One of the first things you learn when you start lifting weights is how important it is to use a full range of motion on exercises. That’s how you work the entire muscle and avoid developing imbalances that can reduce your flexibility and cause injuries later on. This remains sound advice, and if you’re a relative beginner to resistance training, you should follow that rule. But if you’ve been lifting for a few years, it may be time to break it.“You have to do full range of motion!” is a very common sentence used when explaining the basics of lifting to gain mass. I do agree that in the very beginning of your lifting you should do full range of motion only in order to get your nervous system used to training and activating all muscles in a certain exercise, but after that stage only relying on full ROM in exercises will make you miss out on a great chance of putting slabs of muscle on your body!
Look at todays pro bodybuilders and notice how many of them who dont use partial reps in their exercises! Now I am not comparing you to a pro bodybuilder and you should not do the same workouts as them, but there is a reason why so many bodybuilders tend to use partial reps!
1. Get soft-tissue work. Chin-up performance often can be improved instantly with the right soft-tissue work. For example, many people cannot clear the chin above the bar, but once they release muscular adhesions between the teres major and the latissimus dorsi – boom! – the person clears the chin. To find the right person to improve your chin-ups, see this list of soft-tissue practitioners.
2. Initiate the movement by learning to retract the scapulae. A basic principle in biomechanics is that force production is a product of joint summation. Using the scapulae retractors to initiate the movement produces more force, which translates in better rate of force development.
3. Concentrate on moving the elbows back and down. Most trainees overemphasize pulling with the elbow flexors to initiate the chin-up. Once you have retracted the scapulae, concentrate on elbowing the gut of someone who is standing behind you. That action will activate the latissimus dorsi and the teres major, which are powerful shoulder extensors.
4. Vary the grip orientation and width. Not only will varying the grip keep your training from becoming monotonous, it also will accelerate gains. When you change the grip width and/or its orientation, you will draw from a different motor-unit pool. At the Poliquin Strength Institute, I had the Canadian exercise equipment company Atlantis build me two special power racks with a variety of pull-up/chin-up attachments. These attachments, which are mounted on the top of three sides of the rack, enable us to perform a variety of normal-diameter and thick-grip pull-ups and chin-ups. Changing from pronated to neutral to supinated effects the percentage of recruitment from the various elbow flexors. As a rule of thumb, when pressed for time, I prefer the athletes to use the thick grip versions, as they tend to accelerate gains, and have a greater transfer to sport tasks.Changing the grip orientation also effects the percentage of contribution from the scapulae muscles and the shoulder extensors.
5. Fully stretch eccentrically the elbow flexors and scapulae retractors. A common mistake made by incompetent trainers is instructing their clients not to fully extend their elbows in the eccentric portion and not to fully lower the scapulae. Having poor range of motion eventually also leads to soft tissue problems. Yes, you do perform more reps with that reduced range technique, but they are still partial reps. Remember this: Strength is gained in the range that is trained! A good tip to make sure they go low enough, is that I tell the athletes to pretend to touch the floor with their toes at the bottom of the eccentric range.
6. Perform slow eccentrics. In my experience, doing slow eccentrics is the best loading parameter for people who perform poorly at chin-ups. I shoot for 30 seconds of lowering on the last rep of every set. That brings record chinning strength in no time. Make sure that the pace is even. So for example, if you are at a 20 seconds level, the elbows should be at mid flexion by second number 10.
7. Recognize that volume is key. You need a minimum of 30 reps per workout to make continual improvements in chin-ups. If you need to perform 10 sets to get those total reps, so be it.
8. Improve curling strength. Doing chin-ups should improve curling strength, but the reverse is also true, particularly for female trainees. Choose a curling grip that mimics the grip you are using in your chin-ups and pull-ups. For example, hammer curls will improve your neutral-grip pull-ups.
9. Improve gripping strength. Never use straps! Isometric holds for eight seconds using various gripping devices will prevent your grip from being the limiting factor in your chin-up progress.
10. The chin must clear the bar. The only way your scapulae retractors will ever get strong is by making sure that your chin goes above the bar. If you need a spot in the early stages of your training to complete the range, that doesn’t make you a bad person – just keep working hard and you’ll get there. Make sure that the person spotting you gives you just enough help to get your to clear the bar.
11. Use tree-climbing belts when using additional loads. Tree-climbing belts can cost up to 300 bucks, but you can get them on eBay for as little as 99 cents. With a tree-climbing belt the weight is equally distributed, and it’s much sturdier than a dipping belt. You can add 250 pounds to it and not feel any pressure on your hips. As for added load to the pull-up, anyone who can do three dead-hang pull-ups with an additional load equivalent to 66 percent of their bodyweight is pretty damn impressive in my book.
12. Become as lean as you can: Doing chin-ups with extra bodyfat is like doing chin-ups with a back pack. For lots of information on how you can achieve optimal body composition, check out the numerous articles on nutrition and supplementation in our website.
Chin-ups once were a regular part of physical education classes and were often performed by the general population to stay in shape. I’m glad to see that chin-ups are becoming popular again. To be part of that movement be sure to apply these 12 guidelines. You’ll be surprised just how quickly you can master this great exercise.
Perform each workout (Day I,
II, and III) once per week, resting at least a day between each session. Exercises marked “A” and “B” are paired and alternated. So, you’ll do one set of A, rest, then one set of B, rest, and repeat until all sets are com- plete. Then go on to the next pair.
Click here to see a video of Dan demonstrating some moves from the Partial Rep Workout.
Sets: 4 Reps: 2-4 Rest: 120 sec.
Set up spotted bars in a squat rack so that you can lower yourself only one-quarter of the way down before touching the pins. Load the bar with 100-130% of your max. Squat, lowering your body until the bar touches the pins—but do not rest on them. Drive back up through your heels.
Sets: 4 Reps: 2-4 Rest: 120 sec.
Set the spotter bars to the bottom position of your full squat. When you squat, take a deep breath and push your hips back as you descend. Push your knees outward at the same time.
Use a load you could usually perform five reps with, but go for six if possible.
THE PARTIAL REP WORKOUT
Next time you hit the gym, act like your first girlfriend and don't go all the way. Instead, use quarter reps to build strength and size.
DUMBBELL WALKING LUNGE
Sets: 3 Reps: 8-10 (each leg) Rest: 60 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and step forward. Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel with the floor and your rear knee is about an inch off it. Step forward and repeat on the other leg. Each lunge step is one rep.
Sets: 3 Reps: 8-10 (each leg) Rest: 60 sec.
Sit on the floor with your feet flat and your upper back resting against a bench. Roll a barbell into your lap and grasp the bar just outside shoulder width. Drive your heels into the floor to raise your hips until your body forms a straight line.
ONE-QUARTER BENCH PRESS
Sets: 4 Reps: 2-4 Rest: 120 sec.
Set the spotter bars in a power rack so when you bench press you can lower the bar only one-quarter of the way. Load the bar with 100–130% of your max. Lower the bar until it touches the pins and then press back up. Do not rest on the pins at the bottom.
Sets: 4 Reps: 4-6 Rest: 120 sec.
Set the spotter bars to the bottom position of your full bench press and perform a set with full range of motion. Choose a load you could usually perform five reps with but go for six
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SEATED DUMBBELL PRESS
Sets: 3 Reps: 8-10 Rest: 60 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and sit on an adjustable bench with the back support set between 80 and 90 degrees. Using a neutral grip (palms facing each other), press the dumb- bells overhead. Keep your core tight.
Sets: 3 Reps: 8-10 Rest: 60 sec.
Face an adjustable cable station with the cable height set just above eye level. Attach a rope handle and grasp it with palms facing each other. Pull the rope toward your nose—your hands should end up on either side of your ears, and your upper arms should be parallel with the floor in the end position.
Sets: 4 Reps: 2-4 Rest: 120 sec.
Set the spotter bars in a squat rack at just above knee height. Place a barbell on them and load the bar with 100–130% of your max deadlift. Grasp the bar and pull it against your shins. Keeping your back flat, extend your hips to lockout and stand tall.
Sets: 4 Reps: 4-6 Rest: 120 sec.
Set up a bar on the floor outside the squat rack. Use a load that you can usually perform five reps with but go for six if possible. Keeping your lower back flat, drive your heels into the floor and lift the bar until your hips are locked out and you’re standing tall.
Sets: 3 Reps: 8-10 Rest: 60 sec.
Set a pulley to the lowest setting at
a cable station
and attach a rope handle. Face away and grasp the rope. Straddle it between your legs. Step forward until there’s tension on the cable and then drive your hips back, bending your knees only slightly, until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Extend your hips.
ALTERNATING DUMBBELL REVERSE LUNGE
Sets: 3 Reps: 8-10 (each leg) Rest: 60 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and step backward into a lunge. Keep your torso upright.
Partial range reps, which I will refer to as "partials" from now on, are basically reps done in a specific range of motion. A partial bench press, for example, may involve doing only the top six inches of the range of motion.
Partial reps have one major advantage over full range reps: you can target your resistance to the specific range of motion you are working in.
Think of the bench press again. You know how much easier the weight feels after you get past the sticking point. Obviously, that sticking point is limiting the amount of weight you are able to use on the exercise.
If you are only able to get 200 pounds past the sticking point, but your chest muscles are capable of handling 300 pounds once you're past it, you will be limiting your ultimate muscle mass and strength levels by only using 200 pounds.
This is where partial training comes in. By working only in the range of motion ABOVE the sticking point, you can use far more weight and, therefore, work your muscles at a far higher threshold.
By working at a higher weight, you will not only be getting your muscles used to handling those heavier weights, you will be building your connective tissue to help handle those loads.
From personal experience, I know how dramatic the effect training the connective tissue to handle heavier loads can be. For years, I was stuck a maximum of 300 pounds on the flat bench press. No matter how hard I worked, nothing seemed to help. Then I discovered partials.
By working partials consistently, I brought my max bench press up to 350 pounds in a matter of months. It made me realize that my connective tissue strength was holding me back, not my muscle strength, and nothing builds connective tissue better than extremely heavy weights.
To give you an idea of the kind of weight your body may be capable of moving with partials, while at a bodyweight of approximately 210 pounds, I've done top range partial bench presses with 750 pounds and top range partial squats with 1100 pounds. Partials with this extremely heavy weight builds up incredible connective tissue strength and helps you build strength extremely quickly.
Partials are useful not only in the ranges of motion where you can use the heaviest weights, but in the ranges of motion where you are at your weakest.
Using the barbell squat for an example, think of where the weakest point in the range of motion would be. The very bottom, right?
Now imagine setting up a barbell in the power rack at the very bottom position of the squat. You get under the bar, then, starting from a dead stop, you squat the weight up a few inches then lower it back down to the safety rails again.
All of the stress of the exercise is placed on your muscles in their least favorable leverage, which will build up your weakest point. This can dramatically increase your strength and power in that weak range, which can have a dramatic effect on how much weight you'll be able to use for full range reps.
Partial training concepts can be applied to almost any exercise you can imagine, however partials are certainly more appropriate for some exercises than others. This is especially true of exercises that already have a short range of motion or need a full range of motion to be effective.
Some exercises partials work very well for include: bench press (a barbell is much better than dumbells as you can use the power rack rails to easily adjust your range of motion), squats, deadlifts, barbell and dumbell curls, barbell shoulder press, dips, close grip bench, pushdowns, bent-over rows, and calf raises.
Key Points About Partial Training
There are several very important things to note about partial training:
You should keep some full range movements in your program. Don't do partial movements exclusively for too long. I would recommend alternating sessions of partial and full-range training.
Training with extremely heavy weights is extremely demanding on the body. You may find you need more time to recover from partial training sessions than regular training sessions.
Because this training strongly affects the connective tissue, it's a good idea to supplement with nutrients that support the joints. These include Vitamin C (helps support collagen formation), calcium, glucosamine and chondroitin, MSM, and gelatin. These nutrients will help your body to recover faster from this heavy training.
Heavy partial training should not be done long term. I normally limit partial training to 6 weeks at a time, returning to full-range training for awhile. Taking time off partials not only allows your body time to recover from the extremely heavy weights but gives you a chance to put your newfound connective tissue strength to work in full-range training.
Describing how to do partials for every exercise I mentioned previously is beyond the scope of this article, but here are some pointers that will help you use partials in your workouts.
The power rack is your best friend. By setting the heights of the safety rails appropriately, you can stop the barbell at nearly any point in the range of motion of almost any barbell exercise.
Before you do a heavy partial rep, be sure to prepare yourself. Tighten up your muscles and prepare mentally. Partials are very different than full reps because of the far greater weights you'll be able to use.
Set aside your preconceptions of how much weight you're capable of lifting. You really will be amazed by how much more you can lift when you only work in your strongest range of motion.
Don't forget about working in your weakest ranges of motion too. It may not be as glamorous but working the weak range is very important for building up maximum full- range strength.
Work your poundages up gradually but don't be afraid to push yourself. Just because you can lift a ton more immediately doesn't necessarily mean you should. For the first few sessions, only go about 10 to 20% over your full range one-rep max. You need to give your body a chance to adapt to this totally different type of stress.
Your progress should be steady after that. Increases of up to 50 pounds or more per session are not uncommon on some of the larger muscle exercises such as bench press or squats. Try to move your poundages up each session, even if it's only by 5, 10, or 20 pounds.
Have fun!! You'll relish the incredulous looks you get from other people when you get to the point where you can lie down under a bar loaded with 7 plates on either side. You may have to apologize to others for using all the weight plates though!
To sum it up, partials are an extremely valuable training technique. They can help you blast through strength plateaus by building up not only your muscles and connective tissue, but your confidence with very heavy weights as well.
Bonus Training Tip!
Secret Training Tip High-Rep Partial Training
Gain strength and muscle mass!
This training technique is one of the best kept secrets for sending strength and muscle mass through the roof quick! Learn why it works and exactly how to do it for best results.
The partial rep is one of the most effective training techniques for building strength quickly but how can you adapt partials for boosting muscle mass at the same time? The answer is simple: high rep partial training.
Partial training, in a nutshell, involves only moving the weight in a shortened range of motion. This can be anywhere in the range of motion of an exercise but for our purposes, we're going to use the strongest range of motion, e.g. the top few inches of the bench press.
The reason conventional low-rep partial training is so effective for strength building is that you are using extremely heavy weight for low reps. This builds up excellent connective tissue and muscle strength.
Unfortunately for muscle gaining purposes, this type of training also results in a very short time under tension. Time under tension refers to the length of time a muscle is placed under continuous tension during an exercise. In order to stimulate muscle growth, your muscles need to be under tension for approximately 30 to 60 seconds (this is a rough estimate - it works out to about 6 to 12 reps in a conventional, full-range set).
A typical partial rep may take only one or two seconds to complete. If you do 5 reps, your muscles have only been under tension for 5 or 10 seconds. This is not nearly enough time to stimulate muscle growth. Now imagine doing 30 reps instead. This puts you right in the middle of that optimal range. Not only will you be using extremely heavy weight (which is great for building muscle and strength), but you'll be placing your muscles under tension for a long enough time to stimulate muscle growth. This is an extremely effective combination!
High rep partials can be used on their own or in combination with low-rep partials or even conventional full-range sets. I often use them after doing a few sets of extremely heavy low-rep partials. For example, I will do top range bench press partials with 600 or 700 pounds for low reps then remove a few plates and do a set of 50 or 60 reps with 315 pounds on the bar. I have also done sets of extremely high rep partial squats with extremely heavy weights (150 reps of 950 pounds). I've found both of these techniques to be very effective for building both strength and muscle mass quickly.
Powerlifters have huge legs yet only squat to parallel most of the time. Not a full range of motion movement. They also have huge traps which are mostly due to a lot of heavy deadlifts. There is NO range of motion for the traps on a deadlift. They contract, but don’t actively move from a full stretch position to the peak contraction position.
Not only is the deadlift the best trap building exercise there is, it’s also probably the best overall mass building exercise there is for the entire body. It has been heralded as such since the beginning of time from guys like Paul Anderson to Arnold to Ronnie Coleman. But name me one muscle group that is taken through a full range of motion on the deadlift.
There is not a one!
So how can some experts espouse the value of full range of motion training while simultaneously listing the deadlift as one of the top exercises in any muscle building program? Ditto for the clean, clean and press, snatch, jerk, etc.
Not only is this myth incorrect but it can also be dangerous advice to adhere to. Achieving a full range of motion for the pecs would entail bringing your arms all the way behind your back to start the exercise and then crossing them all the way across your body in the front. First of all, that would destroy your shoulder. Second of all, it’s impossible and impractical.
Some guys try to really go for the deep stretch on dumbbell presses and allow their elbows to drop way below the bench. Others drop down into the deepest stretch possible on the dip bars. They have been led to believe that this extreme, loaded pre-stretch is needed for maximal muscle growth. The truth is that they will probably be seeing an orthopedic surgeon long before they get mistaken for Mr. Olympia.
Leg presses are another exercise where guys commonly push the stretch position way too far. If you bury your knees in your chest on a leg press, like many bodybuilders and coaches recommend, and allow your spine to round and your butt to come up off the pad you will surely have back problems that may plague you for quite some time.
Not only is going into the fully stretched position not recommended, but a lot of exercises have no tension whatsoever in the fully contracted position, which therefore makes that recommendation somewhat useless as well. If you want to target your chest and shoulders and not your triceps, most pressing movements should actually be done with a partial range of motion; stopping a few inches shy of lockout. A ¾ range of motion there is more beneficial than a full range. Think Lou Ferrigno doing military presses in Pumping Iron.
There are numerous other exercises where partial ranges of motion are far more effective and safer than full range movements. However, covering them all is beyond the scope of this article.
But hopefully by now you realize what a ridiculous recommendation this full range of motion nonsense truly is and will stop following it blindly without rational thought as soon as possible.
Understanding Partial Rep Training Principle.
The behavior of muscles is a little tricky to understand. In the bodybuilding arena, partial rep training has been widely accepted as a powerful technique for muscle growth, especially for busting plateaus. Scientists have taken up this concept for research. However, unfortunately, they have not been ever able to answer how muscles adapt to different stimuli and how they grow. There is diverse opinion about muscle hypertrophy and hyperplasia.
However, most bodybuilders need to know how to bring results, and not what causes those results at a scientific level. I would leave the latter for the scientists.
Anatomy Of Muscles
Wolff’s Law: The bones inside a healthy body adapts to the applied load.
Therefore, when you lift weights, applying the right stress, and further, allowing adequate time for recovery, muscle growth will follow. Recovery time is closely related to the amount of stress subjected on the muscle tissue. In other words, the more weight you lift, the higher will be the recovery time.
What Determines Tissue Recovery
Blood and nerve supply play an important role in recovery of muscle tissues. Inadequate nerve supply limits blood flow, which delays recovery. On the other hand, blood supply depends on the target area and genetics.
Simplifying the aforementioned information, you can facilitate adequate nerve and blood flow through proper nutrition and rest.
Partial Reps And Neurological Training
Overloading the muscle, through lifting higher than normal weights, stimulates the neurological system. This puts multiple nerve units groups into action. In short, an ideal recipe for blasting muscles.
Partial Rep Training Motivation
The Psychology Of Training
At the gym, the biggest reason why some people cannot lift heavy is that they ‘believe’ they can’t. Often, it is the mental roadblock that prevents a bodybuilder from lifting more than he does. Also, when we see another bodybuilder breaking into a zone which we deem ‘impossible’, we tend to believe that even we can do it. You may be lifting 200lbs on bench press for months. And then one fine day, you see a guy walk into your gym, and lift 300lbs. This frees you mental limitation, and soon you find yourself trying your hands at 240 or even 300lbs. Isn’t it?
Building champion physiques is more of a mind work than physical work. In this regard, I must quote Arnold Schwarzenegger- “The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”
When you think you cannot lift a particular weight, your brain triggers this negative thought, communicating the idea to your body, and finally, making you fail at lifting the weight. I am talking about psychology because this is the most important aspect of partial rep training. This kind of training involves lifting heavy, through a shorter range of motion. That is why you should have a confident mindset and an indomitable will when following partial rep training for muscle growth.
At the same time, I do not suggest that you immediately lift 200lbs from 100lbs. That is not correct either. You must program your mind to ‘gradually’ lift more.
Getting Ready For Partial Rep Training
Partial repetition training requires strict form and consistency. It will see you lift unbelievable poundage. That is why you must lift with total concentration. A power rack is a useful equipment for this type of training. Better, if the pole has adjustable height. Partial movement training will incorporate only the BIG compound movements, namely, squats, deadlifts, bench presses and power cleans.
I would suggest you work out with a spotter when following a partial reps workout routine. Partial rep training is for the advanced bodybuilder. Make sure you have more than five years of training under your belt. If you have any bone injury or related medical history, please do not attempt this training without a doctor’s supervision.
Nutrition, as in any other training program, plays the MOST important role here. Eat protein twice your body weight (in grams) every day. If you weight 150 lbs, you should be aiming at 300 grams of protein. Eat sufficient carbs as well. Without carbs, you would not have the energy to lift heavy.
Partial Rep Training Example
Enough of the theory. Let us get down to some serious stuff. Here is an example to use partial reps in squats. Load the bar on the rack at a level at which you perform squats. Load the bar with weights with weight that is 20-50 pounds more than your full range maximum. For example, if 400 pounds is your current limit, the weight on the bar should be 420-450.
Bend your knee when you get ready for the lift under the bar. Lift the bar out of the rack and step forward. Then take a step backward, and put the bar on the rack. The next week, perform 2-10 reps by lowering the bar only an inch or two. Only when you develop the strength to perform 10 reps, you should move the bar down a few more inches. This means that partial rep training is a progressive weight routine.
Ideally, it should take you 6-8 weeks to perform a full squat. Once you reach that level, I suggest you take a week or two off heavy lifting, and then resume the training.
Any kind of partial-reps program requires consistency and patience. After 6-8 weeks, rest is important, otherwise you may run into over-training. The heavier the weights you lift, the more time you would require to recover. And this is perhaps the key to growing muscles. In addition, you should sleep at least 8 hours while on partial reps training.