Partial reps are one of the most controversial training methods in the world. Many experts say that partial reps are useless or that you should only train with a full range of motion. I disagree!
Partial reps are one of the most powerful tools you can use to build muscle mass and strength. Many of the world’s biggest and strongest athletes including Ronnie Coleman, Stan Efferding, Louie Simmons and John Meadows regularly use partial reps in their training.
- Part 1: The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Partial Reps
- Part 2: Special Partial Range Of Motion Exercises
- Part 3: Power Rack Exercises
- Part 4: Isometronics (AKA functional isometrics)
- Part 5: Ronnie Coleman Style Partial Reps
- Part 6: 1.25 Reps
- Part 7: Post-Failure Partial Reps
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything there is to know about how to build muscle mass and strength with partial reps.
Partial reps involve performing your repetitions through an abbreviated range of motion. Powerlifters often use exercises such as board presses, pin presses, block pulls and rack pulls to build strength by overloading the top half of an exercise. On the other hand bodybuilders love to perform partial reps in the bottom or stretched position of their exercises to build muscle mass.
The bottom line is partial reps can help you build muscle mass and strength faster than full range of motion lifts alone.
No, I am not suggesting that you should perform all of your sets with a partial range of motion. Full range of motion lifts should still form the backbone of your training program. However, partial reps have the potential to accelerate your progress when used in moderation.
Note: if you have any trouble reading the training routines in this guide then please read this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Partial Reps
Partial reps are an incredibly powerful training tool. This isn’t just my opinion though. Partial reps work for at least 5 distinct reasons:
- Partials help you overload specific muscle groups
- Partials help you overload specific points in the strength curve
- Partials increase your confidence with heavy weights
- Partials strengthen your connective tissue
- Partials desensitize the golgi tendon organ
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.
Advantage #1: Partials Help You Overload Specific Muscle Groups
The big compound exercises such as bench presses, chin ups, squats and deadlifts all have one thing in common: they all work many muscle groups at the same time.
Take the bench press for instance. The main muscle groups responsible for lifting the weight off your chest to lockout are the chest, shoulders and triceps. It turns out that each of these muscle groups is working its hardest in a specific part of the movement.
The chest is working its hardest during the bottom half of the exercise while the triceps are working their hardest during the top half of the exercise. One of the advantages of partial reps is that you can use them to place more emphasis on specific muscle groups during an exercise.
Bodybuilders will often perform partial reps in the bottom half of the bench press to keep maximum tension on their chest muscles. Ronnie Coleman was famous for doing this. For example:
During his first few reps he pretty much performs a half range of motion! This is an advanced bodybuilding technique for emphasizing the chest. Many other bodybuilders such as Stan Efferding have also used this technique with success.
On the other hand many powerlifters will emphasize the top half of the bench press to put more tension on their triceps. The 4-board press is a perfect example of this:
The triceps have to work very hard during this entire exercise, both because of the abbreviated range of motion and because you can use a lot more weight than normal.
Partial reps can be performed on many more exercises besides the bench press to overload specific muscle groups. Yes, full range of motion lifts should form the foundation of your training. However, partials are very useful here as an advanced training technique.
Advantage #2: Partials Help You Overload Specific Points In The Strength Curve
Most powerlifters know that you are much stronger in certain parts of an exercise and much weaker in other parts. For example most people are much stronger in the top part of a squat or deadlift than you are in the bottom part. Perhaps this is why so many people perform half squats in the gym: they are trying to protect their ego!
Partial reps are very valuable because they can be used to overload parts of an exercise harder than you could with full range of motion reps. Powerlifters often use partial range of motion deadlifts such as rack deadlifts or block deadlifts to overload the top half of a deadlift.
Most powerlifters can use far more weight during a rack pull than they can from a traditional deadlift from the floor. This can be a great way to get some heavy weight in your hands and to overload your central nervous system.
Bodybuilders often use exercises like rack pulls but for slightly different reasons. They want to use a heavier than normal weight to tax the muscles of their upper back. For example:
This is a video of IFBB pro Dusty Hanshaw using rack deadlifts to increase his back thickness. The rack pull let’s him overload his traps and spinal erectors to a greater degree.
Advantage #3: Partials Increase Your Confidence With Heavy Weights
This is more important for strength athletes such as powerlifters and strongmen competitors than it is for bodybuilders. Partials are a great way to increase your confidence with weights that are around your 1-rep max.
Powerlifters will often use “rack lockouts” on the bench press or squat in the last few weeks leading up to their competitions. For example here is James Strickland performing a rack lockout with over 800 pounds:
Talk about incredible! James is lifting a weight that is above his 1-rep max and holding it in the lockout position. He is doing this to get used to the feeling of really heavy weights in his hands. That way when he maxes out in his powerlifting meet he is mentally and physically prepared to perform a 1-rep max.
Advantage #4: Partials Strengthen Your Connective Tissue
This is another huge benefit of partial reps: they increase the strength of your connective tissues such as your bones, tendons and ligaments.
Many people find that their muscles increase in strength faster than their connective tissues. This is a big problem as your risk of injury goes way up when your connective tissue is too weak.
One of the reasons this happens is that your connective tissues have a very poor blood supply. This prevents them from healing and becoming stronger in response to training.
Partial reps are awesome because they actually stimulate your connective tissues to become stronger. They create microtears in the connective tissue that are very similar to the ones that occur in your muscles. In response to this the blood flow to your connective tissues is increased so they can grow back bigger and stronger.
Advantage #5: Partials Desensitize The Golgi Tendon Organ
This advantage is a little more complicated. Every muscle in your body has a golgi tendon organ. This is a small sensory organ. It’s job is to figure out if you are doing something that might result in you being injured.
For example if you were to try and deadlift a barbell loaded with 1,000 pounds then your golgi tendon would quickly shut down your muscles to prevent an injury.
No, I’m not talking about you Eddie Hall! For everyone else the golgi tendon organ would quickly kick in.
This is obviously a good thing as you don’t want to injure yourself in the gym. The problem with the golgi tendon organ is that it tends to be over-active. In other words it tends to limit your strength more than necessary to prevent an injury.
If you want to become as strong as possible then you need to use training methods that inhibit the golgi tendon organ from kicking in so quickly.
Partial reps are one of the few training methods that can do this. This is especially true if you are performing partial reps in the lockout position such as with a 4-board press or a block pull.
When you lift an extremely heavy weight through a partial range of motion you teach your golgi tendon organ that it is safe to lift heavier loads. Over time this organ will become down-regulated and your strength will significantly improve.
The Disadvantages Of Partial Reps
There are many advantages to using partial reps in your training. However, there is one massive disadvantage to them that you need to be aware of: you have to pair them together with plenty of full range of motion sets.
In fact full range of motion sets should form the foundation of your training program.
Many trainees find that when they rely too much on partial reps that their training progress comes to a screeching halt. Other trainees actually find that they regress when they rely too much on partials.
For example it is very common for beginner powerlifters to rely too much on partial range of motion lifts such as pin presses and rack pulls in their training.
At first their strength on these lifts goes through the roof and their full range of motion bench presses and deadlifts are up as well. They think they have found the holy grail of strength training! The problem is that unless they also perform plenty of full range of motion work their strength on the competition lifts will actually start to decrease.
You can think of partial reps as a training tool just like bands and chains. They are an incredibly valuable tool that you should be using in your training.
However, it is very easy to over-use these tools. If you use them too often or for too long your results will suffer.
Part 2: Special Partial Range Of Motion Exercises
Now we’re getting to the good stuff! There are many effective ways to incorporate partial range of motion repetitions into your training program.
One of the most effective methods is to use special exercises that naturally restrict your range of motion. These exercises usually overload the top half of a movement or the shortened position of the strength curve but that is not always the case.
Here are a few special exercises featuring a partial range of motion:
- Floor Press
- Board Press
- Block Pull
- Floor DB fly
- Rear delt destroyers
Let’s take a closer look at each of these exercises.
Special Exercise #1: The Floor Press
The floor press is a fantastic exercise that you can use to train your chest, shoulders and triceps. It is frequently used by the Westside Barbell powerlifting club and many other powerlifters throughout the world.
The floor press is somewhat similar to the bench press. The biggest difference is that on the floor press you only lower the barbell until your triceps make contact with the ground. This is a great exercise for overloading the top half of the bench press and for strengthening your triceps.
Most trainees find that they have to use slightly less weight on the floor press compared to the bench press. This is due to the fact that you cannot use any leg drive during the floor press.
Special Exercise #2: The Board Press
This is another partial range of motion exercise that has been popularized by Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell training club. You are going to lower the barbell until it touches a wooden board on your chest. Then you press the weight back up to lockout.
The board press is another fantastic exercise for overloading your lockout strength and for strengthening the triceps.
One of the great things about the board press is that it is very versatile. You can use anywhere from a 1-board to a 5-board press to overload different points in the strength curve.
Special Exercise #3: The Block Pull
This is an effective deadlifting variation that is used by both powerlifters and bodybuilders.
Powerlifters love it because they can overload the mid-range and lockout portion of their deadlift. It also allows powerlifters to handle supra-maximal weights in training.
On the other hand bodybuilders use block pulls because they give you the chance to overload all of the muscles on your backside including your hamstrings, glutes, lower back and upper back with a heavier than normal weight.
The traps and spinal erectors are hit particularly hard with this deadlift variation. Many athletes like the feel of block pulls more than rack pulls because of the way that the bar flexes in the bottom position of the movement.
Special Exercise #4: The Floor DB Fly
The floor DB fly is an isolation exercise that was popularized thanks to the efforts of Josh Bryant. One of the challenges with traditional bodybuilding-style DB flies is that it’s hard to judge how far down to lower the dumbbells.
If you lower them too far you risk injuring yourself. On the other hand if you don’t lower them far enough down you won’t get an optimal training effect.
Floor DB flies solve this problem by having you perform them on the ground. You simply lower the dumbbells until your triceps come in contact with the ground. Many powerlifters such as the 700+ pound bench presser James Strickland have used floor DB flies with a lot of success.
Special Exercise #5: Rear Delt Destroyers
The rear delt destroyer is a fantastic exercise that was popularized thanks to the efforts of the bodybuilding coach John Meadows. The idea is to use an extremely heavy pair of dumbbells and perform a rear delt raise through a partial range of motion.
This is a fantastic way to overload the lengthened position and mid-range of the strength curve. John often uses them as part of a massive drop set. This is not strictly necessary but can be a great way to increase the size of your rear delts.
Part 3: Power Rack Exercises
The power rack is easily one of the most important pieces of equipment in any hardcore powerlifting or bodybuilding gym.
One of the big advantages of the power rack is that it allows you to perform partial range of motion lifts on the big compound exercises such as the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press.
The easiest way to do this is to set the safety pins to a specific height and then place the barbell on the pins. You then squat, deadlift or press the bar from the pins all the way to lockout. Let’s look at some different partial range of motion strategies for each of the big 3 powerlifts.
Power Rack Exercises: The Squat
Most people don’t know this but the power rack can be an awesome tool for training the squat. In my opinion there are two exercises that you should be aware of:
- The dead squat
- The rack lockout
The dead squat is another awesome exercise invented by Josh Bryant. This is an exercise designed to help improve your powerlifting-style squat. You are going to perform a pin squat where the barbell is placed about 2 inches above parallel. For example:
Josh normally has his clients perform this exercise with a safety squat bar because it is much easier to get under the bar to perform the exercise.
If you do not have access to a safety squat bar then you can perform it with a regular barbell. It just won’t be as comfortable on your shoulders / upper back!
It is very important that you place the pins about 2 inches above parallel. This is the exact point where your stretch reflex stops helping you during a powerlifting style squat. This is also one of the most common “sticking points” or weaknesses on a powerlifting style squat.
The dead squat is designed to strengthen this transition point where the stretch reflex stops helping. The key is that you only perform this exercise for single repetitions.
Josh likes to start out his clients with 10 sets of singles performed with 30 seconds rest between sets. As they approach their powerlifting meet they may perform 4 sets of singles with 60 seconds rest between sets.
It is very important that you only perform single repetitions on this exercise so that you take the stretch reflex out of the movement. The dead squat is easily one of the best squat supplementary exercises that you can perform.
The rack lockout is another great partial range of motion squat exercise. You are going to squat a weight about 2 inches and then hold it with your legs locked out for 5-10 seconds. For example:
This is a useful exercise to perform as you approach a powerlifting competition. The rack lockout helps your body get used to the feeling of a really heavy weight on your back.
This is important for both physiological and psychological reasons. In other words it will improve your strength with maximal singles and it will increase your confidence when you perform them.
It is very important that you do not perform this exercise too often. If you are going to use it I recommend you do so for 1-3 weeks towards the end of your powerlifting meet prep cycle. Performing it more often than that is a great way to overtrain your central nervous system.
Power Rack Exercises: The Bench Press
The power rack is one of the best ways to train the bench press. There are at least three awesome bench press variations that you can perform in a power rack:
- The dead bench
- The pin press
- The rack lockout
The dead bench is yet another exercise invented by Josh Bryant. For this exercise you are going to set the safety pins about 2 inches above your chest. You then perform a partial range of motion bench press with the weight starting on the safety pins. For example:
This exercise is great for building your starting strength in the bench press.
Many powerlifters rely on the stretch reflex too much to bench press heavy weights. These individuals often have a huge weakness about 2 inches off of their chest. This is about the point where the stretch reflex stops helping you.
Once again Josh recommends that you perform this exercise for single repetitions. This is done to make sure that the stretch reflex does not help you at all to lift the weight to lockout. If you perform it for multiple repetitions in a set then it is not a dead bench!
Josh likes his athletes to perform around 10 singles towards the start of their meet prep cycles and around 3-4 singles as they are getting close to their competitions.
Pin presses are another great power rack bench press exercise. You simply perform a set of bench presses where the weight is resting on pins in the starting position. For example:
Pin presses can be performed for either single repetitions or for multiple reps. You can set the bar anywhere from 1-2 inches off of your chest to 1-2 inches shy of lockout. The choice is up to you.
Pin presses are a useful way to overload the top half of the bench press and to strengthen your triceps. Louie Simmons frequently has his athletes use this exercise to help build a big bench press.
Of course it is also possible to perform bench press rack lockouts in the power rack. These are very similar to the pin press. The main difference is that you are only pressing the weight 1-2 inches and you are holding the weight at lockout for 5-10 seconds in a row. For example:
Here is the world class bench presser James Strickland using the pin press to improve his ability to handle heavy weights at his next powerlifting meet. Pin presses are extremely useful for down regulating the golgi tendon organ and for increasing your confidence with heavy weights.
Rack lockouts are a rather extreme training method and should be used sparingly in your training. Once again i recommend you perform them no more than 1-3 weeks in a row as you approach your powerlifting meet.
Power Rack Exercises: The Deadlift
Rack pulls are a very popular exercise with both powerlifters and bodybuilders. Here is a sample video:
Powerlifters love them because they let you overload the lockout portion of the deadlift with really heavy weights. They are also quite useful because they are less taxing on the central nervous system when compared to deadlifts from the floor.
Many powerlifters find that they can deadlift more frequently if they replace some of their deadlift workouts with rack pull workouts.
Bodybuilders also use rack pulls in their training, and for good reason: they build slabs of muscle mass on the entire backside of your body! This is especially true when you can rack pull 600-800 pounds for reps with good form.
For inspiration here is Dusty Hanshaw repping out an unbelievable 8 plates per side on rack pulls:
There are many different ways to incorporate rack pulls into your training. The Westside Barbell crew often adds quadrupled mini bands or monster mini bands to the bar to overload the lockout portion of the lift even more.
However you perform them just make sure that you are also performing some full range of motion deadlifts in your routine. If you rely only on rack pulls then you may find that your strength off the floor actually goes down!
Part 4: Isometronics (AKA functional isometrics)
Isometronics are probably one of the most applications of partial range of motion sets. The procedure for an isometronics set is as follows:
- Step #1: Perform 4-6 partial range of motion reps in between 2 sets of safety pins set about 6 inches apart from each other
- Step #2: After your last rep you are going to press / pull the barbell against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. You are trying to break the pins in half!
- Step #3: After the isometric contraction you lower the weight to the bottom pins and try to perform 1 more partial range of motion rep.
For an isometronics set you perform all three steps in a row with no rest in between. Don’t worry, I will give you plenty of videos on how to do this for the squat, bench press and deadlift. A typical isometronics workout consists of 10 sets:
- Step #1: Perform 3 isometronics sets in the bottom position of the exercise
- Step #2: Perform 3 isometronics sets in the mid-range of the exercise
- Step #3: Perform 3 isometronics sets in the top position of the exercise
- Step #4: Perform 1 full range of motion set
It is very important that you perform the full range of motion set at the end of the sequence. This full range of motion set helps you to improve your carryover to the regular exercise.
Isometronics work so well because they combine 2 powerful training methods: partial range of motion reps and overcoming isometrics.
The overcoming isometrics are particularly powerful because they teach your body to recruit more of the high-threshold motor units. In fact research has shown that overcoming isometric reps allow you to recruit up to 15% more motor units than either concentric or eccentric muscular contractions!
Here is what a full isometronics squat workout might look like. Check it out:
Isometronics Squat Routine
- A1: Front squat bottom position isometronics (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Front squat middle position isometronics (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- C1: Front squat top position isometronics (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- D1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 1 x 5, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- E1: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 3 x 5-7, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E2: Machine hack squat, 3 x 7-9, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest
**On your 5th rep perform a 6-8 second isometric contraction against the top pins. Try to break the pins in half! Then lower the weight to the bottom pins and attempt 1 more partial rep.
Here is a video of the isometronics portion of the workout:
Here is what a full isometronics bench press workout might look like. Check it out:
Isometronics Bench Press Routine
- A1: Bench press bottom position isometronics (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 6**, 2/0/2/0, 120 second rest
- A2: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Bench press middle position isometronics (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 6**, 2/0/2/0, 120 second rest
- B2: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Bench press top position isometronics (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 6**, 2/0/2/0, 120 second rest
- C2: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 1 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D2: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 1 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Seated overhead rope cable extension, 3 x 6-8, 3/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- E2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / pronated grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**On your 6th rep perform a 6-8 second isometric contraction against the top pins. Try to break the pins in half! Then lower the weight to the bottom pins and attempt 1 more partial rep.
Here is a video of the isometronics portion of the workout:
Here is what a full isometronics deadlift workout might look like. Check it out:
Isometronics Deadlift Routine
- A1: Conventional deadlift bottom position isometronics, 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Conventional deadlift middle position isometronics, 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- C1: Conventional deadlift top position isometronics, 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- D1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 5, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- E1: Seated cable rope row, 3 x 7-10, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- F1: Lat pulldowns (narrow / neutral grip), 3 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- G1: Glute ham raise, 3 x 7-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
**On your 5th rep perform a 6-8 second isometric contraction against the top pins. Try to break the pins in half! Then lower the weight to the bottom pins and attempt 1 more partial rep.
Here is a video of the isometronics portion of the workout:
Isometronics are easily one of the most effective partial range of motion lifting methods ever invented. They work unbelievably well for building strength and muscle mass.
If you are stuck at a training plateau then isometronics will help you blast through the plateau as well as anything else. I highly recommend you give them a shot!
Part 5: Ronnie Coleman Style Partial Reps
Ronnie Coleman is arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all time. He was known for lifting unbelievably heavy weights in the gym. He was able to squat and deadlift 800 pounds for reps and bench press 500 pounds for reps.
One of the unique things about Ronnie Coleman’s training style is that he almost exclusively performed partial range of motion reps for the following body parts:
Ronnie exclusively performed partial reps in the stretched position of the strength curve for these body parts. In other words he would skip the top part of his bench presses and squats etc. For example here is a video of Ronnie Coleman performing the bench press:
I want you to pay very close attention to this videos. Ronnie is completely skipping the top third of the exercise! This is an advanced bodybuilding technique.
Ronnie is arguing that the chest is working the hardest in the bottom half of the bench press. In the top half of the movement the triceps start to take over and the chest starts to relax a little bit. Ronnie wants to keep the chest under constant tension and to him that means skipping the top half of the movement entirely!
This technique also keeps the target muscle under a loaded stretch throughout the entire exercise. The scientific literature has shown repeatedly that loaded stretches are extremely beneficial for building muscle mass.
The same is true when Ronnie performs front or back squats. For example:
Ronnie feels his quads working the most in the bottom part of the movement. As he approaches lockout the movement becomes much easier and his quads get a bit of a break.
The only problem is Ronnie Coleman is a bodybuilder – he wants his quads to work as hard as possible throughout the entire movement!
Powerlifters solve this “problem” by using bands and chains to overload the top portion of the movement. Ronnie solves it by skipping the lockout portion of the movement altogether!
Of course Ronnie Coleman is not the only bodybuilder to perform their reps this way on certain exercises. Stan Efferding is also a big proponent of performing partial reps in the stretched position on certain exercises. For example:
Marc Bell’s commentary is both hilarious and highly instructive: “Look at that, not one rep locked out! Leave it to a bodybuilder to lift like a slob. Look at that, I wouldn’t count one of those [reps]. Red light on every single one! I don’t know what that is about the bodybuilders, why they do [those partial reps]. Maybe that’s why I’m not ripped!?”
It is not necessary to perform partial reps in your training like Ronnie Coleman. Dorian Yates used a full range of motion on most exercises and he seemed to do pretty well for himself.
Here are a couple of Ronnie Coleman’s workouts for inspiration. Check it out:
Ronnie Coleman’s Chest And Triceps Routine
- 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
Here is one of Ronnie Coleman’s two weekly leg routines. Check it out:
Ronnie Coleman’s Leg Routine
- 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
If you are an advanced bodybuilder then Ronnie Coleman style partial range of motion repetitions can be a valuable tool in your toolbox.
I highly recommend you play around with this lifting style on your chest, shoulder, tricep and quadricep exercises. It can be a great way to keep constant tension on the working muscle and add slabs of muscle mass to your body!
Part 6: 1.25 Reps
1.25 reps, or “one-and-a-quarter reps” are an extremely effective way to use partial reps to build muscle mass. The procedure for performing a 1.25 rep is as follows:
- Step 1: Lower the weight all the way down to the bottom position
- Step 2: Lift the weight up a quarter of the way to the top position
- Step 3: Lower the weight back down to the bottom position
- Step 4: Lift the weight back up all the way to lockout
This entire procedure counts as 1 full rep. 1.25 reps are a powerful way to accumulate extra time under tension in the stretched position of many different exercises.
1.25 reps can also be performed in the top or shortened position of an exercise but it is far more common to perform them in the stretched position. In my experience 1.25 reps are extremely effective for training the quadriceps and the arms.
One of the big advantages of using 1.25 reps on exercises such as squats is that you increase recruitment of the VMO or the vastus medialis. This is the large “teardrop” shaped quadricep muscle located on the inside of your knee. Here is a perfect demonstration of 1.25 reps on the squat:
Note: you are going to have to check your ego at the door if you perform 1.25 reps on either front squats or back squats. It is an incredibly challenging but rewarding training method.
Here is a sample lower body routine designed to add slabs of muscle onto your thighs. Check it out:
Lower Body 1.25 Reps Routine
- A1: Back squat (Close stance / heels flat)**, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in)**, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Leg press, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Romanian deadlift, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Walking DB lunges, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Sumo leg press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 1.25 reps in the bottom position on every rep
1.25 reps also work extremely well when training the biceps and triceps. The extra time under tension spent in the stretched position of bicep curls nad triceps extensions is extremely valuable.
The lateral head of the triceps is strongly activated in the stretched position of all decline exercises. This makes 1.25 reps on decline extensions one of the very best ways to hypertrophy the lateral head of your triceps. Here is a sample arm training routine you may want to try.
Check it out:
Arm 1.25 Reps Routine
- A1: Decline DB extension**, 3 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Decline bench press (shoulder-width grip)**, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: V-bar cable pushdowns, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Bilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip)**, 3 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip)**, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- B3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip)**, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
**Perform 1.25 reps in the bottom position on every rep
This routine is particularly effective for hypertrophying the lateral head of your triceps and the short head of your biceps brachii. You can expect some serious delayed onset muscle soreness after this one!
Part 7: Post-Failure Partial Reps
There is one last way to perform partial reps that I want to cover: post-failure partial reps. These are exactly as they sound.
You first perform a set all the way to muscular failure. Then you start performing partial reps in the stretched position of the exercise. Even though you cannot complete another full rep it is often possible to perform additional partial range of motion repetitions to further exhaust the muscle.
IFBB professional bodybuilder John Meadows is very fond of performing post-failure partial reps on all types of leg curls. For example:
This is a fantastic high-intensity bodybuilding technique that will give you one of the best hamstring pumps of your life! John likes to perform 2-3 straight sets a little bit shy of failure and then perform his final set with the partials added in.
Here is a sample Mountain Dog style leg workout featuring post-failure partial reps on leg curls. Check it out:
Mountain Dog Style Leg Routine
- A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 4 x 10-12**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Leg press with bands (feet low and narrow), 4-6 x 10-12***, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Machine hack squat, 3 x 15-20****, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Walking DB lunges, 3 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: DB stiff-legged deadlift, 4 x 12-15, 2/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
**Perform 4 progressively heavier sets. Aim for 85% of max weight on set #1, 90% on set #2, 95% on set #3, and 100% on set #4. On the 4th set perform 10-12 reps to failure and then immediately perform as many partial reps in the stretched position as you can to failure.
***Perform 4-6 progressively heavier sets. Aim to add 1 plate per side on each set. On the last set perform a triple drop set. Perform 10-12 reps just shy of failure, strip .5-2 plates off each side and go just shy of failure a 2nd time, then strip .5-2 plates off each side and go just shy of failure a 3rd time.
****Perform with the same weight on each set. You may need to use a lighter weight here. If you have to “rest-pause” the last few reps of each set that is OK.
Another great exercise for performing post-failure partial reps is the rack chin. The rack chin is a back width exercise that was popularized thanks to the efforts of Dante Trudel, the inventor of DC Training.
Rack chins are essentially a wide grip pull up performed with your feet resting on an adjustable bench placed in front of you. For example:
Rack chins place you in an extremely favorable mechanical position for training the lats and the teres major. Many trainees report some of the fastest “back width” gains of their life after incorporating this exercise into their routine.
According to Dante Trudel the most important part of this exercise is the deep stretch in the bottom position. Dante likes his trainees to perform a rest-pause set on this exercise and then perform several partial range of motion reps immediately after their third failure point.
This is a fantastic way to overload the lats.
Here is an advanced DC-style back and biceps routine featuring partial reps on the rack chin. You may want to give it a whirl if you are an advanced bodybuilder looking to build a wider back. Check it out:
Advanced DC-Style Back And Biceps Routine
- A1: Rack chin, 1 x 11-20 RP**, 3/1/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Dante rows, 1 x 15-30, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed
- C1: Back width extreme stretch, 1 x 60-90 seconds, rest as needed
- D1: Conventional deadlift, 2 x (5-7, 9-11), 2/1/X/0, rest as needed
- E1: Unilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 1 x 11-20 RP, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- F1: Bicep extreme stretch, 1 x 60-90 seconds, rest as needed
- G1: Unilateral reverse cable curl, 1 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
I can’t promise you that you will have a back as wide as Ronnie Coleman’s after a few weeks on this routine. However, you may find that this routine gives you some of the best back width gains of your life!
Partial reps are an extremely valuable training method that you should be using in your training. This is true regardless of whether you are a bodybuilder training for hypertrophy or a powerlifter training for all-out strength gains.
No, partial reps are not a substitute for full range of motion repetitions. However, they can accelerate your gains if you use them in moderation and as a supplement to your full range of motion sets.
If you want more help incorporating partial range of motion repetitions into your training program then check out my online coaching program. I regularly use partial range of motion repetitions in my clients training programs to accelerate their results.
“It is important to have people believe in you. With this support, what you can achieve is limitless.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. He won the Mr. Olympia contest 8 times and revolutionized the sport of bodybuilding. Arnold was known for his...
One of the reasons most people cannot build big, strong arms is they don’t know how to train the short head of the biceps. If you want to build a pair of biceps that would make Arnold...