One of the most long standing beliefs in resistance training is that full range of motion (ROM) is a necessity if the goal is the optimal development of muscle size and strength.
However, many bodybuilders, power lifters and professional athletes have gained some remarkable results by including partial ROM training within their day-to-day workout plans; but how can this be? The concept of full ROM is an ingrained lifting protocol and one that many health and fitness professionals are unable to …. let alone understand that partial ROM training can have its place and may even offer some added value.
What is a partial ROM
Commonly referred to as half reps by many within the fitness community, a partial range of movement is a movement which is performed within a restricted portion of a lift/repetition. Generally speaking, the focus of partial ROM training is on the upper range of the repetition. A good example can be seen with the squat exercise. Someone performing a partial ROM squat will stop the movement before descending past the parallel plane, therefore focussing on the top half of the movement.
The important point to remember regarding partial ROM is that muscular strength or force output varies at different points throughout the lift with the highest output of force being at the upper range. This variance of muscular strength is due to a variety of reasons including muscle length-tension relationships, muscular activation and overall muscle mass.
Given that the highest output of force is generated at the upper range of the lift, many bodybuilders and athletes purposefully train utilising a partial ROM. As the movement is smaller, it allows for the potential of a super-maximal load or a load which exceeds the persons 1 rep max. As the athlete is able to lift heavier, the theory is that this may be more beneficial to muscular development than full ROM. However, when this is tested under controlled conditions, the results were somewhat counter-intuitive as it was discovered that as biomechanics change throughout points of a lift, so does the internal load. This means that although the weight used during full ROM is lighter, at certain points of the lift the internal load is heavier, ultimately leading to greater muscle activation.
Benefits of partial ROM
Half reps offer a substantial mechanical advantage allowing you to handle significantly heavier weight. Training with a heavier weight through the strongest range of motion leads to a great degree of overload experienced by the muscle, which is a critical factor in increasing muscle size and strength.
Half reps are also closer to everyday movement. It is quite unusual for your body to work with a full ROM when doing everyday activities, even within sports. The argument is that as half reps more closely resemble real world activity, the carryover effect in terms of enhancing performance of these movements would be greater with a partial ROM rather than a full ROM.
Are half reps better than full reps
It’s extremely hard to argue that half reps do not deserve a place within your regular training regime, however they should not be seen as replacements for full reps. If for example, you have plateaued at a certain point, utilising half reps to accustom your body to heavier loads may help you break through the proverbial wall.
Half reps are also a great tool for enhancing muscle fatigue. By using half reps at the end of a full rep set, you will be able to significantly overload the muscle even further.
Although half reps may be great tools to further enhance your workouts, they should not be used to replace full ROM movements completely. Full ROM will always be the foundation to any good training program.
Full ROM provides:
Better muscle balance
Better joint stability
Full muscular activation
Better quality of joint movement over time.
*The views and/or opinions expressed in the blogs are not necessarily those of Training Nation, but of the author