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Partial Power!

Short movements are creating big gains

I still remember the first time someone tried to sell me on the value of partial repetitions, or partials. It was in 1992 at Joe Gold’s World Gym on Main Street in Venice, two legends of the sport that will be dearly missed. The man trying to convince me was yet another bodybuilding icon, Don ‘the Ripper’ Ross. I’d observed him on the Hammer Strength behind-the-neck press machine on the outside deck doing what looked like less than half reps and asked him what the deal was. Don explained that partials performed at the strongest point on an exercise’s stroke let you overload the muscle and stimulate growth. I gave that fair consideration for about half a second before dismissing it as hogwash. I knew that ‘only a full range of motion is productive for building muscle.’ After all, I was 22 years old and had been published in bodybuilding magazines; therefore, I knew everything there was to know already. They say there’s no fool like an old fool, but in my case, at that age I took the cake.

Once I started heading toward my mid-30s, I became far more open to fresh ideas, always operating on the principle that they had potential merit unless proved otherwise. Not long ago I was on the phone with pro bodybuilder Art Atwood, who was excited about new growth in his arms. Even though you won’t find many specimens on this earth as massive as Atwood, he’s always struggled to bring his arms up to par with his overwhelming chest, shoulders and back. Art attributed his new gains to doing a set of heavy partials after his three standard work sets of each exercise. Immediately something clicked. All those years I’d been writing off partials, but part of my subconscious always had some curiosity about their worth. Now that Art was talking about doing partials not exclusively but after regular sets with a full range of motion, I was at last willing to give them a try.

I tried them, and guess what? My ass is sore from kicking myself so much. My pigheadedness made me miss out on a training technique that probably could have helped me put on substantially more muscle than I have.

I knew it the first day I tried heavy partials on EZ-curl-bar curls (a third of the way from the bottom up) and also on cable pushdowns. I could feel the different type of stimulation the heavier-than-normal weight, lifted through just the strongest segment of the range of motion, was providing, and instantly I sensed it would lead to muscle growth. So for any of you who may have heard all about partials but have never given them a try, here’s your go-ahead. Test-drive them the next time you train. You’ll be glad you did. And, Ripper, if you can hear me up there, you were right and I was wrong. Sorry I doubted you.

Editor’s note: Power partials are also known as X Reps. For more information, as well as photos taken one month apart during a recent X-Rep training experiment, visit

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