Partial reps are pretty darn effective when used sparingly. They can’t be used for all exercises and probably aren’t effective for all body parts, but I will explain a way to incorporate them into your workout. I find that they work extraordinarily well for your triceps and biceps. If you want to increase definition without a noticeable increase in size, then keep reading.
[Another photo that has nothing to do with the subject of the post. I know I should show someone performing a rep of some sort, but those photos tend to be too bland. Gotta give the site some style instead!]
A Quick Description of Partial Reps
Basically performing just a portion of a repetition is a partial rep. Doing the top half of a bench press is a a partial rep, as is just doing the bottom part of a curl. You may have seen people perform 21’s, which is doing 7 reps of the top half of a lift, 7 reps of the bottom portion, and then 7 full reps. Well this is NOT the way I recommend you perform partial reps.
A Quick Overview of True Muscle Definition
Just filling in people new to the site. Want to increase the definition (tone) of a certain muscle? Then increase the strength of that muscle without increasing the size of that same muscle. How can a muscle get stronger without getting bigger? Low volume, low rep strength training will allow a person to develop a more efficient nervous system…sending stronger impulses to the target muscle without breaking down the muscle fiber. Low rep training is more of a “nervous system” thing and less of a muscle breakdown deal.
Developing a More Efficient Nervous System is Key
Bruce Lee is a great example of someone who trained their nervous system to generate peak output. Because of this, he had an incredible level of strength and muscle definition. If he would have trained for mass as well and put on 30 more pounds of muscle, he wouldn’t have achieved that same degree of muscle tone.
[I’ve always wanted an excuse to put up this “one inch punch” documentary. This shows Bruce Lee’s ability to generate power.]
Lifting Heavy Weights is Just One Way to Get Stronger
Lifting weights is just a way to measure how hard your muscle is contracting. Typically your muscles must contract harder when you lift a heavier weight. The better you get at contracting a muscle hard, the more strength that muscle will demonstrate. It is possible to get stronger with light weights, by contracting your muscles “as if” the weight is ultra-heavy. This takes practice, but I have a post on this here: Lift Light Weights for Low Reps to Gain Strength and Muscle Definition.
You Can Actually Get Stronger Without Lifting At All!
I am sure most people have heard of isometric exercise. This basically is the contraction of a muscle without any movement (like pushing against a wall that won’t budge). I don’t do many isometric exercises except for planks. The reason for this is that it is hard to measure how hard the muscle is contracting with an isometric exercise. You can definitely increase muscle definition with isometric exercise as well as strength, but it is hard to measure progress.
Partial Reps As A Way to Measure Isometric Contractions
Say you are doing some sort of machine bench press. You can set up the seat or the handles to where you are just doing the last 3-4 inches (the lockout) of the press instead of the full rep. If you set up the machine this way you can use a significant amount of weight. Slowly press the weight and increase tension until the weight moves. As soon as it moves it isn’t an isometric contraction, but lock out the weight anyway. Return to the start point and weight one full second. Push again increasing the tension over time until the weight moves again. Lock it out and then return to the starting point. You are only going to do 3 reps, insuring that you pause 1-2 seconds between each rep.
The Key is to Make this Feel Like a Pure Isometric Contraction
You don’t want to try and shoot the weight up, you are squeezing and increasing the tension until the weight moves. This is a safer way to lift. You will find that you are able to handle some pretty heavy weights as you get more efficient at this way of lifting.
Here’s the Best Tricep Definition Exercise That I Know Of
The Partial Bench Press in a Power Rack. There aren’t that many people who will be able to do this exercise because it requires a power rack. Basically slide a bench into a power rack, and put the Olympic bar on the safety catch bars. Set the safety bars so that the Olympic bar is just 3-6 inches below lockout position. Do a light warmup set of 3 reps. Then move on to a weight that is your estimated max bench press. It will be a breeze to do 3 reps with this. Do 4-5 more sets and slowly add weight. You will find that after a few weeks, you will be able to put up some serious weight.
Always Followup With a Full Range Lift
You don’t want to risk limiting flexibility or shortening of the muscles, so make sure to follow up this isometric partial with a similar full motion lift. What you will find is that these full range lifts will seem really light. When I’ve regular bench pressing after doing these partial bench presses, the regular bench press seemed 30 pounds lighter in my hands.
You Don’t Want to Do This Year Round
This is a good technique to do 1-3 times per year for 4-6 weeks at a time max. If you do this too much it will irritate your joints. I typically add these in when my body fat is a bit lower than normal. If you are at a low body fat level you will quickly see a dramatic impact on your physique. Those partial bench presses will make your triceps and shoulders look like granite.
Experiment With Different Exercises
This works really well with just about any pressing nautilus type machine. A really good bicep exercise is to kneel next to a bench and rest a dumbbell on the bench. Put the dumbbell in one hand and rest your forearm and the dumbbell on the bench. Your forearm and upper arm are forming a 90 degree angle. Contract your bicep until you are able to lift the dumbbell off of the bench. You will do three reps and resting a second or two in between each rep. Since you are basically starting the rep from the strongest leverage point of your biceps, you will work up to really heavy weight. This blows away concentration curls for bicep definition.
Note: This type of lifting is just something to keep in your bag of tricks. You can certainly reach your goals without doing these, but if you belong to a gym and want to try something that will give your muscles a kick in the butt, give this method a shot!
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