Paragon Training Methods Coach working on Partial Reps in the gym.

What Are Partial Reps?

A Quick Recap

Before we start talking about partial reps and how we can benefit from these techniques for short movements, let’s recall the difference between lengthened and short movements.

Lengthened Movements = Extremely demanding (very often compound movements, though not always)
– Back Squat, Deadlift, Good Morning, Overhead Tricep Extension

Short Movements = Much less demanding (very often single joint isolation movements, though not always)
– Leg Extension, Lateral Raise, Any Type of Row

To read more about the differences between these movements and why they matter, check out these blog posts:
Shortened vs. Lengthened Movements
Why Does Shortened Or Lengthened Overload Matter?

Maximizing “Short” Movements

We know that we need to train these movements closer to failure.

We also know that there is an additional benefit in finding ways to further load the “lengthened” portion of these exercises (i.e. the portion of the rep where there is no significant tension on the target muscle).  

The solution is to take advantage of this as part of overall progressive overload.

A Quick Example

Let’s use a DB Row as the example of a short overload movement here.

Week 1 – 2-3 reps from failure
Week 2 – 1-2 reps from failure
Week 3 – 1 rep from failure
Week 4 – 0-1 reps from failure
Week 5 – ???
Week 6 – ???

Partial Reps

What can we do in week 5 of this example to progress a DB Row after we’ve reached the point where we can no longer get the elbows past the torso and achieve a full contraction (without using momentum)?

The answer is to keep attempting to make reps. Row the DBs as high as you can (without compromising form), and just let the range of motion gradually fall.

These are called “partial reps,” and they are the first introduction to a few different ways we can prioritize this lengthened portion.

Leveraging Partial Reps

One of the coolest aspects of using partial reps in this manner is that you will know for sure that you don’t have any additional full reps in you.

You will essentially try as hard as you can to achieve a full rep (without compromising form), but you will be unable to get all the range of motion, despite your best efforts.

Due to the “short overload” nature of the movement, you will find that you can in fact still achieve 90%, then 80%, then 70%. It would take you many many attempted partial reps before you were actually unable to move the weights at all.

So maybe in week 5 of our example, we look to achieve “Failure + 2-4 partials.” Then in week 6, it is “Failure + 4-6 partials.”

Other Techniques

There are also a few other advanced methods that we can use to further overload the lengthened portion of these reps, but we’ll save those for down the road.

For right now, the partial reps after the failure of full ROM will be the sole tool used.

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