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Partial Reps vs. Full Range of Motion
Are Partial Reps Effective?

Photo of Daniel Reynen Demonstrating Partial and Full Range of Motion

One of the rules of building a symmetrical and balanced body, is making sure you complete every rep using a full Range Of Motion (ROM). What that means is you should get a full stretch at the bottom of the movement, then make sure you're fully contracting and squeezing the muscle at the top of the movement.

Working your muscles through a full range of motion forces you to hit all the muscle fibers responsible for a movement from every angle.

However, some trainers and fitness authors have stated that partial reps are an effective way to increase muscle mass.

(A partial rep is part of a complete repetition where the muscle works in a shortened range of motion. You can start a partial at the top or bottom of a repetition, then move as little as ¼ to as much as ¾ of the way through a full range of motion.)

Who's right? We decided to look at the research.

On August 18, 2005, the results of a study that was conducted at the University of Southern Mississippi were released. The premise of the study was simple. Researchers compared men who trained using a partial range of motion and a full range of motion to determine which group had greater maximal strength gains.

The study participants were broken down into three groups.

Group 1 trained with 3 full range of motion sets on the bench press.

Group 2 trained with 3 partial range of motion sets (and they defined a partial repetition as "one that is beyond the sticking point 2 to 5 inches from range of motion full extension of the elbows.")

Group 3 trained using a combination of partial and full range of motion sets.

Not surprisingly, all three groups showed significant increases in strength. The interesting thing was that there were no statistically significant differences between the three groups. All three types of training produced the same maximal strength results!

Meanwhile, researchers also conducted a similar test exclusively on women. On May 19, 2005, they released the results of that study. They found there was a statistically significant difference between the full range of motion group and the partial and mixed groups. Researchers concluded that lifting through a full range of motion is superior for the development of maximal upper-body strength in women.

Researchers commented that the subjects used in their tests were not highly trained weightlifters, and the benefits of partial reps might have been partially masked by the large gains all beginners make regardless of workout program.

So what does that mean for the average person working out?

Full range of motion appears to be the best training program (especially for women), BUT partial reps can help with strength gains. If you're trying to break through a plateau, or are getting bored with your current workout program, consider adding partial reps for a few weeks. We'll let you know more as further studies are conducted.

Some rules if you're considering adding partial reps to your workout.

  1. Partial reps shouldn't be used for more than 4-6 weeks. They are to be used as a way to shock more growth from your system, not as a permanent way to train.

  2. There are two common ways to use partials.

    1. For most people, you should limit partial reps to the last set or two of an exercise. Use them to finish off an already fatigued muscle group.

    2. If you're an advanced trainer (you've been working out for at least three years), you can increase your strength by starting with a weight that's too heavy for you to complete the full range of motion with. Gradually increase your range of motion until you can complete a full rep with the heavier weight.

  3. If you have a muscle injury that prevents full range of motion, consider partial rep training so the injured muscles can continue to grow and develop.

  4. You may need to rest longer if you do partial reps. Since you're typically training with heavier weights than normal, it may take longer for the muscles to recover.

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Updated 12/21/2012