Partial movements have been the cornerstone of various forms of sports training for years. Little scientific research has gone into understanding how it works. The truth is that scientific minds have amazingly limited insight into how muscles will really work and how they adapt to different stimuli and grow at a molecular level.
Controversy still exists about hypertrophy and hyperplasia and which is the predominant form occurring within a muscle. It is likely that eventually both forms of muscle growth will be proven, depending on the area of muscle from which the biopsy sample was taken.
Until that time, a lot of people will swear they have the answers and charge you a pretty penny to convince you of it. But let's face it: Most people don't care why a certain training technique works; they just care if it works. Results are what it's all about.
What We Know & Don't Know
When you are faced with a problem and science has no clear answers, you must use the science that you know to help best explain the theories that we have. Physiology goes a long way to unlocking the secrets of partial reps. If you stress a tissue, it will respond in a direct relationship to the amount of stress placed upon it.
This is known as Wolf's Law and is one of a few constant facts associated with physiology. If you lie out in the sun, your skin will respond by becoming suntan or burn if you lie out to long. If you lift weights, your muscles will respond by growing or become injured if you lift too much.
A theory developed by surgeon Julius Wolf in the 19th century. The theory basically states that bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads it is placed under. If loading on a particular bone increases, the bone will remodel itself over time to become stronger to resist that sort of loading. The converse is true as well: if the loading on a bone decreases, the bone will be adapted and become weaker.
The key is to stress the area and then allow adequate time for recovery. Many of the parameters associated with this type of exercise were defined by Dr. Fox, who founded interval training and wrote the book Sports Physiology. A key point of his work indicated that the recovery time needed is in direct relationship to the amount of stress applied to the tissue. The more weight you lift, the longer it takes to recover from exercise.
Several factors contribute to each tissue's recovery, but two are major overriding factors; blood and nerve supply.
If your nerve supply is not adequate then the flow of blood to the area is compromised and recovery will be limited.
Blood supply to an area is largely determined by the area itself and the genetic pre-ordained blood supply that has been established for it.
Many of my patients are amazed at how long it takes for connective tissue to recover. Injured ligaments can require more than 250 days to heal, as compared to a broken arm which can heal in a matter of weeks.
It is well established in the literature that by stressing the tissue properly, you can increase the tendon or ligament's cross-sectional area and thereby increase their strength. Keep in mind that lifting efficiently is only half the battle. Proper nutrition and rest are also major factors and recovery and muscle growth.
The Nerve Of You
Neurological training occurs when we do partial reps. When you lift weight above that which your body normally is used to lifting, the neurological system quickly responds by allowing larger number of nerve groups to work together in a more coordinated fashion.
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Exercise does this at every level of stress, but a particularly unique involvement of multiple nerve units occurs when you overload a muscle. The nerves also adapt by closing off specific sensors called, "Golgi tendon organs." These little switches inside of your muscle tendons will shut your muscle down and immediately when overloaded.
The Golgi Apparatus:
In cell biology, the Golgi apparatus (also called a Golgi body, Golgi complex, or dictyosome) is an organelle found in most eukaryotic cells, including those of plants, animals and fungi. The name comes from Italian anatomist Camillo Golgi, who identified it in 1898. The primary function of the Golgi apparatus is to process proteins targeted to the plasma membrane, lysosomes or endosomes, and those that will be formed from the cell, and sort them within vesicles. Thus, it functions as a central delivery system for the cell.
Partial movements and plyometric training both capitalize on this effective neurological change. Neurological adaptation happens quickly, but is limited by various factors of your genetic makeup. The brain responses in a similar fashion and will be discussed in the next paragraph.
Now that we have laid the groundwork for some basic physiological facts, we can see what happens to the tissues when a body part is stressed using partial movements.
Psyching Up For Partials
Psychological influences have a major effect on your lifting abilities. We have all heard the story about the mother who lifted a car off her child in a moment of crisis. Well that may be an extreme example, but we can all benefit from a similar process when we lift weights.
There are a large number of nerves geared toward stopping a muscular contraction. We have already discussed the limiting nature of Golgi tendon organs. Inside of your brain are also millions of nerves designed to control or limit behavior and subsequently muscular contraction.
They keep you from moving around when you are dreaming at night and control movements to make us seem controlled. To some of us, increasing our bench press by 5 pounds may seem like nothing - or it may seem like a lot. Currently, several individuals are squatting more than 1,100 pounds.
A few years ago, no one was doing that kind of weight. Psychologically someone has to break the "unbreakable" barrier. Once that limitation has been broken, it seems as though it is much easier for thousands to follow. It almost seems that all of the negative thoughts are removed and now it is possible.
Making progress in the gym means building confidence and eliminating negative thoughts. These negative thoughts activate those nerves that tell your body, "NO!"
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This is a key factor to remember when beginning a partial-reps program; lifting in a stronger, shorter range of movement, means you'll be moving much heavier weights than you ever imagined. To get the most out of such a program, you cannot let yourself be intimidated by the greater poundage's.
Please understand, you should not go crazy and suddenly think you can throw the safety pins away and handle the whole stack of weight. Lifting with partial movements can be dangerous, believe me - I have the scars to prove it. So pay close attention and realize you are about to lift weights many people can't handle mentally let alone physically.
Stepping Up For Partials
You must begin with total concentration and impeccable form and a good consistent program. Soon you'll be hoisting weight that may now seem like unbelievable poundage, but you must do so safely and effectively.
Use a good strong lifting cage or power rack. The best types of racks are the kinds that have poles that can be adjusted to various heights.
Use only the basic lifts for partials: Bench presses, squats, deadlifts and power cleans.
Make sure that you have an abundance of spotters.
Make sure that you have lifted for over five years - to insure proper bone development.
You should be devoid of all disease and/or other limiting factors that could result in injury.
You should be eating twice your body weight in grams of protein a day and an equal amount of carbohydrates minimum.
Place the bar on a rack about the same level you would start a squat. If for example, your full range maximum is 500 pounds, load the bar with 525-550 pounds.
Take a position under the bar with your knee slightly bent, remember that you are not going to go all the way down, or in some cases not down at all.
Begin by just lifting the bar out of the rack and taking a step backward. Replace the bar.
The following week, lower the bar only an inch or two. Perform this for 2-10 reps. Replace the bar to the rack.
Once you have achieved 10 repetitions, then you are able to move the poles down a few more inches. This is a variable on the progressive weight program.
Continue this cycle into you have reached the desired squat depth. It should take approximately 7-10 weeks. After that time you can take two weeks off of heavy lifting and return the bar to the top position and begin again, after resting with 575-600 pounds.
The Science Of Partials
Most lifters and bodybuilders need at least three weeks to get accustomed to any partial-reps program. Usually by the fifth to seventh week, your body becomes overtrained and taking additional rest is necessary to completely recover.
Franco Colombo, Mr. Olympia winner and one of bodybuilding's strongest men, used a similar technique.
Several times he would have to go away and travel for speaking engagements. He would overtrain himself prior to his departure and when he would return to his training he would note an increase of strength and size. Sometimes the hardest part of training is doing nothing. You grow when your body rest.
The heavier you go and a more intention or exercise, the longer you will need to recover. If you do not notice increases in strength than try the following:
- Get more sleep.
- Improve your diet.
- Increase your weights on partials.
- Take more rest.
- And finally, work on your attitude.
Since you need to avoid serious over training on this program - a real concern - try monitoring your pulse rate, also known as your, resting heart rate. Keep track of a resting heart rate in a journal. Take it every day. If you're resting heart rate is 10 beats above what you normally have been recording, it means you are in the over-trained/over-stressed zone.
Make sure you continue to monitor your heart rate until your morning resting heart rate returns to the pre-stress levels. Keep in mind that everything affects heart rate:
Do not try to hit and new maximum lifts, if you are not ready, and a big key is your resting heart rate. Pay attention to your body - it is calling the shots. After mastering the technique with the basic movements, you can start experimenting with other exercises and movements. The applications are endless.
Remember do not attempt this type of lifting if you're a beginning lifter.
- Fox, E. L., SPORTS PHYSIOLOGY. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1979
- Arms,S.W.,et.al., The Biomechanics of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 12:8-18, 1984
- Grana,W.A.,et. al, The Effect of Exercise on Laxity in the Anterior Cruciate Ligament-Deficient Knee. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 16:586-588, 1988
- Always, S.E. et. al., Regionalized Adaptations in Muscle Fiber Proliferation in Stretch-Induced Enlargement. Journal of Applied Physiology. 66: 771-781, 1989
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