Partial reps have long been debated in the fitness community, with some considering them cheating and others seeing them as a valuable tool for building muscle and strength. In powerlifting and other athletic endeavors, partial range training is actually quite common and used for various performance-enhancing reasons. While some may view partial reps as undermining progress, it is important to understand the science and practice behind full vs. partial range of motion training to determine which approach is right for you.
Range of motion (ROM) refers to the extent to which a joint can move. It is typically measured in degrees using a device called a goniometer. Each major joint has accepted norms for its range of motion. However, exercise ROM is often less than the accepted norms due to training implements or the risk of injury. In training, full range of motion is defined as raising and lowering the load as far as is practical and safe. This includes squatting until your thighs are parallel to the floor, bench pressing with the bar touching your chest, fully extending your knees during leg extensions and curls, and pulling your chin up and over the bar during pull-ups.
Partial range of motion, on the other hand, refers to any movement that is less than the accepted ROM for a given exercise. Examples include half-squats or not touching the bar to the chest during bench presses. It is important to note that partial reps do not necessarily constitute cheating, and many lifters have incorporated them into their training without realizing it. While full range of motion is the standard for most exercises, there is a time and place for partial ROM training.
Both full and partial range of motion training have their advantages and drawbacks. Knowing when to use each method is key to maximizing the effectiveness of your workouts. Strength gains, for example, are best developed using low reps and heavy weights. Studies have shown that full range of motion training can lead to more significant strength gains over time. This is likely due to increased muscle activation and time under tension. On the other hand, partial ROM training can also yield strength gains, but these are often specific to the range in which you train.
Muscle hypertrophy, or muscle growth, is another important aspect of training. While both full and partial range of motion training can contribute to muscle growth, full ROM training has been shown to be more effective. This is because it allows for greater muscle activation and recruitment. However, partial ROM training can still be beneficial, especially for targeting specific muscle groups or breaking through plateaus.
In terms of injury risk, full range of motion training is generally considered safer as it allows for proper joint alignment and stability. Partial ROM training, if done incorrectly or excessively, can increase the risk of injury. It is important to maintain control and proper form when performing partial reps to minimize this risk.
In conclusion, both full and partial range of motion training have their place in a well-rounded fitness routine. Full ROM training is generally recommended for maximizing strength gains and muscle growth, while partial ROM training can be used for specific purposes or to target certain muscle groups. It is important to listen to your body, use proper form, and consult with a qualified trainer or coach to determine the best approach for your individual needs and goals.