We’re always told to play by the rules—use strict form and don’t cut corners. What if cheating on your workouts and reps could build more size in the gym? The fact remains always playing by the traditional set of workout rules can eventually force you into a plateau. Repeating traditional exercises with heavier weights can only progress you so far.
Partial range of motion exercises and cheat reps can help you take your routine to the next level. By allowing you to lift more weight, they increase the intensity through a specific range of motion leading to more muscle stimulus and bigger gains. Read on to find out how to incorporate both safely into your program.
Partial range of motion
Partial range of motion (or partials, for short) refers to only going through a specific depth for a particular exercise. Full range of motion is purposefully ignored. This typically allows the lifter to use more weight on a given exercise and overload that particular portion of the movement. For instance, rack deadlifts, a popular strength builder, involves loading up the bar and only using the top portion of a deadlift (usually from the knee up). By focusing on a specific range of motion, lifters can improve their lockout at the top of the lift and develop increased hip strength.
Partials shouldn’t form the basis of your routine, but they can be added in periodically to change up your workout and present an added stimulus. Here are three ways to add them into your routine to increase the intensity:
1. Start your routine with a partial
Since lifters can push more weight with a partial range of motion, use this to your advantage by performing them first. Rather than starting with a traditional bench, perform a floor press or board press, both of which target the top half of the pressing motion. Instead of full-depth squats, perform a few sets of half squats to a box. These heavy partials will prime your nervous system for the traditional muscle builders later in your workout.
2. Intermix them during a set
Partials can be used to increase the intensity of a set by alternating full range of motion with a half range of motion. For instance, on pullups start fully extended at the bottom of the movement. Pull yourself all the way to the bar, and then lower halfway down. Immediately pull yourself back up to the top. Return to the bottom position. That’s one rep. Intermixing partials tends to work best with pulling exercises like rows and chinups to reinforce the squeeze at the top of the movement, but they can be applied to many exercises when executed properly.
3. Use them as a finisher
Since lifting through a partial range of motion is generally easier on the muscle, toss these reps in at the end of a workout when you’re starting to get tired. For biceps curls, start by using only the bottom half of the motion for a few reps. Then, transition to only using the top portion.
Finally, finish off your arms with full range of motion for the last few reps. This tactic can be applied to many single joint exercises to complete your routine.
Cheat your reps
Although not as common as partials, cheat reps are another easy way to add more volume into your routine. This involves slightly breaking form at the end of a set to squeeze in a few more reps. For the majority of exercises, especially load-bearing variations like squats and deadlifts, strict form is imperative to prevent injury. However, certain exercises can be altered near fatigue to extend the length of the set and therefore cause a greater muscle breakdown.
Momentum is perhaps the most common method to cheat an exercise at the end of a set. By using a legs drive on a biceps curl, you can squeeze out a few more reps when your arms are already toast. Modifying form is another method to finish out a set with a bang. On reverse flyes, bending your elbow rather than keeping your arms straight shortens the lever arm and makes the exercise easier.
Here are a few decent exercises for cheating:
Legs press – lifters can use their hand on their knees to help grind out a few more reps.
Seated rows – Use some momentum out of the stretched position to finish the set strong.
Reverse flye – Bend your elbows to reduce the strain and squeak out some more volume.
Dumbbell curls – Use a slight swinging motion toward the end of the set. Avoid overarching your back. Instead, keep your stomach in tight throughout the entire exercise.
Overhead press – This isn’t so much cheating as it is switching exercise. Maintain your form but switch from a traditional shoulders press to a push press, using your legs to drive the weight up. Make sure you keep your core engaged and stay in a proper back position.
Always stick with proper form on the following:
Squats - with a load on your back, cheating your way through reps probably isn’t the smartest thing to do.
Deadlifts - avoid bouncing the weight off the ground. Instead, let the barbell rest on the ground and reset your body position before lifting again.
Bench press - resist the urge to bounce the bar off your chest to squeeze out a few reps. Keep the motion controlled at all times.
Pullups - avoid swinging yourself up at the end of a set. Some individuals can sneak by without getting hurt, but putting additional torque on the shoulder when it’s fatigued isn’t generally a good idea.
Straight-leg deadlifts/Hamstring curls - since these movements overload the hamstrings to such a great deal, cheating on reps isn’t a good idea. Exploding out of the stretched position is asking for injury. It’s important to note that cheat reps are extremely advanced and should not be used by younger trainees.
To prevent injury and keep lifters healthy, these methods must be applied carefully. Only use these cheat techniques on one exercise per session. Throw them in at the end of your workout to finish strong. While the above techniques break form slightly, avoid pushing yourself past the limits of safety. When used sparingly, cheat reps can be a terrific way to gain size and increase the intensity of your workouts.