Get deep or feel the pump? This is a question most will get to when you train long enough. It seems everyone uses them and hates one of them.
It has been an old story in the gym, Get your hips to or past knee parallel in the squat, touch your chest when you bench, and fully extend your elbows when you train arms. Yet, when doing biceps the 21s (7 top range reps, 7 bottom range reps, and 7 full-range reps) are the first-timers go to and have been around for years. Why is there so much against partial reps when the 21s is an old-school training tool?
It Depends On Your Goals.
If you are a bodybuilder and strength is not your goal, partial reps can be an amazing tool. However, if you are training for strength, partial reps are still something to throw in every now and then. Let’s dig a little deeper.
When it comes to hypertrophy, getting bigger muscles, there are specific recommendations of intensity, volume, and duration. However, currently, there is not a definitive consensus on the optimal range of motion for each exercise. Current research is showing that partial range of motion training may have a few similar benefits when it comes to muscle hypertrophy as compared to the conventional full range of motion (Newmire, 2018).
This is because, when we look at a multijoint resistance exercise there are different dynamic and multiplanar movement patterns. What does that mean? Let’s look at a squat, at the top, the quadriceps are working more. However, the lower you go the more hamstring and glutes there are (Williams, 2021). Unlike a bicep curl, which is a single join exercise only occurring at the elbow (for the sake of keeping this example simple), the squat uses the hips, knees, and even ankle joints. Depending on the depth of the exercise, different muscles are working more or less. This suggests specific muscle groups may potentially be optimally recruited during a specific portion of the exercise.
So I Only Train Partial Range For Hypertrophy?
It is not that simple. As we work out, we cause ‘muscle damage’. The muscles break down while working out and then as you sleep and recover, the muscles repair. This is why we take 24-72 hours between training sessions of a body part. When looking at muscle damage, a full range of exercises Induces greater muscle damage than partial range (Baroni, 2017). That is not to say that if there is greater muscle damage, there will necessarily be greater muscle growth but there could be a correlation between the two. However, training partial rep ranges the muscle only one way, could lead to potential nonuniform hypertrophy.
Muscle Strength and Thickness
When looking at exercises for strength, full range of motion, over the long term can lead to greater strength gains, maximize neuromuscular improvements compared with partial ROM variations (Pinto, 2012). Each muscle has a full range that it can move through. Say you were to only lift the top half of the squat when you did that weight all the way down, it would be harder to come up. The old wise tale, “use it or lose it” is true with flexibility. Lifting with a full range of motion also can help keep flexibility while being stronger at each part of the movement (Morton, 2011) and helping to develop muscle thickness (Krzysztofik, 2019).
The Beginner Gains Story
There is always a guy who knows a guy, started training and got really good gains. Poof, facts, and we now all train that way. An analysis of a full range of motion vs. a partial range of motion training in the development of strength in untrained men showed there was almost no difference between the two in this population (Massey, 2004). Does that mean we all train however you like? Of course not, this means that different people respond to different training styles.
Both styles can be used together within training. While it can be said the full range of motion training is “better”, the better is defined by each person’s goal. However, training at the full range of motion has been shown to be a must within the person’s limits. No need to squat so low you hurt yourself, stay smart and safe. If your goal is to grow and build hypertrophy, using partial rep training with the full range of motion exercise could lead to achieving your goals. For strength, while it can be said, it is not important to train partial range, there might be times within a board bench press or high box squat that you want to overload a muscle in a partial range exercise. Training is not one dementia and there can be many different ways to enjoy your workouts.
Baroni BM, Pompermayer MG, Cini A, Peruzzolo AS, Radaelli R, Brusco CM, Pinto RS. Full Range of Motion Induces Greater Muscle Damage Than Partial Range of Motion in Elbow Flexion Exercise With Free Weights. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Aug;31(8):2223-2230. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001562. PMID: 27398917.
Krzysztofik, Michal et al. “Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 16,24 4897. 4 Dec. 2019, doi:10.3390/ijerph16244897
Massey CD, Vincent J, Maneval M, Moore M, Johnson JT. An analysis of full range of motion vs. partial range of motion training in the development of strength in untrained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Aug;18(3):518-21. doi: 10.1519/13263.1. PMID: 15320644.
Morton SK, Whitehead JR, Brinkert RH, Caine DJ. Resistance training vs. static stretching: effects on flexibility and strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):3391-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31821624aa. PMID: 21969080.
Newmire DE, Willoughby DS. Partial Compared with Full Range of Motion Resistance Training for Muscle Hypertrophy: A Brief Review and an Identification of Potential Mechanisms. J Strength Cond Res. 2018 Sep;32(9):2652-2664. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002723. PMID: 29985227.
Pinto RS, Gomes N, Radaelli R, Botton CE, Brown LE, Bottaro M. Effect of range of motion on muscle strength and thickness. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Aug;26(8):2140-5. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823a3b15. PMID: 22027847.
Williams MJ, Gibson NV, Sorbie GG, Ugbolue UC, Brouner J, Easton C. Activation of the Gluteus Maximus During Performance of the Back Squat, Split Squat, and Barbell Hip Thrust and the Relationship With Maximal Sprinting. J Strength Cond Res. 2021 Jan 1;35(1):16-24. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002651. PMID: 33332802.