Partial Reps Can Make You Fully Brutal
I was once asked why I do squat lockouts with 1100+ lbs. My answer? Because I can.
There’s more to it than that, though. Partials, as I’m sure you all know, boast such myriad benefits as building stronger and thicker tendons, ligaments, and attachments, greatly stimulates the central nervous system and forces the body to build a more robust mind-muscle connection, is useful for hypertrophy, and overloads one’s muscles in such a way as everyone from Bob Hoffman to Bud Jeffries to Chad Waterbury insists it will instantly increase your body’s capacity for handling full range of motion weights. Lost? I’ll feed you, baby birds.
First, in re hypertrophy.. Yes, I’m sure you guys are all interested in the subject, as no one wants to stay the same size year after year. So, how can you increase muscle mass with partials? A couple of ways. Some bodybuilders use partial reps to train in the range of motion where they are strongest, which would ostensibly stimulate the greatest amount of muscle fiber activation, and thereby generate the most force. As such, you’d appear strong as shit and build a shitload of muscle at the same time. Is this my preferred method for hypertrophy? Nope, but I know for a fact that it works well for guys like Chris Cormier, who is to full reps on the bench what Eskimos are to anorexia.
As Cormier’s coaching him, I think we can rest assured that the bar has, at most, one more inch to go.
You can also use partials to stimulate muscle growth by the simple fact that it allows you to handle more weight, which will stimulate more muscular response. According to a recent article in Muscle and Fitness, Johnny Jackson is a huge fan of deadlift partials for this very reason. Given the fact that his back is jacked, I’d say it’s working.
Johnny Jackson clearly knows what he’s doing.
In re the strength benefits of partials, I’ll address this in three ways.
First, partials definitely increase your confidence under a given weight. That is, if you throw a weight you think you might be able to lift, but aren’t terribly comfortable with, a way to feel like you’re bare-assed on a bear skin rug with a centerfold on the floor of the Playboy mansion is to do some lockouts with the weight, and lose your fear of it. Pretty soon, you’ll be itching to lift that shit because you know for a fact that you can, or you’ll realize that you’ve got no shot in hell and you’ll reassess your strength levels. Either way, you benefit.
Second, partials build tremendous lockout strength, so that you can kill the weight in at least a portion of the lift. As it stresses those muscle beyond any conceivable point they might reach in the course of a full-range lift, you’re going to get some ancillary benefits, in addition to being able to smoke the lockout of the full-range lift when you finally start doing it.
Lastly, I’ll repost an explanation by the great Chad Waterbury in Primed For Muscle:
“Supramaximal holds effectively induce a neuromuscular phenomenon known as postactivation potentiation. This event is caused by numerous complex mechanisms with an emphasis on phosphorylation of the myosin regulatory light chains. Such a response can be effectively induced by supramaximal holds…. After the hold, the ability to perform a maximal voluntary effort is enhanced due to increased sensitivity of the contractile proteins that effectively bind up large amounts of Ca+2 that were released during the supramaximal hold. Therefore, due to enhanced force of the mechanical twitch you end up stronger than before. Cool stuff!”
In layman’s terms, what he’s saying is that doing lockouts increase the contractile force of your muscles, so doing lockouts prior to full range of motion exercises will increase your muscular ability to lift a given load. Frankly, I feel like doing lockouts prior to full range lifts sucks, and wears on my CNS without any real strength gains thereafter. It’s worth trying, and if your lockouts aren’t being done with four times your bodyweight, it might be a good idea.
In re tendon and ligament strength- partials might be a good idea for those of you who dabble in AAS, due to the fact that AAS frequently cause muscular growth disproportionate to tendon and ligament growth, which can result in torn biceps and the like. George Jowett was a big proponent of this, and he was a bad mofo, pre AAS, so it’s worth considering. he based the backbone of his workouts on partials, rather than the Olympic lifts that were popular at the time, as he knew they built tendon and ligament strength, which would stabilize his muscle in the course of a lift, in addition to preventing injury. I’ve looked, very briefly, fo scientific backing to Jowett’s theory, but in my limited search, found none. i did, however, find a great deal of anecdotal evidence, and discovered that the use of partials for strengthening ligaments and tendons is endorsed by the likes of Brooks Kubik, Ted Arcidi, Doug Hepburn, Chuck Sipes, Marvin Eder, the entire Culver City Westside Barbell Club (the guys who popularized the training methods later adopted by Louie Simmons), and others. As such, I’d say they’re worth doing, as those guys seemed to know what the hell was up.
So, in conclusion, I’ll give you a couple of my favorite partial movements:
- Deadlift Lockout– Great for building up the traps and upper back, in addition to overall pulling strength. Set the pins just above your knees for best results, and hold the lockout for ten seconds before dropping it back to the pins. Johnny Jackson approved!
- Squat Lockout– An overall man-maker, this exercise strengthens every inch of your body, and is a great break from squats of all kinds. Paul Anderson swore by these, and did them at all sorts of heights. I’ve done them mostly from the full squat position at the bottom, and the 1/4-1/8 rep range, and love them.
- Bench Press Lockout- I’ve been using these to build up my elbow strength, and my bench is flying up as a result.
- Overhead Squat Lockout– These are goddamned ridiculous. Set the pins about four inches below where the bar would be in an overhead squat. Then, with arms extended, grab the bar, squat underneath it, and stand. This is absolutely BRUTAL. Nothing will hit your abs, low back, shoulders, or triceps like this.
So, how often should you do them? I wouldn’t throw them into every workout, but they’re definitely worth keeping in the regular rotation. six times a week might be overkill, but I’d get them in there one something at least once a week, if at all possible. Whatever you do, don’t fall for the hype about full reps being the only reps, because that’s nothing but a bunch of baby back bullshit.