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Mosy around any gym, and you’ll see some dudes lifting heavyweights they can’t even lift.

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: “Your reps are partial and you should feel bad.”

The truth?

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

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


3:12 – What is a partial rep? 

6:02 – Why do people do partial reps? 

7:20 – Do partial reps make sense? 

18:01 – How do you program in partial reps? 

Mentioned on the show: 

Books by Mike Matthews

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!



Hello and welcome. Welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to learn about partial reps or cheat reps, as some people call them, and whether or not this training technique, if you will call it that, has any merit, because some people say that.

Half reps, if used correctly, can add to an otherwise traditional weightlifting routine. So the theory goes, if you were to take your workout programming now, which probably has you using a full range of motion with all exercises and in every set, every wrap, if you were. Add some heavy partial reps or maybe swap out some of your traditional reps.

For heavy partial reps, you would gain muscle and strength faster. Now, there is an opposing school of thought as well that says that you have to take. Every rep through a full range of motion for it to quote unquote count. And that if you do a partial rep, even one partial rep, you are cheating yourself out of the potential gains, the training stimulus of that rep.

And the truth is, Both of these philosophies are wrong. You don’t need to include partial reps in your training, but they are not entirely useless. They actually can have a place in a well-designed training program, and in this podcast, I’m going to explain why and how to get the most out of partial reps if you want to give them.

Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world, bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the Shredded Chef.

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Thinner, leaner, stronger for women and the shredded chef for my favorite fitness friendly recipes. Alright, let’s start with a quick and simple definition of a partial rep. So we are on the same page. So we are envisioning the same thing here. So we first need to describe range of motion to understand what a partial rep is, right?

So range of motion is just. Full movement potential of a joint. So it’s the range of flexion and extension. And 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. And just in case you’re not familiar with those terms, flexion is when you shorten the angle in a joint, like when you curl a dumb.

Up, which shortens the angle formed by the upper and the lower parts of your arm. And then extension is the opposite of that. Extension is lengthening the angle of a joint. So when you are lowering the dumbbell toward the ground, you are expanding the angle between the upper and the lower parts of your arm.

So then a full range of motion in an exercise. Wrap is one wherein you move your joint from the farthest point of extension to the farthest point of flexion and then back. So for example, if you can squat so that your butt almost touches the ground, then that would be a full. Range of motion. Not that you have to do that.

You don’t have to squat ass to grass. You can do perfectly well with a parallel squat, but that would be the full range of motion, right? You can’t go any lower than your butt basically touching the ground. And then you can’t go any higher than your knees locked, standing upright. And so then a partial rep is one that uses a partial range of motion wherein you move.

Joint well within its limits of flexion and extension. So you are moving it through only a portion of that full range of motion. So if you could imagine sitting on a preacher curl bench or a machine right, where you’re doing preacher curls for your biceps and you were to only work, let’s say the top half of the reps.

So you would stop, uh, each rep. The bottom of each rep would be where your forms. Basically pointing at the ceiling as opposed to pointing at the ground, at which point you would then curl them back toward your body. That would be a partial range of motion, or those would be partial reps. We see this a lot on the bench press, for example, when people bring the bar down a few inches and they stop a few inches above their chest and then press it back up.

We see it on the squat when people stop well above parallel, well above the point where they’re femurs. Thigh bones, their upper parts of their legs are parallel to the ground or even a little bit lower than that. And well, you get the idea. Depending on the gym that you go to, you may see a lot of creative ways to partial reps.

I know I have over the years now, why do people do. Partial reps. Well, of course you have people who just don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know what full range of motion is. They don’t know why it is important, and so they’re just ignorant. Not stupid, but just ignorant. They just don’t know.

However, you do have many people who understand range of motion and who do use a full range of motion most of the time, but who also espouse using a partial range of motion, at least with certain exercises, and the reasons these people. Usually are doing this is because partial reps do allow you to use heavier weights while doing the same amount of reps or even more reps, and that can feel productive because of course, adding weight to the bar or to the dumbbells is our primary goal as a natural weight weightlifter.

That is primarily how we are going to achieve progressive overload and continue getting bigger and stronger. Uh, partial reps also give you, Pump. And many people think that the bigger the pump, the more muscle growth. And lastly, people will use partial reps to maintain constant tension on their muscles, which isn’t always the case with a full range of motion.

So think about a dumbbell sideway, for example, and how much more tension you feel as you approach the top of the rep versus the bottom of the rep. So those are the common reasons why people. Do partial reps, but do they make sense? Let’s get into them. So let’s talk about that first one, training with heavier weights.

Let’s say that you can bench 225 pounds, and that’s with a full range of motion. If you were to start doing partial reps, if you were to bring the bar a few inches down and a few inches above your chest, for example, then you could probably start benching 250 pounds without a problem for the same number of.

And as heavier weights are generally better for muscle growth. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that good? Mm, not quite, because what really drives muscle growth is increasing the amount of tension. That you expose your muscles to over time, the amount of tension that is generated in your muscles. And in this sense, tension refers to how much force your muscles have to generate to move a weight.

Now another important concept here is volume, which is how much weight you lift for, how many reps you lift it, and over what distance. And that last point is key because what we’re getting at here is work muscles having to do work. Our muscles have to continue to work harder over time to get bigger and stronger.

And anyone who has done a full squat and a quarter squat knows that the full squat requires. A lot more work. Our muscles have to work way harder to do that full squat than the quarter squat. So coming back to partial reps, let’s use this 225 pound bench press example again. Let’s say you could do three sets of six reps with 2 25 full range of motion.

And if we calculate that volume in terms of total pounds lifted, which is one way you can look at volume, it gives you a. Result of 4,050 pounds. So that’s what you lifted in the three sets of six with 2 25. Now let’s say that you cut that range of motion in half, and that means that you are stopping each rep again, let’s say three, four, maybe five inches above your chest, but that allows you to add 25 pounds.

To the bar and maybe two reps to each set. So now you’re doing 250 pounds for three sets of eight reps for a total volume of 6,000 pounds. Uh, that sounds great. It sounds like a training hack, but of course there is the problem that you are moving the weight about half as. Far and your muscles are not doing nearly as much work, so you’d have to actually cut that volume in half.

You’d have to look at it as benching only 3000 pounds per workout. So despite increasing the weight on the bar and increasing the reps, reducing that range of motion actually reduced your volume by about 25%. And this is why most research. Partial range of motion reps result in less muscle growth, even when people train with heavier weights or more reps.

So as a rule, as a general guideline, sacrificing range of motion to add weight is only gonna make it harder to gain muscle, and it also can increase the risk of injury and nagging aches and pains. I used to do heavy quarter squats a long time ago, and it wasn’t nice for my knees, for example. And so that’s the first.

Problem as relates to the first reason why many people use partial reps to lift heavier weights for more reps. So now let’s talk about the pump. Let’s talk about using partial reps to get bigger pumps. This can be fun. We all like to get a pump. We all like to leave the gym with a pump, but unfortunately this isn’t going to necessarily help us gain muscle.

Similar to time under tension, a muscle pump does contribute to muscle growth to some degree, but it is not a target in and of itself. It is a byproduct of proper training. And what I mean by that is what you really wanna focus on in your programming is using heavy enough. Weights doing enough volume, resting enough in between each set and resting enough in general, deloading often enough and so forth.

And if you do those things correctly, you are going to naturally get all of the muscle building benefits of a pump. Your workouts will create enough of a pump to contribute to muscle growth. And the same thing goes for time under tension. You will. Enough time under tension to maximize your muscle and strength gains.

If, however, you were to try to focus on getting a pump by doing a lot of partial reps, for example, or maybe a lot of really high rep training, or if you were to try to focus on time under tension by doing, let’s say super slow reps. You are going to hurt your progress. In the case of the partial reps, it’ll be primarily for the reason I just shared earlier that while it may seem like you are making your muscles work harder and that you are racking up more total poundage, your volume is actually going down, your effective volume is going down the amount of actual work your muscles.

Are doing will go down. And in the case of time under tension, you’re gonna have to dramatically reduce the amount of weight that you’re lifting to do those super slow reps. And again, in both cases, studies show that those strategies result in less muscle and strength gain than just plain old traditional weightlifting.

That said, just for the sake of completeness, let’s talk about the final purported benefit of partial reps, and that is this constant tension. Now, you have probably noticed that exercises are more and less difficult depending on where you’re at in the range of motion. Now, this is because the amount of tension, the amount of force that your muscles need to generate changes throughout each rep, and this is known as the strength curve of an exercise and an exercise that exposes your muscle to a greater amount of tension throughout each rep.

The range of motion of each rep are said to have a better strength curve than ones that generate less tension. That require less force. So, for example, on the squat, although it is most difficult when you’re coming out of the hole, when you are grinding through that sticking point on the way up. That four inches, three or four inches or so that are the most difficult, the point where you are most likely to get stuck.

The squat does have a good strength curve because there is really never a point during a proper wrap of the squat where your muscles aren’t working really hard. Now, biceps curls, on the other hand, are hardest when your arm is fully extended and they become easier as you lift the bar. Closer to your shoulder as you raise it higher and higher.

So the bicep curl has a decent strength curve, but it’s not as good as squats. And that’s true of most isolation exercises. That’s one of their faults actually, is that many compound exercises just generate a lot more tension. They require the generational, a lot more force in our muscles, and therefore are more effective.

Gaining muscle and gaining strength than isolation exercises, which require less forced generation. Now, that fact gave some bodybuilders an idea. They thought that if they were to cut out the easier part of an exercise, they could make their muscles work harder. So take, uh, a triceps press, right? Those are hardest when your arms are fully flexed and they become easier when your arms get closer.

Straight, fully extended. So some people thought, what if we just cut out the top portion of the exercise? Why even bother doing it? If we were to focus on only the most difficult part, the part of the exercise that requires the most tension, that requires the most or generates the most tension, requires the most force production.

Wouldn’t we make the exercise more? Effective and scientists actually tested that idea in a study that was published in 2017 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning. And what they found is 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.

Interesting. But before you run off and start doing half triceps overhead presses and half reps on other isolation exercises, you should know that there have been some questions about how accurately those measurements were actually taken. And also some questions about the workout programming that could have explained the results better than partial reps.

But it does suggest that partial reps. Be useful for some exercises, but most studies show that certainly for compound lifts and even for accessory exercises, a full range of motion is almost always better. It almost always results in more muscle growth. That said, I will acknowledge that some exercises may lend themselves to partial reps, and those would be exercises that get significantly easier during.

Portions of the movement. So exercises that have a poor strength curve like the triceps overhead press is actually a good example. Or dumbbell side races. That’s another good example. And in the case of the side lateral raise, maybe you don’t need to lower the dumbbells all the way down to your thighs, for instance.

Instead, maybe you could bring them to about five or six inches from your thighs, which is where the exercise starts to get really easy, which is where you notice the tension mostly out of. Shoulders, and in the case of something like a skull crusher, maybe you could stop the rep when your elbows are still slightly bent, right?

Instead of fully extending your arms with the last little bit of motion to get to fully straight arms being very easy being not too challenging for the triceps in particular, you might be able to cut out that. Couple of inches. Uh, leg extensions is another exercise where some people like to use partial reps or at least use slightly less than a full range of motion.

And in this case, you could stop the rep when it starts to get easy. That’s usually when your foot is getting close to the floor on most machines.

If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world. Bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the shredded.

Now as far as programming goes, if you want to try some partial reps just to see how your body responds, or just to say that you have done them, I wouldn’t recommend doing partial reps in every set of every isolation exercise. I’d recommend choosing a few exercises that have a poor strength curve, and then doing at least half of your volume on those exercises with traditional full ranges of motion and then doing.

The rest of it with partial reps, and if it were me, for example, I do four sets per isolation exercise. I would do three of those sets traditionally, and I would do one final set with partial reps. And when I say partial reps, again, I would just be looking to cut out the. Easiest portion of the exercise, I wouldn’t be using half of a full range of motion.

It would probably be like 70% or maybe even 80% of the full range of motion. And I also would go for more reps. So if I knew that I could do, let’s say four sets of 10 reps of side raises, dumbbell side raises with 40 pounds, and I were going to work. Partial reps. Then I would do my first three sets.

Let’s say I get 10 reps, and then with my fourth and final set, my partial reps set, I’m gonna try to get as many extra reps as I can. Right now, I’m gonna go more or less to muscle failure on that exercise, at least to technical failure. Because you’re not gonna get hurt. There’s no danger in doing that.

Whereas going right up to the point of technical failure or muscle failure on a barbell squat is not advisable unless you are an experienced weightlifter and maybe you are going for a PR and you know how to not get hurt. Now, one other aspect of partial reps I wanted to touch on in this podcast is using them to get stronger, and in this case, things.

Pretty clear cut. Full range of motion is almost always better than partial reps for getting stronger, and that’s true for accessory exercises as well as compound exercises. That said, there is an exception to this rule, and if you pay attention to strong people on the internet or in the gym, you’ve probably seen them doing partial.

Why? Well, partial reps are good for improving strength in the portion of the exercise that you’re doing. So if all you did was partial reps, then that wouldn’t be good, of course, because you might be strong in, let’s say the first 25% of the squat on the way down. That’s what you’re doing. You’re doing quarter squats, and you could get strong in that.

Part of the exercise, which wouldn’t be very useful because that’s the easiest part. But let’s say that’s what you were doing for a while, and then if you tried to parallel squat or full squat, you might be shocked at how weak you are and how much less weight you can. Lift when you go from the quarter squat to the parallel or to the full squat, and I actually experienced that firsthand.

I vividly remember when I properly free squatted for the first time. So up until this point, I had only squatted on a Smith machine. This was probably seven years into my. Lifting journey. I had only squatted that I can remember on the Smith machine, and I maybe made it to parallel sometimes, and then I heard that the free weight barbell squat is better.

So I started doing that, but hadn’t started taking my weightlifting seriously. Hadn’t really educated myself yet, and so I switched from the Smith machine to the free. But still was just doing quarter squats and I got up to 4 0 5 on the Quarter squad. I could handle that fairly well, and I remember then learning about the parallel squad and why that is superior in every way to the Quarter Squad for just talking about basic strength programming made sense to me and I did not realize.

How much more difficult a parallel squat is compared to a quarter squat. So again, I remember this clearly. I put 4 0 5 on the bar and I squat down, get to the bottom, and immediately realize I fucked up. I made a mistake, and there is absolutely no way that I will be standing this weight up. And I had no idea how to bail on a.

Barbell back squats. I had never done that before and there were no safety bars in place, so I bailed the weight forward. I I got it over my head forward. Fortunately, I didn’t get hurt. Of course, you are supposed to bail backward, but in the moment I was kind of shocked and I had no muscle memory to fall back on.

And so I got it forward by putting my head down and. Somehow not breaking my neck, and I learned a lesson that day. I went from quarter squatting 4 0 5 for sets of probably four or five reps to parallel squatting 180 5 for sets of probably six to eight. And that was humbling. Anyway, that’s what happens when you do way too many partial reps and not enough full range of motion.

Training in, in my case, in that instance, it was nothing but partial reps. That said, partial reps can be a useful tool for helping you train the most difficult parts of an exercise. The parts where you tend to get stuck, again, generally referred to as the sticking point of an exercise. If you train just that portion of it with partial reps, which also means you can use heavier weights, it can actually help your performance.

When you are using a full range of motions, so long as it’s programmed correctly. Now, I used power lifters as an example of this. Many power lifters will do this on the bench press, which is going to be most difficult for most of us when the bar is eh, two to four inches or so above our chest. And so what many power lifters will.

Do is something called the board press. You’ve probably seen this before where there is a thick piece of wood or two thinner pieces of wood stacked together, and you have a big strong guy on the bench press and you have another guy holding this piece of wood on the big strong guy’s chest, and then that guy is lowering.

the bar until it touches the wood. So they’re lowering it until they get to, again, it’s usually about three or four inches above their chest when the bar, um, contacts the wood and then pressing back up. And the point of doing that is it allows them to get stronger in that portion of the lift, allows them to do volume specifically for that sticking point.

And the point of having. Wood is so the lifter doesn’t have to pay attention to when they’re supposed to stop and press up because you want it to be consistent. You don’t want to lower the bar one inch above your chest on one wrap and then four inches on the next wrap, and then five inches on the next wrap, and then two inches.

You want it to be consistent and the wood makes it easy for the lifter to know when they’ve. The bottom of the partial rep. Now, a caveat is this technique is not for newbies. It’s really best suited to experienced weightlifters who have put in a lot of high quality work, doing a lot of full range of motion reps on all of the big lifts, and who is really trying to just squeeze every last ounce of strength out of their.

This technique is not for someone, a man or a woman who has, let’s say, one, two, or even three years of weightlifting experience under their belt, and who has hit a strength plateau or a muscle gain plateau. Who has stagnated? That person needs to look at other factors related to their diet and their workout programming and their sleep and recovery and uncover.

Why they’re stuck, because they should not be stuck at that point. They still should be making progress, even though it’s going to be slow progress and partial reps are not going to unstick them. It’s not going to fix the problem. And if you wanna learn more about that, if you wanna learn more about breaking through weightlifting plateaus, strength plateaus, muscle plateaus, you can find a podcast I recorded on it.

It actually is a chapter from my newest book, beyond Bigger, leaner, stronger. And if you go to the feed, or if you’re on YouTube, if you search. Plateau, it’ll come up. I believe I have episodes on both weightlifting plateaus and weight loss plateaus. I certainly have on weightlifting plateaus. And if you would rather read, you can of course pick up the book, uh, beyond Big Leader, stronger, or you can head over to legion, search for Plateau, and you’ll find most of that chapter as a blog article on the.

So let’s just quickly summarize the key takeaways here. Most of your training should be full range of motion training, and you don’t have to do any partial reps whatsoever, but if you wanna play around with them for whatever reason, then do them with your. Isolation exercises, not your compound exercises, and make sure that most of your isolation volume is with a full range of motion.

Make your partial rep volume no more than 50%, and I personally wouldn’t do more than 25% of my accessory volume with partial reps. Remember, focus also on exercise. That have a poor strength curve. You wanna look for the isolation exercises that are significantly easier in certain portions, and you’re looking to just cut those portions out.

And if you are a power lifter or someone who is really focusing on getting as strong as possible, it may make sense to include some partial reps on compound exercises that allow you to work on the sticking points of those exercise. The most difficult parts of those exercises. And as far as the programming goes, I would go about this a little bit differently as opposed to taking an individual exercise, doing the first several sets normally, and then doing, uh, a partial rep set like I described with an isolation exercise.

I would work on the sticking point variation of the exercise for a certain period of time. It wouldn’t be like a full multiple month training. But I might do it for, let’s say four weeks, five weeks, maybe six weeks, and C then if I switch back to the regular exercise, the full range of motion, if I’ve gotten any stronger, if it has helped.

So take the deadlift for example. A good exercise variation that can help you work through a sticking point is the rack pull. And if you’re not familiar with that, it’s basically the deadlift. The bar starts on the pins of a squat rack, so it starts several inches above the ground, which is where a lot of people get stuck.

And if you do rack poles, you can put more weight on the bar and you can train that specific portion of the deadlift. So, and this is maybe an exercise worth incorporating into your training if you really wanna try to get as strong on the deadlift as you possibly can. So you could deadlift traditionally do your normal full range of motion training and.

Or 4, 5, 6 weeks do rack pulls exclusively instead. So let’s say you’re doing four sets of deadlifts per week, which you would be if you were following beyond bigger or stronger, for example, okay, you swapped that four, four sets of rack pulls per week, and you wanna make sure that you’re still working within the rep range that you’re supposed to be working with.

Or the percentage of one rep max, which is gonna. So you will be rack pulling more weight than you can deadlift, obviously. And you wanna make sure that you do that though. You don’t want to just make the exercise all around easier by using the same weight that you can deadlift for the same number of reps on the rack pull.

So let’s say you are normally deadlifting 4 0 5 and you can get sets of five and. That’s with one rep in reserve. Let’s say you’re like one rep shy of your form falling apart, hard set, and then you go to the rack pole 4 0 5, and now you’re ending sets with like two or three reps in reserve. No, don’t do that.

Add a bit of weight to the exercise so you can maintain that intensity. Do it for 4, 5, 6 weeks and then go back. To the deadlift, the full range of motion and see if it has helped you. Alright, friends? Well that’s it for partial reps. They’re really just kind of a cute little training technique that can spice up your workouts without hindering your progress if you use them properly.

And I would say that, Statement, I guess most applies to their relevance to muscle growth. As far as strength goes, they’re a little bit more useful. Again, if you are really trying to push your body to its limits and you really are trying to get every last bit of strength genetically and anatomically available to you on the big lifts.

And that brings this episode to a close. Thanks again for listening. You found it helpful and I hope you like what I have coming. I have another q and a coming at the end of the week, and then next week a monologue on kra, which I’ve been asked a lot about. So this is something I probably should have recorded some time ago, but hey, better late than never.

Right? And I have another installment of best of as well as another q and. All right. Well, that’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful. And if you did and you don’t mind doing me a favor, please do leave a quick review on iTunes or wherever you’re listening to me.

From in whichever app you’re listening to me in, because that not only convinces people that they should check out the show, it also increases search visibility. And thus, it helps more people find their way to me and learn how to get fitter, leaner, stronger, healthier, and happier as well. And of course, if you want to be notified when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast and you won’t miss out on any new stuff.

And if you didn’t like something about the show, please do shoot me an email at mike muscle for Just muscle f o r and share your thoughts on how I can do this better. I read everything myself and I’m always looking or constructive feedback, even if it is. Criticism, I’m open to it and of course you can email me if you have positive feedback as well, or if you have questions really relating to anything that you think I could help you with, definitely send me an email.

That is the best way to get ahold of me, Mike, at multiple And that’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.

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