Partial Reps Equate to Partial Results
Featured Resistance Training Equipment: free weight, progressive resistance training machine, bench press, barbells, dumbbells, weight plates, E-Z curl bar, leg press
There's no denying, partial reps equate to partial results in resistance training. Walk into any commercial fitness facility at 7 pm and walk to the free weight room progressive resistance training machine section of the gym. Quietly observe the lifters lift. If you have a sharp eye and know what you are looking for, you will be able to pick out umpteen examples of badly flawed weight training. If you are a true hardcore resistance trainer, you will have a knowledge and appreciation for proper progressive resistance techniques. There is a right and wrong way to do a squat, bench press, row, curl, triceps press, deadlift, overhead press with barbells and dumbbells. I am not talking of legitimate technical variations, rather I refer to the potentially injurioustechnical abominations that are seen routinely.
It pains me to watch a well-intentioned, obviously serious trainee do some horrific bend-forward barbell squat, turning the world’s best leg exercise into the world’s most dangerous back exercise – although, an improperly deadlift is likely the single most dangerous and injurious of all progressive resistance exercises. While bad exercise technique is the biggest gym sin, it is understandable in that the expert teaching of exercise technique is rare. It is hard to use correct technique if you have never been exposed to it. Which leads us to the second major progressive resistance mistake: the epidemic use of partial repetitions.
The reason for the widespread misuse of partial reps is easy to understand: a partial rep is easier to perform than a full range-of-motion (ROM) repetition. Because it is easier to perform a partial rep the partial repper can either 1. Handle more poundage or 2. Squeeze out more repetitions. Never mind that this is flawed thinking, to the unbounded male ego, partial reps are seductive and tantalizing.
A few quick examples will illustrate why partial reps are so alluring. If a man is capable of squatting 225 for 8 perfect reps, ass-on-heels, i.e. using the maximum possible ROM, that same man will be able to handle 275 for 8 reps going to parallel. However, if the same athlete decides to only dip down to 4-inches above parallel, he will be able to handle 315-pounds for 8. Now which degree of depth do you think the ego-filled alpha male will use when training at the public facility? Factually the ass-on-heels squat with 225 will without doubt deliver superior muscle-building strength infusing results, however the male ego will not be denied when lifting in a public setting.
Tom Platz developed the most awesome legs in history using full range of motion leg exercises.
Results be damned, this is about pecking order amongst the tribe when performing in public. Further, no expert is available to call the partial repper on their shortcomings and to point out that results are inferior – which they are – partial reps result in partial results. The same strategy holds true with any lift you can name. How about the bench pressers that never lower down all the way and actually touch their chest on each rep and never completely lock out a bench rep at the top? A man that partially bench presses 250 for reps would be hard pressed to handle 200 if forced to touch the chest and lock out fully on each rep. If the partial bench press repper were further forced to pause the weight on the chest, that 250 would likely drop to 185-pounds.
On and on it goes…how about the guy in every gym that puts two 45-pound weight plates on the E-Z curl bar and proceeds to heave the weight to get it started and then bends forward to meet the bar at the top of the rep. That man is receiving zero bicep stimulation and would be hard pressed to properly curl a pair of 40-pound dumbbells where he was forced to start from a dead hang and actually curl the weight upward using biceps alone.
The partial rep epidemic is hardly confined to just free weights: let us not forget the partial rep leg pressers that delight in loading half the weight in the gym onto the leg press and then with great fanfare and attention-grabbing antics proceed to push the ponderous poundage all of 12-inches. A deep and proper leg press with 300 pounds would stop this show off dead in his tracks.
Partial rep lat pulldowns, partial rep dips, partial rep leg curls, overhead presses and partial rows – no exercise is exempt from making it easier by pushing or pulling it less distance. The male ego is a powerful master, particularly when training in front of other ego-filled males and especially if all the participants agree that partial reps are perfectly acceptable – in fact, the norm. Everyone that buys into legitimizing the partial rep is shortchanging their results.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.