Partial Reps Can Help You Break Through Training Plateaus

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

There are certain rules you should always follow in the gym. Never lift more than you can handle and always wipe down equipment after you use it, for example. But other rules are more flexible depending on the facility (e.g., loud grunting), and some are meant to be broken on occasion—such as the common admonition that you should always lift through a complete range of motion (ROM).

To be clear, moving a joint from full extension to full flexion—as you do with your knees when you go ass-to-grass during a squat—is the cornerstone of proper form. And generally speaking, that should be your default during most lifts, as some research shows that it can lead to greater strength gains. But there are certain instances in which limiting your range of motion—only performing the bottom half of a biceps curl or the top portion of the bench press or deadlift, for example—is the smarter move.

Known as “partial reps,” these abbreviated movements can help you bust through a lifting plateau by allowing you to use heavier loads and work around an exercise’s “sticking point” (i.e., the part of a lift where the weight typically feels the heaviest). And if you have poor mobility, doing partial reps (e.g., a quarter or half squat instead of a full squat) can help you build the ROM you need to perform the full exercise with proper form.

Your move: If you can identify with either of the scenarios mentioned above, you’ll benefit from adding “partials” to your training program—just as long as you use precisely the same form as you would during that portion of the full ROM lift.

That’s the secret to employing partial reps effectively. They aren’t an opportunity to “cheat” a move so you can lift more weight (although increasing your load is definitely a perk). They’re a way to overcome weak points in an exercise or work within that limited mobility to help you to break out of a rut and trigger fresh gains.

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