Partial Reps: The Ultimate Guide!


Partial reps

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. 

If you want to get jacked and freaky strong then partial reps are for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Power Rack Exercises
  • Part 2: Functional Isometrics
  • Part 3: Partial Range Of Motion Exercises
  • Part 4: Bodybuilder Style Partial Reps
  • Part 5: One-And-A-Quarter Reps
  • Part 6: Post-Failure Partial Reps

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything there is to know about how to build size and strength with partial reps.

Partial reps is an advanced training technique where you perform an exercise through a partial range of motion. Bodybuilders and powerlifters use partial reps to overload part of an exercise and to stimulate size and strength gains.

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.

Here is John Meadows giving a perfect demonstration of a rack pull:

John Meadows wants to really isolate his upper back with this exercise. He performs a rack deadlift rather than a regular deadlift so he can force his upper back to do more of the work.

This strategy also lets him overload his upper back with a heavier weight to stimulate more growth.

Bodybuilders also like to use partial reps. However, they usually focus on the part of an exercise where the muscle is under a deep stretch.

Here is Stan Efferding performing partial reps on the incline dumbbell press:

If you have a good sense of humor then listen to Marc Bell’s commentary:

“Look at, that not one rep locked out. Leave it to a bodybuilder to lift like a slob! I don’t know what that is about the bodybuilders, why they do that? Maybe that’s why I’m not ripped!”

The bottom line is partial reps can help you build muscle mass and strength faster than full range of motion lifts alone.

Full range of motion lifts should still form the backbone of your training program. However, partial reps have many advantages:

The Advantages Of Partial Reps

  • Advantage #1: Partials help you overload specific muscle groups
  • Advantage #2: Partials help you overload specific points in the strength curve
  • Advantage #3: Partials increase your confidence with heavy weights
  • Advantage #4: Partials strengthen your connective tissue
  • Advantage #5: Partials desensitize the golgi tendon organ

The bottom line is partial reps are an awesome tool for building size and strength. They are a great way to reach your goals faster if you are already performing full range of motion exercises.

Now let’s look at the best ways for powerlifters and bodybuilders to use partial reps in their training programs!

Part 1: Partial Reps For Powerlifting

Powerlifters love to use partial reps in their training. They know that partial reps can be used to strengthen a specific part of an exercise or to strengthen a weak muscle group.

For example powerlifters love to use partial reps on the bench press to overload their lockout strength and to strengthen their triceps.

Here are 4 ways that powerlifters use partial reps in their training programs:

How To Use Partial Reps For Powerlifting:

  • Option #1: Special Exercises
  • Option #2: Power Rack Training
  • Option #3: Isometric Training
  • Option #4: Functional Isometrics

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

Option #1: Special Exercises

Powerlifters have invented many different exercises where you train with a partial range of motion. One of the best examples is the floor press. Check it out:

The floor press is a variation of the bench press. The main difference is you lay down on the floor for the exercise rather than laying down on a bench press.

With the floor press your elbows actually touch the ground before the bar hits your chest. This forces you to train the top half of the exercise only.

The floor press is a great way to overload your lockout strength and your triceps.

In this video Jim Wendler performs the floor press with chains to overload his lockout strength even more. The chains fall on the ground in the bottom position but lift up off the ground as you press the weight to lockout.

Another great partial range of motion exercise is the block deadlift. Check it out:

The block deadlift is a variation of the deadlift. The big difference is you pull with the weights resting on blocks.

Powerlifters use the block pull to overload their lockout strength and to take some of the stress off their lower back in the starting position.

Many powerlifters like the block pull more than the rack pull because the way the bar bend feels more natural.

Powerlifters clearly love to invent variations of the squat, bench press or deadlift where they can train through a partial range of motion and lift more weight. However, they also use the same strategy with their assistance exercises!

The powerlifting coach Josh Bryant popularized the dumbbell floor fly as a way to really isolate the chest after a heavy bench press session. Check it out:

With the dumbbell floor fly you lower the weight down to the ground, pause for a split second and lift the weight back up using nothing but your pecs.

The floor prevents you from lowering your arms past 90 degrees. This limits the range of motion but does a great job of keeping tension on your pecs.

Option #2: Power Rack Training

Now we’re getting to the good stuff! Powerlifters are known for using the power rack to build their squat, bench press and deadlift.

Let’s look at some of their favorite partial range of motion strategies for each of these lifts.

One of the best exercises you can use to build your squat is called the “dead squat.” Check it out:

Many powerlifters are weak in the squat right above parallel. This makes sense because this is where the stretch reflex wears off.

Josh Bryant uses the dead squat to strengthen this weak point.

The dead squat is basically a squat performed from safety pins 2-4 inches above parallel. You get under the bar, squat it up from a dead stop position and then lower the weight back down.

Josh likes to use the safety squat bar rather than a regular barbell because it is much more comfortable and easier to get in the correct starting position.

The safety squat bar has a large padded surface which takes a lot of the pressure off your shoulders, neck and upper back.

Josh likes to perform this exercise for 3-10 sets of singles with 1-4 minutes rest between sets. You NEVER perform this exercise for multiple reps because then you would use the stretch reflex.

If you don’t have a safety squat bar then do what Arnold tells you and buy one today!

The Best Safety Squat Bars To Buy:

The safety squat bar is one of the best tools you can use to build your squat. I highly recommend it!

If your goal is to improve your bench press then one of the best partial range of motion exercises you can do is the rack lockout.

Here is the 700 pound bench presser James Strickland showing us how it’s done:

The rack lockout is basically a 1-4 inch range of motion bench press. You rest the bar on safety pins and then press the weight up to lockout. The rack lockout has many benefits:

Rack Lockout Benefits

  • Benefit #1: It improves your confidence with heavy weights
  • Benefit #2: It improves your connective tissue strength
  • Benefit #3: It down-regulates the golgi tendon organ

The rack lockout shocks your body with an extremely heavy weight. When you perform your next workout bench press workout the weight will feel very light in your hands and you should be able to hit a new PR.

There are a few different ways to incorporate rack lockouts into your workouts.

The first option is to use rack lockouts as a key supplementary exercise. This is Josh Bryant’s favorite strategy.

Another great option is to alternate sets of rack lockouts with full range of motion sets. This was a favorite of the legendary bodybuilder Chuck Sipes. Check it out:

The Chuck Sypes Bench Press Routine

  • Set #1: Rack lockout x 1 rep
  • Set #2: Bench press x 6 reps
  • Set #3: Rack lockout x 1 rep
  • Set #4: Bench press x 6 reps
  • Set #5: Rack lockout x 1 rep
  • Set #6: Bench press x 6 reps

After the 6 sets you can perform some accessory work for your upper body.

Rack lockouts can be an incredible way to blast through training plateaus on the bench press. You just have to be careful about not over-doing them. They can be very demanding on the central nervous system.

The rack deadlift is a classic powerlifting exercise. You just perform the deadlift in a power rack with the bar resting on safety pins.

The powerlifting coach Louie Simmons found a way to make this exercise even more effective: he performs it with extra band tension. Check it out:

The powerlifter is using quadrupled monster-mini bands in this video. Louie Simmons says that the bands add about 280 pounds of tension at lockout. That is enough band tension to make your head explode!

The rack pull with bands places a tremendous overload on your lower and upper back. It really is one of those exercises you have to try for yourself.

If you are looking for a great partial range of motion exercise to overload your deadlift then make it the rack deadlift with bands!

Option #3: Isometric Training

The powerlifting coach Josh Bryant says that isometric training is his “secret weapon” for building a world-class bench press. He uses isometric training on the bench press and the deadlift to attack sticking points and blast through training plateaus.

Here is what a bench press isometric set looks like:

Al Davis is pressing an empty 45 pound barbell into a set of safety pins. Al Davis is pressing so hard that his training partners have to hold the power rack down to prevent it from ripping off the ground!

Isometric training is really a form of partial rep training because you are training through a partial range of motion.

Josh Bryant likes to use this exercise with his athletes because it teaches you to produce more force and recruit more muscle fibers. It also strengthens the exact part of the range of motion you are training so you can overcome sticking points.

One of Josh’s favorite strategies is to alternate speed sets with isometric sets on the bench press and the deadlift. Check it out:

Josh Bryant’s Isometric Training Strategy

  • Set #1: Isometric bench press or deadlift
  • Set #2: Speed bench press or deadlift
  • Set #3: Isometric bench press or deadlift
  • Set #4: Speed bench press or deadlift
  • Set #5: Isometric bench press or deadlift
  • Set #6: Speed bench press or deadlift

Here is a great training video of this strategy:

Josh Bryant mostly uses isometric training to help his powerlifters get ready for their powerlifting competitions. However, he sometimes uses this strategy with bodybuilders or with powerlifters in their “offseason” phase of training.

One of his favorite ways to use isometrics to build muscle is to perform a tri-set with three different types of exercises. Check it out:

Iso-Dynamics Bench Press Routine

  • A1: Close grip bench press overcoming isometric***, 3 x 1, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Close grip bench press against bands, 3 x 3, 1/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Decline DB extension, 3 x 10, 5/0/1/0, 4 minutes rest

***Perform an isometric bench press for 6 seconds. Set the safety pins 3 inches below lockout.

Here is the training video for this routine:

Isometric training is an incredibly effective way to incorporate partial range of motion reps in to your training. If you have the “testicular fortitude” to train this way then I highly recommend you give it a shot!

Option #4: Functional Isometrics

You thought I was done talking about isometric training? Think again! There is one other type of isometric training that you must know about: functional isometrics.

Functional isometrics is a hybrid between two incredible training methods:

  • Partial range of motion reps
  • Isometric training

The idea behind functional isometrics is simple.

First you are going to pre-exhaust your muscles with 4-6 partial range of motion reps using safety pins. Then on your last rep you are going to perform an isometric contraction against the top pins as hard as you can for 6 seconds.

Here is a perfect video demonstration:

Jonathon Irizarry performs 5 partial reps where he bounces the weight off his chest and drives into the top safety pins. Then on his 5th rep he presses into the top safety pins for 6 seconds.

This is an incredible way to overload your triceps and your lockout strength on the bench press.

Josh Bryant likes to use this partial range of motion strategy as a core supplementary exercise. Here is what Jonathon Irizarry’s full bench press workout looks like:

Jonathan Irizarry Functional Isometrics Bench Press Workout

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 2, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 6 x 3, 1/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: 30 degree incline chest supported DB row, 6 x 6, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press functional isometrics**, 2 x 5, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Bench press with bands, 2 x 1, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: V-bar dips, 2 x 15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: DB floor fly, 3 x 8-12, 1/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Unilateral cable pushdown (underhand grip), 3 x 8-12, 1/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest

**Set the safety pins up 2 inches below lockout. Perform 5 full range of motion reps. Then on your last rep perform an all-out overcoming isometric contraction against the top pins for 6 seconds.

Talk about a high-volume bench press workout! Jonathon uses functional isometrics AND bench presses with bands to really overload his lockout strength.

There is another way to perform functional isometrics that you should know about. This method was popularized by the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin.

You are going to press the weight in between two sets of safety pins using a very short 4-6 in range of motion. On your last rep you press into the top pins for 6 seconds, then you lower the weight back down and attempt 1 more rep.

Here is a perfect video demonstration:

Charles Poliquin likes to use functional isometrics to overload the bottom, middle and top parts of the bench press.

Using three different types of partial reps in one routine is absolutely brutal but it works incredibly well for building maximal strength.

Here is the full functional isometrics training protocol:

  • Step #1: Perform 3 functional isometric sets in the bottom third of the range of motion
  • Step #2: Perform 3 functional isometric sets in the middle third of the range of motion
  • Step #3: Perform 3 functional isometric sets in the top third of the range of motion
  • Step #4: Perform 1 full range of motion set

If you have the “guts” to perform a 2-4 week Charles Poliquin functional isometrics program then your bench press will shoot through the roof! It is easily one of the best ways to use partial reps in the gym.

You have 4 different ways to use partial reps in your powerlifting training programs. Now let’s look at some of the best ways for bodybuilders to use partial reps in their training programs!

Part 2: Partial Reps For Bodybuilding

Bodybuilders love to use partial reps in their training. In fact partial rep training is one of the best training methods for blasting through hypertrophy training plateaus!

Here are 4 of the best partial rep strategies that you can use to build muscle:

How To Use Partial Reps For Bodybuilding

  • Option #1: Power Rack Training
  • Option #2: Bodybuilder-Style Partial Reps
  • Option #3: One And A Quarter Reps
  • Option #4: Post-Failure Partial Reps

Now let’s take a closer look at teach of these options.

Option #1: Power Rack Training

Power rack training isn’t just for powerlifters! Many of the world’s best bodybuilding coaches like John Meadows use the power rack as a core part of their training programs.

One of the best power rack exercises you can do as a bodybuilder is the pin press. Check it out:

John Meadows thinks the pin press is a better triceps exercise than the regular close grip bench press. During a regular bench press you rely on your chest and shoulders during the bottom half of the range of motion.

With the pin press you can focus on the part of the lift where your triceps are most active and maintain constant tension on the triceps. In case you were curious here is John’s full pin press triceps workout:

John Meadows’ Pin Press Triceps Workout

  • A1: Pin press (shoulder-width grip), 3 sets of 5 reps, 3 minutes rest
  • B1: Dual rope cable pushdown, 4 set of 8-12 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Rope overhead cable extension (high pulley), 4 sets of 8-12 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • C1: Lying dead stop DB extensions, 3 sets of 12-15 reps

This is a simple but extremely effective triceps workout. If you need to bring up the lateral head of your triceps then these exercises will work like magic for you.

One of the reasons bodybuilders avoid partial range of motion exercises in the power rack is they can be very hard on the central nervous system.

For example performing partial range of motion squats, bench presses or deadlifts can be very difficult to recover from. Don’t worry, there are ways around this issue.

One great strategy is to perform partial range of motion exercises like rack deadlifts at the end of your back workout. You would pre-exhaust your back with 2-4 different back exercises and then perform your rack deadlifts as a “finisher.”

The professional bodybuilder Hunter Labrada is a big fan of this strategy. Here is his pre-exhaust back workout. Check it out:

Hunter Labrada’s High-Volume Back Workout

  • Exercise #1: Straight-arm cable pulldowns, 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #2: Underhand barbell row, 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Wide-grip lat pulldown, 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #5: Rack pull (mid-shin height), 3 sets of 10-15 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

As you can see Hunter Labrada uses the rack pull to overload his back after performing several variations of pulldowns and rows.

Here are Hunter’s exact thoughts on this strategy:

“I’m a big proponent of rack pulls for overall upper back development. It’s a great finisher and you’re going to completely annihilate your back by doing it at the end.”

If you have a hard time feeling your lats engage during rack pulls then try performing them at the end of your workout.

So many bodybuilders from Dorian Yates to Dusty Hanshaw have found success with this strategy.

Option #2: Bodybuilder-Style Partial Reps

Now we’re getting to the good stuff! Most professional bodybuilders perform their exercises through a partial range of motion. They lift the weight half-way up and then lower the weight right back down without lockout out their joints.

Here is Ronnie Coleman demonstrating this technique on the flat bench press:

I call this technique “bodybuilding-style partial reps.”

What the heck is going on here? Doesn’t Ronnie Coleman know that you have to use a full range of motion to build muscle?

I’m just as confused as Marc Bell:

“Look at, that not one rep locked out. Leave it to a bodybuilder to lift like a slob! I don’t know what that is about the bodybuilders, why they do that? Maybe that’s why I’m not ripped!”

All kidding aside Ronnie Coleman performs partial reps for his chest, shoulder, tricep and quadriceps exercises.

Ronnie figured out through trial and error that the bottom half of the exercise is where he gets the most muscle growth.

For example Ronnie knows that the bottom half of a bench press is where his chest works the hardest. Ronnie focuses just on this part of the exercise so he can maximally overload his chest.

Ronnie uses this strategy on many other exercises besides the bench press. Just look at this video of Ronnie performing front squats:

Ronnie knows exactly what he’s doing here. He knows that the bottom half of the exercise is where the magic happens. Therefore he wants to focus all of his time and energy on this part of the lift.

Ronnie uses this strategy for the following muscle groups:

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Quads

I highly recommend you try these Ronnie Coleman style partial reps in your own bodybuilding workouts. It can be a great way to overload your muscles and stimulate more growth.

Option #3: One And A Quarter Reps

One and a quarter reps are an extremely advanced bodybuilding training strategy. You are going to perform 1 full range of motion rep followed by 1 quarter rep.

Here is a great video demonstration of this technique:

As you can see the bodybuilder lifts the dumbbells up a quarter of the way, lowers them back down, lifts them all the way up and then lowers them all the way back down.

All together this counts as 1 single rep. If you perform 8-12 of these one and a quarter reps in a row then your biceps are going to be fried!

Milos Sarcev is another bodybuilding coach who loves to use one and a quarter reps in his training programs. Milos Sarcev is best known for his giant sets training style where you perform 5-10 exercises in a row for a specific body part with no rest.

Milos likes to make his giant sets even more intense by inserting high-intensity techniques like one and a quarter reps on some of the exercises. Check it out:

In this video the bodybuilder is alternating between 2 one and a quarter reps and 2 full range of motion reps.

This is an extremely advanced training method because you create a TON of muscle damage when you alternate between these 2 types of reps.

If you are a true masochist and love to torture yourself in the gym then you will love this training technique!

Option #4: Post-Failure Partial Reps

Post-failure partial reps are a brutally effective way to train for muscular hypertrophy. The idea is simple: you train to failure on an exercise and then you perform several partial range of motion reps in the stretched position.

I said simple, not easy! You need a high pain tolerance before attempting something this intense.

The bodybuilding coach John Meadows really likes to perform post-failure partial reps on lying leg curls. Check it out:

John performs a triple drop set, then increases the weight and performs 25 partial range of motion reps in the stretched position. Talk about an intense set!

Combining post-failure partial reps with drop sets is a crazy idea but sometimes you have to push yourself when you are an advanced bodybuilder and you want to continue growing.

Here is John Meadows performing post-failure partial reps on machine flies. Check it out:

For this exercise John performs 10 full range of motion reps, then performs 5 partial range of motion reps and finishes with a 10-second iso-hold in a power position. Talk about an intense set!

John really likes to perform these post-failure partial reps on the last set of different machine and isolation exercises.

He says these high-intensity sets are almost required to continue growing when you reach an advanced level of muscular development.

Conclusion

Partial reps

Partial reps are an incredible training method. Bodybuilders and powerlifters use them to overload specific points in the range of motion and to attack specific muscle groups.

Partial reps will never replace full range of motion work but they can speed up your progress if you know how to incorporate them into your training programs.

I recommend you use this article as an “all you can eat buffet.” Look at all the different partial rep techniques and use the ones that work best for you!

Here’s the original gangster Bruce Lee dropping a knowledge bomb that will blow your mind:

“Many people dedicate their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like, rather than actualizing themselves.

This difference between self-actualization and self-image actualization is very important. Most people live only for their image.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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