Partial Reps Target Your Body’s Tiniest Muscles for the Biggest Gains

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Photo: Stocksy / Gabrielle Lutze
Repetitions or "reps" are kind of like the building blocks of strength training: You stack them together to create a full, effective workout. Contrary to popular belief, though, these movements don't have to be huge. Partial reps, also known as half or quarter reps, involve teeny, tiny movements that engage muscles you might otherwise be overlooking.

"Partial reps are where you do not go through the full range of motion than you would in a traditional rep," explains Kat Com, ACE, trainer and founder of studio Sweat. "Like, with a bicep curl, you'd normally bring the dumbbells from a fully extended arm to a complete curl, lifting them to your chin by bending at the elbow. For a one-half rep, you would only bend until your forearms are parallel to the ground. Oh, the burn!" Indeed.

Aside from building the muscle involved in the first half or a quarter of a rep, Com adds that this technique can also be a good one to have in your back pocket when you have a little bit of extra time to dedicate to your strength training regimen. "In general, most experts agree that full reps are what you should do if time is limited, but it is so good to include some quarter, half and full reps when you have time. You should never only do partial reps." Think of them as the cherry on top—not the full dish of ice cream, if you know what I mean.

You can incorporate this type of partial movement into everything from squats to crunches and way more. And one of Com's favorites is a little something called the bicep burnout. Ready to give it a shot?

How to use partial reps to burn out your biceps

1. Complete 8 half curls from the bottom up

Grab your dumbbells (or soup cans) and come to stand with your feet hip-width distance apart. Engage your core and grip your dumbbells at your sides. Your upper arms should be flush against your side. Without moving your torso, hips, or legs, curl the weight up so that your forearms are parallel to the ground. With control, lower them back to your sides.

2. Complete 8 half curls from the top down

Once again, engage your core. With your upper arms right up against your side, bend your elbows and grip the dumbbells at your shoulders. Without moving your torso, hips, or legs, curl the weight downward this time, so that your forearms are parallel to the ground. With control, raise the dumbbells back up to shoulder height.

3. Complete 8 full curls

Bring the dumbbells back at hip-level. Check your form (core engaged, tailbone tucked, neck in line with the spine) and then curl the weights all the way up to shoulder height. Lower them with control.

Repeat steps one through three with 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, then 1 rep. 

Note: You can totally use Com's structure for other moves, so go ahead—get a little bit creative.

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