If you watch the training videos of any of the top bodybuilders or powerlifters out there one thing you will notice is that they use a lot of partial reps as part of their program. This seems weird at first given that most of us have been told that having full range of motion reps is crucial to building mass. Then all of a sudden you see Phil Heath training with partial reps and think to yourself “Wow, maybe I’ve been lied to all this time?”
So do partial reps actually do a better job building muscle than full reps? The answer is no – full reps should still be the focus of your training routine particularly with compound lifts. Having said that, there are a number of ways that incorporating partial reps into your workout can result in better gains. The thing you have to remember is that they are simply a tool – just like supersets, drop sets, etc. If you are doing them excessively it will actually limit your potential in the long run.
Partial Reps Explained
It’s pretty easy to figure out what a partial rep is – after all, you see guys doing them all the time at the gym. The squat in particularly tends to be butchered frequently with guys going only ¼ of the way down because a) they are lifting too heavy of a weight and b) they lack the flexibility to reach parallel.
Most pro powerlifters and bodybuilders who use partial reps will still go through 50% to 80% of the usual range of motion. The most common way partial reps are implemented is simply avoiding the lockout portion. There is definitely some merit to this given that when you lock out you are taking the weight off the target muscles and placing it elsewhere. For example, when you lockout on the bench press you are taking the pressure off your triceps and chest and shifting it to your elbow joints. In that case, by doing a partial rep you keep the emphasis on the target muscle for longer while hopefully reducing the impact on your joints. However, this doesn’t really help bodybuilders as competition rule require them to lockout the weight to say that they lifted it.
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The Impact of Skipping the Lockout
When you skip the lockout portion of a lift you are removing the very short break your muscles get in between reps. As a result, lactic acid will build up a lot faster in the muscles making the set more challenging. That means you won’t be able to lift as heavy of a weight or if you stick to your usual weight you won’t be able to do as many reps.
Lactic Acid and Muscle Growth
A lot of guys tend to confuse lactic acid buildup in the muscles with actual muscle growth. When lactic acid builds up in your muscles the set definitely feels as though it is more effective but in reality that is not the case – in fact, even the most intense lactic acid build ups might lead to no gains.
When lactic acid builds up in your muscles it is simply your body telling you to stop what you are doing as the muscle is being stressed very hard. The easiest way to picture this is to grab a bottle of water and hold it out in front of you for as long as you can. While the weight is very light over time you will feel an intense burn in your shoulder and arm. This of course is not going to lead to any muscle growth because the weight was too light.
Partial Reps are an Illusion
The lactic acid buildup that occurs in your muscles after doing a bunch of partial reps will definitely make it seem as though the exercise is effective but in reality you are just stressing yourself unnecessarily. None of us are going to the gym to feel a burn in our muscles, we are going to get bigger and that should be the only way you measure effectiveness of workouts.
Look we get it, ATG squats, heavy benching and deadlifting, pull-ups and rows are all difficult exercises, particularly when you are trying to build mass. If there was an easier way to get bigger we’d be all for it but unfortunately there just isn’t. The simple truth is that there is a good reason people always go back to progressive overload – it works.
How to Incorporate Partial Reps into Your Routine
There are definitely some benefits to partial reps. It allows your body to squeeze out a few extra reps at the end of a set which can make it more effective. Also, if your body isn’t used to them it’s a great way to shock your muscles which will encourage them to grow. However, your body will quickly adapt to this new training style and over time it will become less effective. That’s why partial reps should only be incorporated every once in awhile.
The Most Effective Program
The best way to increase mass over time is to progressively overload your muscles with compound exercises in the hypertrophy training range. Feel free to sprinkle in some training techniques like supersets, drop sets and partial reps in order to shock the muscles. In fact, these can be effective ways to break through plateaus when your body just doesn’t seem to want to grow.
It’s important to mention that no training style will be effective unless you have your hormone levels and nutrition in check. That means eating a clean diet with moderate calorie surplus in order to give your body the nutrients it needs to grow. Also, you are going to want to make sure your testosterone levels are as high as they can be. A lot of times all it takes to break through a plateau is a lifestyle change that leads to higher t-production.
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