Partial repetitions are (as the name suggests) repetitions performed in a partial range of motion. Most of the time they carry over only to the rep range they are trained in plus a couple of degrees more, however, there are a couple of ways to make them more useful than you think they are. In this text, I will talk about how do I implement certain strategies to allow my athletes to benefit much more from partial repetitions and make tremendous strength and muscle mass gains in the long run.
Different applications of partial repetitions
Paused exercises are generally used to accumulate more volume within the sticking point area. Performing exercises such as Spoto presses, paused squats or alternating dumbbell work are great examples. In the paused exercises, I usually instruct my athletes to go down and pause at the sticking point, which is the range of where the lift feels the hardest and that is also the range of motion where the muscles contract the hardest. When the muscles contract harder than usual, it generates adaptation responses and this is exactly what we all are about. I also want to remind you that the hardest range of the lift is not always at the bottom and that pauses are not always implemented on the way down. They can also be incorporated on the way up.
Literally using partial range of motion can also be beneficial to sports performance. First of all, we as coaches want to make sure that our athletes train only in the useful ranges of motion. Second of all, we can implement training at different ranges of motion under different circumstances to improve sports performance. For instance, partial repetitions at full stretch can be used to improve mobility as they share similar mechanics to loaded stretching. They can also be used to make the bottom range of motion stronger and benefit those who struggle just after exploding off the bottom (assuming it’s not solely the starting strength that is the issue there). Apart from that, such a method can be used to increase hypertrophy as many research papers, athletes and coaches report larger hypertrophy gains when training at the fully stretched position.
Partial reps might also benefit the training of your athletes if done in the hardest portion of the lift. Similarly to paused exercises, the athlete will accumulate more time under tension at a specific range but instead of going down only to a certain range, pausing and coming back up, they will be instructed to start pulsing in the hardest range of the lift. Again, this is the range where the muscles contract the hardest, thus allowing for more hypertrophy gains and also strength gains in this particular range of motion.
Another way to utilise partial reps is to use them as finishers when your athletes have already reached failure. After reaching concentring failure, they will obviously not be able to complete any more full repetitions, however, they will be able to blast out a couple of half reps and then a couple of quarter reps after that. Training in this manner has been used for ages by Jonathan Mark Blakely with great success and I might say that I use a similar method to kill the working muscle group with just a single working set. The point is if your athletes don’t have any more strength-endurance to complete a full repetition, instruct them to go for partial reps until they are unable to move their limbs even for an inch. This method greatly increases muscle mass and strength gains and is very time efficient, however, it is also very brutal and only a few can withstand it.
Overloading in the top range of motion may equal more gains under certain conditions. There is some research that suggests partial repetitions benefited triceps hypertrophy gains more than the full ROM protocols. From my experience, I can also say that heavy rack pulls are a great way to overload the athlete but the height of the pins/blocks must be chosen wisely. Another example would be partial squats that can be used to overload the top part of the lift. It needs to be noted that most of the RAW squatters struggle way above the parallel where the stretch reflex wears off, yet they are able to use significantly more weight in this range of motion assuming the repetition is only performed in the top, partial range. I am mentioning this separately as in this case, the athlete is not using less weight to work in the weakest range of motion but is using more weight to work in the strongest range of motion instead. Incorporating such protocols helps to overload the CNS and accustomise the athlete to using supramaximal weights.
Partial repetitions can be used in more than one way to improve sports performance. Depending on the athlete’s goals and needs, you as a coach can implement partial repetitions into the routine and track the progress accordingly. The list of practical applications I have provided in this article is not exclusive, therefore remember that you are more than welcome to experiment, as usual.