Partial reps are one of the most effective and controversial hypertrophy training techniques in the world. Many of the world’s best bodybuilders such as Ronnie Coleman, Branch Warren, and Phil Heath have ignored the naysayers and used partial reps to add slabs of muscle all over their bodies.
If you want to learn more about this controversial training method then you’ve come to the right place!
- Part 1: Ronnie Coleman Partial Reps
- Part 2: 1.25 reps
- Part 3: Post-Failure Partial reps
- Part 4: Rack Work
- Part 5: Isometronics
A partial rep is of course a repetition that is performed through a partial range of motion. Partial reps are commonly used by powerlifters and other strength athletes but in reality they are unbelievably effective for building muscle!
Partials have been used by bodybuilders for many decades to maximize the muscular development of their bodies. In fact the first-ever Mr. Olympia champion Larry Scott was using partial reps as far back as the 1960s to build his world-famous 20-inch arms!
Larry would perform partial reps in the bottom position of preacher curls after first reaching muscular failure. Talk about a painful way to build muscle!
Here is the you tuber “Tomn8er” talking about why many of the world’s top professional bodybuilders use partial reps year-round on many exercises:
In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you 5 of the most effective ways to use partial reps for size!
These training methods have been battle-tested by some of the world’s best bodybuilders and bodybuilding coaches such as Ronnie Coleman, Stan Efferding, John Meadows, Phil Heath, and Branch Warren. As they say, “success leaves clues.”
Please note that all of the routines provided in this article are written with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading these routines then please consult this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Ronnie Coleman Partial Reps
Many bodybuilders find that they get better results when they avoid locking out their exercises. This is especially true for exercises for the following muscle groups:
The rationale behind not locking out your exercises is that you maintain tension on the target muscle and can therefore stimulate more growth. Some bodybuilders have taken this concept of not locking out even further by only performing the bottom 70% of their exercises!
They explode the weight up to about 70% of the way to lockout before dropping the weight right back down.
Stan Efferding is a bodybuilder who utilized this type of partial rep while training for his professional bodybuilding competitions. For example:
If you listen to the commentary you can hear Marc Bell (an accomplished powerlifter) saying he has no idea why bodybuilders do these partial range of motion repetitions. To get jacked and tan, Marc! To get jacked and tan!
Many bodybuilders have used partial reps in the stretched position on chest, shoulder, tricep, and quadricep exercises to build up their physiques. However, no one has ever used them as successfully as Ronnie Coleman.
Ronnie performed nearly 100% of his chest, shoulder, tricep, and quadricep exercises with nothing but partial reps.
It is interesting to note that he performed his back, bicep, and hamstrings exercises through a more normal range of motion with a full stretch and contraction of the muscle on most exercises.
For example here is Ronnie busting out a typical set on the bench press:
Clearly Ronnie was onto something here. But why do these stretched-position partial reps work so well? In my opinion Ronnie intuitively figured out that the stretched position of an exercise is where the magic happens.
There is one major downside to these “Ronnie Coleman partial reps”: they really only work with higher rep ranges. As a general rule of thumb I recommend you perform AT LEAST 5 reps per set when performing these types of partial reps. The risk of injury is just too high when you start doing sets of 1-4 reps with this technique.
Let’s take a look at some of Ronnie’s exact workouts where he used this unique form of partial reps training.
First let’s take a look at one of Ronnie’s chest and triceps routines. Check it out:
Ronnie Coleman Chest And Triceps Workout
- A1: Flat DB press, 1-3 x 5-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Incline DB press, 1-3 x 5-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Flat DB fly, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Lying ez-bar extension (behind head), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- D2: Close grip bench press (with ez-bar), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Seated DB french press (with one dumbbell), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Bilateral bent-over DB tricep kickbacks, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
You can click right here for the training video for this workout.
It’s rather amazing to me just how much Ronnie emphasizes the stretched position of these chest and triceps exercises. I mean just take a look at his form on the seated DB french press! Ronnie is barely breaking parallel with his forearms before dropping the weight back down to fully stretch out his triceps!
Now let’s take a closer look at one of Ronnie’s leg workouts. Check it out:
Ronnie Coleman Front Squat Workout
- A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 1-3 x 4-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Machine hack squat, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Walking lunge (BB on back), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed straight), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Seated leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed straight), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
You can click right here for the training video for this workout.
Once again Ronnie uses his trademark partial reps on all of his quadriceps exercises. On his front squats Ronnie barely breaks parallel with the ground before dropping back down into the hole.
This is even true when he front squats 6 plates per side!
I have no doubt that Ronnie Coleman would have been a great bodybuilder no matter how he trained. However, in my opinion his reliance on partial reps on many of his exercises is one of the factors that helped turn him into the greatest bodybuilder of all time!
Part 2: 1.25 reps
1.25 reps, or “one-and-a-quarter reps” are easily one of the most effective ways to use partial reps for size.
The idea is simple: each “rep” during a set consists of one full range-of-motion rep and one quarter rep. The quarter rep can be performed in either the stretched position or the shortened position of an exercise.
For example, here is a bench press performed with 1.25 reps in the stretched position:
The main benefit of 1.25 reps is that they let you overload a specific portion of the exercise. For example, if you are performing 1.25 reps in the stretched position then you are accumulating additional time under tension when the muscle is maximally stretched.
This can be fantastic for exercises such as squats and dumbbell presses where you really want to focus on stretching out the muscle.
On the other hand 1.25 reps performed in the stretched position can be great for maximizing the contraction of an exercise. This can be a great method to use on many machine curling exercises, for example, to maximize the contraction that you get on the biceps.
So which is better: 1.25 reps performed in the stretched position or 1.25 reps performed in the shortened position? That’s like asking what’s the better tool, a hammer or a screwdriver? They’re both great, just for different reasons!
However, if I had to choose I would pick 1.25 reps performed in the stretched position. When it comes to maximizing muscular hypertrophy it really is essential to find new ways to overload the stretched position of your exercises.
As Charles Poliquin liked to say, “the muscle that is stretched the most is recruited the most.”
Here is a great lower body workout featuring 1.25 reps. Check it out:
1.25 Reps Back Squat Workout
- A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 5 x 6**, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight), 5 x 6**, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: Alternating DB lunge, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: 45 degree back extension (with bands), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 1.25 reps in the bottom position of the exercise.
Here is what 1.25 reps should look like in the back squat for this routine:
In my experience 1.25 reps are absolutely AWESOME for bringing up lagging quadriceps! They are also particularly effective for increasing the strength and size of your vastus medialis muscle.
The vastus medialis is the “teardrop” shaped muscle on the inside of your knee. When it is fully developed it often looks like a second kneecap! This muscle plays a critical role in overall lower body structural balance.
Unfortunately the vastus medialis is extremely underdeveloped in most trainees. This is probably because so many trainees perform “half squats” in their workouts. Trust me, taking the time to strengthen your vastus medialis may be one of the best training investments that you ever make!
Now let’s look at a 1.25 reps routine for the arms. Check it out:
1.25 Reps Arm Routine
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 10**, 2/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest
- A2: Decline DB extension, 3 x 10**, 2/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10**, 2/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest
- B2: Ez-bar french press, 3 x 10**, 2/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest
**Perform 1.25 reps in the bottom position of the exercise.
This is a very simple but extremely effective hypertrophy routine for the upper arms. Sets of 10 really feel more like sets of 15 when you use 1.25 reps like this.
If you are not satisfied with the hypertrophy development of your upper arms then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot!
Part 3: Post-Failure Partial reps
Now it’s time to bust out the heavy artillery! Post-failure partial reps are easily one of the most demanding high-intensity bodybuilding techniques that you can use.
The idea is simple: you perform several partial range of motion reps on an exercise immediately after reaching technical failure. For example, you might want to perform a set of 6-12 reps to failure immediately followed by 4-6 partial reps in the stretched position of the exercise.
Here is a video of John Meadows taking one his bodybuilding clients through a set of post-failure partial reps on the lying leg curl machine:
These post-failure partials are extremely effective for recruiting and fatiguing the fast-twitch muscle fibers. You know, the muscle fibers with the greatest potential for strength and size gains.
This high-intensity training technique has a very long history in the sport of bodybuilding. After all, Larry Scott was using post-failure partials as far back as the 1960s to build his legendary 20-inch arms!
Let’s take a closer look at the exact arm routine Larry Scott used to become Mr. Olympia.
Check it out:
- A1: Bilateral DB preacher curl (supinated grip), 3 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
**Perform 4-6 partial reps in the bottom position after first reaching technical muscular failure.
You can click right here for a perfect real-world demonstration of this workout.
This is essentially a uni-angular tri-sets routine. All three sets are performed on the preacher bench. However, for each exercise variation you are changing the implement used (ez-bar vs dumbbell) or the grip used (supinated vs pronated grip).
The stretched position of preacher curls is notoriously difficult. I recommend you stay conservative with your weights selection the first time you try this workout out. Remember, use a nice and controlled tempo during the post-failure partials!
Let’s check out another routine featuring post-failure partials. This workout is for the chest and back. Check it out:
Chest And Back Post-Failure Partial Reps Routine
- A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 4 x 6-8**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Rack chin, 4 x 6-8**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: DB floor fly, 4 x 8-10, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: T-bar row, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 4-6 partial reps in the stretched position after first reaching concentric muscular failure.
It’s really important to be careful about which exercises you decide to perform post-failure reps on. For example, you DO NOT want to perform post-failure reps on something like a squat or a deadlift!
It is simply not a good idea to perform post-failure reps on anything that severely taxes the lower back. Even exercises like bench presses and incline bench presses are probably not your best bets.
Instead you want to stick to exercises such as incline DB presses and rack chins where it is very safe to train beyond failure. Compare an incline DB press to an incline bench press.
At the end of the set of incline DB presses you just drop the weights and sit up. Try doing this with a barbell stuck on your chest!
Part 4: Rack Work
When I say “rack work” I am talking about performing partial range of motion repetitions in a power rack. Normally these partial reps are performed in the shortened position of the strength curve, or near lockout.
Rack work has been used extensively for powerlifters for many years, and for good reason: it is one of the best training methods you can use to rapidly gain strength!
The partial reps disinhibit your golgi tendon organ and teach your nervous system to handle significantly heavier loads than you are normally exposed to.
Of course partial reps performed in a power rack are good for more than just powerlifting. They are also a fantastic tool to build muscle mass!
One of the best ways to use power rack partial reps to build hypertrophy involves performing three different types of deadlifts in a single workout:
- Rack deadlifts from above the knees
- Rack deadlifts from mid-shin level
- Deadlifts from the floor
Here is an awesome posterior chain hypertrophy workout featuring three sets of each of these deadlift variations. Check it out:
Rack Deadlift Workout
- A1: Rack deadlift (just above knees), 3 x 6-8**, 1/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), 3 x 4-6, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: Rack deadlift (mid-shin), 3 x 4-6**, 2/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight), 3 x 4-6, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- C1: Conventional deadlift, 3 x 4-6**, 3/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- C2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing in), 3 x 4-6, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- D1: Front foot elevated split squat (holding DBs), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- D2: Reverse hyperextension, 3 x 10-12, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 3 progressively heavier work sets. The first set should be at 90% of your estimated top set, your second set should be at 95% of your estimated top set, and your third set should be at 100% of your estimated top set.
**For example, you might do 450 x 6 for your 1st set, 475 x 6 for your 2nd set, and 500 x 6 for your third set on this exercise.
Here is a great training video covering this exact workout:
This routine is a lot simpler than it looks. You are just alternating back and forth between three different types of deadlifts and leg curls. This type of workout absolutely murders your hamstrings and the rest of your posterior chain.
Your spinal erectors, lats, and traps will also be absolutely thrashed by the end of the workout. Make sure to take your post-workout shake right away or you just might be bed-ridden the following day due to the delayed onset muscle soreness!
Here is another power rack routine that you may want to try. It features a partial overhead pressing movement called the “half press in a rack.” Basically you set the safety pins so that the barbell is sitting right above your head in the starting position.
Then you press the barbell straight up with your elbows flared out to the sides. This exercise is FANTASTIC for overloading the long head of the triceps. Here is the routine:
Power Rack Triceps Workout
- A1: Half press in rack (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 5, 2/1/X/1, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Unilateral preacher zottman curl, 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: Bilateral overhead cable rope extension, 4 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
This arm workout features slightly lower reps and should primarily be used during your intensification phases where you are trying to boost strength. Don’t worry, this routine will still help you pack on slabs of functional hypertrophy onto your upper arms.
Part 5: Isometronics
Isometronics are probably the most effective partial reps training method that you have never heard of. Isometronics are actually a combination of partial range of motion lifting and full-bore overcoming isometric contractions. In other words isometronics are like power rack partial reps on steroids!
Before we discuss this superior hypertrophy training method further let’s take a look at a sample training video:
Here we have the Olympic shot put gold-medalist Adam Nelson demonstrating a set of isometronics on the incline bench press.
Adam is pressing the barbell in between two sets of safety pins. There are the safety pins that the barbell is resting on in the bottom position and then there are the safety pins that the barbell presses against in the top position.
The procedure for a single isometronics set is as follows:
- Perform 4-6 partial range of motion reps in between the safety pins
- On the last rep press up against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds
- Lower the weight back down and attempt one final partial rep up to the top safety pins
So it’s steps 1, 2, and 3 as listed above all back-to-back with no rest. The overcoming isometric contraction against the top set of pins does an incredible job of recruiting more motor units in your muscles.
A true isometronics workout will feature 10 total sets of a barbell movement such as the bench press, deadlifts etc. You are going to break down the movement into three different ranges of motion and perform sets in each of them. Here is how the sets are organized:
- Perform 3 sets in the bottom position
- Perform 3 sets in the middle position
- Perform 3 sets in the top position
- Perform 1 full range of motion set
All of this will make more sense when we look at an actual training routine.
Check it out:
- A1: Bench press bottom-position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: Bench press mid-position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B2: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- C1: Bench press top-position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- C2: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- D1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 5-7, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- D2: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- E1: Dead stop skull crusher, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E2: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 5 partial range of motion reps in between the safety pins. After completing your fifth rep perform an all-out overcoming isometric contraction against the top pins for 8 seconds. After the overcoming isometric rep lower the weight down to the bottom pins and attempt one final partial range of motion rep.
Here is a great video demonstrating this workout:
Don’t let the relatively lower rep ranges of this workout fool you: isometronics are one of the best training programs that you can use for packing on slabs of functional hypertrophy.
One of the reasons many trainees fail to reach their full potential is that they really neglect the fast-twitch muscle fibers. If you have made this mistake in the past and are ready to repent for your former bodybuilding sins then isometronics may be just what you need to blast through a hypertrophy training plateau!
One of the things I like most about using partial reps for size is that they are such an incredibly versatile training tool.
There are just so many different ways to organize your workouts using partials to overload your muscles in different ways. I am confident that you could think of many more ways to use partial reps in your own training.
However, I strongly believe that the 5 partial rep methods covered in this article are as good as it gets when it comes to building raw muscle mass.
“The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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