by Josh Bryant
Some people think partials are the key to massive growth and others believe that you need full range of motion for full development.
Well, both points of view are “partially” right!
Shorter Range of Motion: More Weight
The technique of doing partial reps is based on the accentuation principle, which states that you get the most gain by training in the range of motion where the highest amounts of force production are possible.
By lifting through only a portion of a movement path, you’re able to lift a hell of a lot more weight that you could on a full range of motion, one-repetition max. In this way, partials enable your body to become accustomed to lifting very heavy weights, decreasing neural inhibitions, and directly strengthening the range of motion (ROM) you’re training.
Looks Like A Partial, But Is It?
As a general rule, “full range of motion for full development” is a reliable guideline for building above-average strength and a respectable physique. And, even if you aspire to become a world-class powerlifter or win Mr. Olympia, you should still stick to full ROM most of the time. But, if your goal is to truly maximize your strength, there’s a time and a place in your training for partials–but it’s a secondary place.
Partials offer the most transference into the range of motion where they’re trained. But, keep in mind that when you do partials, you’re actually altering your technique so that you can train a different range of motion with a different lift.
Let’s say you consistently miss deadlifts three inches above your knees–the spot at which your legs are fully extended and your back is rounded. The standard solution would be to train partial deadlifts in the power rack. You would start at the exact spot where you miss, then do a quarter squat to the deadlift lockout position, all the while making sure you keep your back perfectly flat.
Training this position might send your ego to the penthouse–but your deadlift will still be in the outhouse. Instead of eliminating the sticking point, you’ve changed the lift into a completely different movement with completely different leverages. In effect, you’ve trained a range of motion you never actually encounter.
The Right Way To Partial
A better solution to this problem would be to improve your deadlift set-up. Most likely, the error that led to the sticking point started at the bottom of the lift and then manifested itself at that point three inches above the knee.
If this is the case, you need to strengthen the potentially weak muscle groups by using band- or chain- resistance techniques on your deadlifts. These techniques will enable you to work through a full ROM, but will overload your muscles at the specific point in the ROM where you need more strength to help you past the sticking point.
The work you do with partials will help you get past sticking points when you do the partial lift using the same mechanics as the full lift. That’s why it can be a good idea to do your partials right after you complete the main movement when the movement pattern is still fresh. If you’re doing deadlifts and your technique is good, do partial box deadlifts right after you finish your full range of motion deadlifts.
You can also use partials to help you feel more confident when you handle heavy weights. That 250-pound bench press will feel much better if you’ve already done board presses with 100 pounds more than that in training. Think about the psychological edge you’ll have if you attempt a 375-pound deadlift after having done half deadlifts with 500 pounds. That 375 pounds won’t seem quite so scary anymore.
Take That Governor Off The Gas Pedal
One of the more mysterious reasons why partials work has to do with something called the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO). The GTO is a proprioceptive sensory organ that senses changes in muscle tension. When it senses too much tension, such as from trying to lift too much weight, it inhibits force production. If it didn’t, you could seriously hurt yourself. But if you’re after serious strength development, the GTO can get in the way.
In my experience, extreme heavy partials–done consistently and over time–can affect the amount of tension at which the GTO kicks in. By making heavy partials a regular part of your workout, you can train your body to overcome this built-in sensor so you can lift more weight!
Partials are neither the answer to your prayers nor a curse on development. Your go-to technique for getting stronger will always be training with a full range of motion, but partials can help you take your strength to a whole new level.
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