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Gaining Size: Utilizing Partial Reps For Maximal Muscle Stimulation

Author: Alex Borja B.S., SPT, HFS

There have been many various techniques used in the sport of bodybuilding to produce superior muscle building results. Some such techniques are supersets, tri-sets, giant sets, pyramid sets, 21′s, and the list goes on. One particular technique of interest that has shown promising results in many pro bodybuilders and amateurs alike are “partial reps”.

This size gaining technique is performed in much the same way you would think when hearing “partial repetitions”. It can be done with almost any exercise, is relatively risk free, and can demonstrate monstrous results when done correctly!

Before I get started in explaining how to best perform partial repetitions I would like to acknowledge the fact that there are those people out there who will be against partial reps. Why is this? I will explain as I go on for much easier understanding but just realize there are those who will oppose this technique and i will address why.

How Are Partial Repetitions Best Performed?

Well to get the best results from utilizing partial reps, you will have to pre-exhaust your muscle group of interest in the same set. That is to say if you are performing bicep curls, you will first perform the maximal amount of repetitions at that weight prior to moving on to partial reps. This is necessary because performing partial reps doesn’t do much for a muscle that has the ability to move the weight through the full range of motion. You need to have a REASON to do partials, not just because your lazy and want to only do part of the work you normally would. Partial reps are meant to be very hard and exhausting so be prepared.

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Now some people who oppose the partial repetitions technique are those who think going to maximal exhaustion on each and every set is unproductive or even counter productive. This may be true if that individual plans on weight lifting every day of the week, has a poor diet, and lack of sleep. This would also be bad for those who do not seem to recover fast enough and is partially related to genetics. For these people, I would recommend staying away from partial reps/maxing out every set to perhaps only performing partial reps on the last set of each exercise. That way your getting great muscle building potential- just not every single set.

Ok, back to our discussion. So you have maxed out with the bicep curls and now you want to start performing partials. These are best done at the “max potential force generating point”. Every muscle has got one and is usually the part of the movement that feels the hardest. For the biceps this is at the lower portion of the movement in which the elbows are bent only 15-20 degrees. So experiment on the body parts you would like to gain size in by finding the hardest part of the movement.

Hint: It is usually when the muscle is at an elongated or stretched out position during the exercise!

Partial reps are then done around this max force generation point at no more than 15 to 20 degrees of motion max. This movement is not meant to be big by any means so don’t expect to move the weight very much (remember you should have maxed out the exercise already!). Now I will explain why this works and the most effective ways to use partial reps!

Why Use Partial Reps?

Simply put this is a great way to stimulate your muscles into gaining some serious size when you have plateaued or strength comes to a halt! It allows us to use every bit of energy and strength we have on every single set.

Intensity Checker: Some will find that they really never trained to their “max” on sets as they once thought by performing partials. If you start to perform partials and can move the weight through the entire motion- you obviously did not train to failure and is one reason this technique is a great intensity reassurance tool that you did!

The pump: You might also notice that partial repetitions give you a much bigger pump than you used to get. This pump is nothing more than nutrient rich blood entering the area that you are working–allowing more growth potential!

Low risk: Assuming you do this with low risk exercises (squats, deadlifts, and bench are one’s I would stay away from at first) this is a low risk technique. However, you should always listen to your body and make sure you are not over training before continuing partial reps. Be able to distinguish effective pain from bad pain even with that workout “high” you get. It can be quite difficult to distinguish when high intensity exercise is releasing a cocktail of endorphin’s through your body so really tuned in to your body and hone this skill.

Strength booster: One reason I love to use partial reps is for gaining strength! That’s right, you can boost your strength right through previous plateaus and in these next few paragraphs I will tell you the best way to use the partial repetitions technique to effectively gain size.

The Best And Most Effective Ways to Use Partial Repetitions

The are two particular ideal ways to utilize partial repetitions. One is for gaining muscle mass and the other is for gaining strength. Both are necessary for the ideal physique.

For Strength:

The best way to gain strength is to perform your exercise set to failure. Now you will want to increase the weight by about 5-10lbs. Sometimes 10lbs will be too much so back off and do 5lbs. I would also recommend you do only a 5lb increase the first few weeks of using this intense technique.

So you increase the weight and knock out about 1-7 partial repetitions. Trust me you will be burning and hurting (good kind) by the time you are done. That is all there is to it.

Example:

You currently dumbbell bicep curl 35lbs and want to move up to a new max of 45lbs.

1.You begin by performing your normal set of 35lbs to failure.

2. Next you pick up the 45lbs and do 3-7 partial reps.

3. Do this for 1-3 sessions until you are able to START your set with 45lbs instead of 35lbs.

4. Repeat to increase to your desired poundage.

For Size:

The best way to gain size with the partial repetitions technique is to keep the weight at the same level when doing partial reps. Really this is the “normal” way to do partial reps and you will gain some strength doing this method too. So consider this a “hybrid method” in which you more size, but also a little strength. The difference is you will usually be able to do more towards 5-7 partial reps whereas strength will typically be towards 1-3 extra partial reps (remember partials should be done in the range of 1-7)

Example:

You currently dumbbell bicep curl 35lb and want to train for size.

1.You begin by performing your normal set of 35lbs to failure.

2. Keep the same weight of 35lbs and perform 3-7 reps.

3. You may immediately notice a bigger pump and after a few weeks more size.

4. It’s best to cycle partials for size with strength as eventually you will need to train at a higher poundage to gain more size. Try a 2 week split– 2 weeks strength partials, then 2 weeks of size partials. Repeat.

In Conclusion

I hope this will add a bit more size and strength for you advanced lifters out there struggling to break past a plateau point. It should be noted that novice lifters or those trying to “get big really fast” should not use this technique. It is reserved for those who have put the hours, days, and years into training and experience. It will only lead to injury if you do not know the proper mechanics of an exercise. Those of you who are advanced lifters–always listen to your body and stop if it doesn’t feel right! Happy lifting!

Author: Alex Borja B.S., SPT, HFS

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