challenging for the backside of the arms.

It also improves control of the bar during the Bench Press. “When you stop the bar on the way down, it takes tremendous back and rear delt strength to stop the bar with a heavy load,” he adds.

Consistently performing this exercise will result in a stronger Bench Press, especially on the top half of the rep, because of the added tricep strength. However, it’s also a great overall assistance exercise, because it works several common weak points in the lift.

Scarpulla recommends performing the RS Press once or twice a week. He sometimes does it for 3 or 4 sets of 12 reps with light weight, or he might load it up for heavy sets in an approach similar to the Bench Press. Give it a try and watch your Bench Press skyrocket.

RELATED: Add 30 Pounds to Your Bench Press in 20 Minutes

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Half rep bench press

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