One of the rules of training is to perform all exercises through a full range of motion. We frequently preach this because many athletes cheat on exercises simply to lift a heavier weight (and look cool.) But sometimes cheating on reps may actually be beneficial for building strength and power.
Partial reps involve moving through only the top half of a lift, such as a Deadlift, Bench Press or Squat. They avoid the most challenging portion of the movement, so you can lift a heavier weight than normal. Your body gets accustomed to handling the heavier weight through progressive overload and is primed to make fast strength and power gains when performing full-rep exercises.
"Partial reps allow the central nervous system to handle a heavier weight, while the joints and muscles get used to handling heavier loads than they normally would," explains Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage Training.
A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research validates this theory. The researchers found that subjects who performed full reps in conjunction with partial reps made greater strength and power gains than did subjects who only performed full reps over a seven-week program.
Yes, partial reps are clearly effective, but don't get too excited. There are several things you have to consider when incorporating this method into your program.
You Need Prior Training Experience
The researchers specified that partial rep training is only appropriate for individuals who have prior training experience. Scarpulla concurs. He says, "Partial reps for young athletes have a limited benefit because they have a lack of a foundation." Only perform partial reps on an exercise if you've performed the equivalent full movement for at least one year within a complete training program that works your entire body.
Partial Reps Aren't a Substitute for Full Reps
You need strength through your full range of motion, so full reps are still your primary focus. Partial reps allow for variation that causes your body to adapt to the new challenge. As a general guideline, Scarpulla recommends to perform partial reps no more than once or twice per month.
Use a Heavy Load
Use a load that's greater than your one-rep max. Start with 105 percent max and work your way up to 115 percent. Since the load is so heavy, stick to no more than three to five reps per set. This is not a time to go light so that the movement is easier. Load up the bar!
Choose Your Exercises Wisely
Theoretically, you can perform partial reps on many exercises. But it's best to focus on compound movements, such as the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift. Scarpulla particularly likes partial Deadlifts (from the knees) because your body is in a better position to handle the heavy training loads. "Your hips and lower back are generally pretty durable, so you can really load up the weight," he says. However, he advises caution when performing partial Bench Presses because of potential injury issues with the shoulders and upper back, especially if you don't have a solid base of strength. And, to prevent injuries, never perform partial overhead exercises, such as a Shoulder Press.
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