Full Vs. Partial ROM Training
When it comes to the partial range vs. full range of motion (ROM) lifting discussion, you will never get a clear answer. Most of the time, when it comes to weightlifting, the majority of people will tell you to always use full ROM. Simply put, full ROM means full gains made. Likewise, if you do everything with partial ROM, then you will be limiting your potential size and strength.
In fact, I don’t think I have ever come across another weightlifter recommend partial ROM for increased gains. To most people in the weightlifting world, it really just doesn’t sound right. After all, why utilize partials when you get can more benefits from full ROM work? I will be honest, when I first got into weightlifting, I was thinking the exact same about ROM training. I thought, by doing full ROM, I was doing the exercises correctly, working all the muscles optimally and, getting the maximal size and strength gains I could get out of my training. Big mistake! Now, my viewpoint on partial ROM training has really changed. In fact, it’s probably been the most valuable tool to use in my weightlifting arsenal. It’s just a shame that it’s not utilized by more weightlifters!
What Is ROM and Why Is Partial ROM Important?
When it comes to ROM, it’s simply the movement of a joint through a path. That’s it, pretty simple. Full ROM basically means that you are allowing a joint to move through its entire path, while partial ROM means you allow a joint to only travel through part of its path. When a joint moves, the combined associated changes in muscle lengths and body angles can affect the force produced by your muscles. In weightlifting terms, this can mean the difference between being stronger or being weaker on a particular exercise. The good thing is, if you can utilize partial ROM training smartly, then you can isolate certain muscle groups more optimally and overload them much more, than if you used full ROM. Being able to overload a muscle more, means, more size and strength gains to be made.
“When it comes to ROM, it’s simply the movement of a joint through a path”.
When it comes to gaining more size and strength, overload over time is what matters. If you are trying to find new ways of overloading a muscle, then partial ROM training can be a powerful addition to your weightlifting program. The problem is, most of the time, people mistake valuable partial ROM training for nothing more than cheating or not knowing how to do an exercise correctly. I guess this is why in most cases; partial ROM gets a really bad reputation! Trust me, every time I do partial ROM training, I get a few weird stares in the gym. I have had a few people frequently come up to me asking why I only move the weight a tiny distance. Simple, I utilize only the muscles I want to work, with much more weight. Some people see it as ego lifting; I consider it, just another untapped part of weightlifting theory that not many people pay attention to. It’s a shame, because some of my best weightlifting gains have come from partial ROM training!
During an exercise, certain muscles will be much more active than others at certain points. As a joint moves through its entire path, certain muscles will become more engaged than others. This simply means that, during an exercise, you will be stronger at some positions, and weaker at others (depending on what your strong and weak muscles actually are). This is why full ROM training can sometimes be a drawback for size and strength gains, rather than an advantage. During full ROM, you are more likely to utilize both weaker, as well as stronger muscle groups as opposed to partial ROM training. In partial ROM training you can limit the exercise to a range that you want to improve (e.g. get stronger at), something termed Accentuation. With accentuation, you can identify part of an exercise range you want to get stronger in, without having to worry about the entire ROM. For instance, if a professional powerlifter needs to get stronger pulling things off the floor, then he needs to practice that part of the lift. Therefore, you would limit the ROM of the exercise, to allow you to specifically work on those muscles that increase your pulling power off the floor. Pretty handy actually!
“During an exercise, you will be stronger at some positions, and weaker at others”.
If you do full ROM, then your weak points are actually known as your sticking points. Your sticking point will be your weakest part of the exercise. Strictly speaking, you are only as strong as your sticking point. Which is kind of a shame! You might be insanely strong on certain portions of a lift, but if you are weaker elsewhere, then you will be seriously limited in your potential for size and strength gains from that exercise. When it comes to partial ROM training, you can do two things: firstly, you can train exclusively in the range of the exercise where your sticking point lies. By reducing the ROM, you will be able to overload easier (e.g. use more weight) and, selectively target and strengthen the muscles that are responsible for specific weaknesses in certain parts of an exercise. Secondly, partial ROM training can help cut out the sticking point completely, by allowing you to focus entirely on your strongest parts of the lift. It’s actually this second point that I want to address in the rest of the article.
Using Partial ROM Training To Improve Your Strong Points
In most cases, people will use partial ROM training to selectively target and improve any weak areas in their lifts. If you are a professional athlete, then partial ROM has its major advantages. By focusing on one specific range of an exercise, it becomes a whole lot easier to focus on and improve any weak points. However, what about you? Does partial ROM training have a place if you’re in this for just general size and strength building? Absolutely! Although many of the professionals might get pretty technical in how they deal with ROM, when it comes to you, it can be implemented very simply. Below, I am going to show you two examples of where partial ROM plays an important role in my routine. Although I am still experimenting with this partial ROM stuff myself, I will be posting up more articles on this topic as my training develops over time and as I find new and effective ways of implementing this style.
Rack Pulls Above The Knee: Cutting Out The Legs
If there is one thing I can say for certain, you will never really come across anyone doing rack pulls ABOVE the knee. In my experience, people take one look and think: that is just ultimate cheating of the normal deadlift, absolutely no value here whatsoever! At first sight, yes, rack pulls above the knee do look terrible and nothing more than an ego lift. But let me tell you, if I could do just one exercise, it would be rack pulls above the knee. There is just so much hidden value in these exercise variations! Yes, it looks weird, but the few I have seen implement these in their routine, have built some incredible backs and core strength. Not to mention, overloading on these exercises is very easy! Precisely what you need if you want increased size and strength gains.
“If I could do just one exercise, it would be rack pulls above the knee”.
Rack pulls above the knee are essentially just deadlifts without the legs. I know what you are thinking, deadlifting without legs? Sounds really weird but just bare with me. Rack pulls above the knees are fantastic if you are looking for increased size and strength in your entire back area, core and shoulders. As you know, if you deadlift from the floor to full lockout, then you have went the full ROM. The problem is, in a full ROM deadlift, you utilize not only your back and core, but also your legs. As a result, you are recruiting a lot more muscles (both weak and strong) during a full ROM deadlift in comparison with an above the knee rack pull. In 99% of cases (if you’re a human!), then your above the knee rack pull will always be stronger than your full ROM deadlift and below the knee rack pull. Most people have 1 of 2 sticking points during the full ROM deadlift: pulling from the floor, or locking out at/just under the knees. Therefore, if you are looking for increased size and strength in your back, core and shoulders, you are always going to be limited by a sticking point in a full ROM deadlift. This problem pretty much does not exist if you do rack pulls above the knee.
“Rack pulls above the knee are essentially just deadlifts without the legs”.
Both the full ROM deadlift and above the knee rack pull are great for back, shoulder and core size and strength gains. There are a lot of great deadlifters with great size and strength. But, if your legs are a limiting factor in the deadlift (you have problems at the floor or at the knees), then you always going to be limited in your ability to utilize more weight, and overload the back, core and shoulders more. In fact, if you can’t pull the bar off the ground, or lock out, then the chances are, your back will never get fully stressed anyways.
In an above the knee rack pull, the legs don’t play a dominant role. If you look below at the illustrations of a traditional rack pull and Jefferson rack pull above the knee, you will see that the knees and hips are in an almost fully extended position. Being in a more extended position puts your knee and hip joints closer to the direction of line of force (in this case the barbell wants to go downwards). Also, the bar is further from the ground, thus the distance that the bar must travel (ROM), is incredibly small. The combined effects of all this means that in these above the knee and Jefferson rack pulls, you are targeting predominantly your back (and core, shoulders) and, you can utilize a lot more weight, than if you did a full ROM deadlift.
While both full ROM deadlifts and rack pulls above the knee are great exercises for size and strength gains in your back, core and shoulders, you will never be able to target your back as effectively or overload it as much than if you did partial ROM, above the knee rack pulls (any variation). This is largely because in a full ROM deadlift, your capacity to overload with weight is limited by possible sticking points (in most cases, it’s your legs). Rack pulls above the knee are simply great because even though they target the whole back as effectively as full ROM deadlifts do, the reduced ROM means that you have the capacity to lift A LOT more weight. Provided you carry out the exercise safely, this extra weight lifted can translate into more size and strength gains. If pure back size and strength gains are your goals, then it kind of makes more sense to go for the above the knee rack pull variations, right? I think so!
Partial ROM: Just Another Step Closer To Greatness
When you think of partial ROM, you probably think of ego and people doing exercises they have no clue how to correctly perform. For a large part, this is true. Partial ROM can sometimes mean that someone needs some extra guidance. But, partial ROM training can be a powerful tool for increased size and strength gains if utilized tactically in your weight training. If your goal is to increase size and strength, then you need to be overloading and challenging your body over time. In some cases, this can be done to a much larger effect with partial ROM training. Simply because, it removes some of the problems you might encounter with sticking points. For this reason, sometimes it’s easier to overload on partial ROM exercises, than with full ROM. Easier to overload means for you, potentially more size and strength gains. But it’s important to remember that partial ROM does not mean sloppy training. Regardless of whether an exercise is partial of full ROM, you still need safe and effective form. That never changes! But, if you are using partial ROM training sensibly, then the results for you should be amazing!
“Sometimes it’s easier to overload on partial ROM exercises, than with full ROM”.
While I have mainly focused on partial ROM training in the way of rack pulls above the knee, the truth is you can utilize this method and replicate the benefits beyond these exercises. The rack pull above the knee exercises give you a nice look at some of the potential benefits that partial ROM training can offer you in terms of increased size and strength gains. If you are looking to improve certain exercises, or find new, effective ways of significantly overloading targeted muscle groups (without the possible setbacks through full ROM), then partial ROM training is definitely something not to be missed. Although I am still diving deeper into partial ROM training myself, I am still finding new ways of incorporating this area into my own weight training everyday. I will definitely be coming back to this topic in a later blog article with more exercises, because for size and strength gains, I just find it invaluable. More people really need to try it!
If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. Have you ever utilised partial ROM training? Give rack pulls above the knee a try and tell me what you think. Feel your back yet?