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Mini Pause #16: Smart Changes to Increase Your Muscle Mass

Try Long-Length Partial Repetitions for Muscle Gains

TL,DR (too long, didn’t read)

Long-length partials are a great addition to your already established weightlifting routine. The literature seems to agree that long-length partials–when the goal is muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle mass)–seem to be at least equivalent to a full range of motion.

They are great to use if you are injured (and cannot perform full range of motion exercises), or as a finisher to a set, or for variety to combat boredom.

Oh, and I have never been so sore. It hurts so good!

WHY

Recently at the gym, as I was peeling myself off of a leg machine, my husband was looking at me, somewhat amused, and I knew what he was thinking so I answered the question before he asked it.

“I’d rather endure the pain of this exercise than the pain of staying the same.”

It was one of those “damn I need to remember that line and tell more people” moments.

There are many reasons why I like to push beyond my comfort zone in the gym. To the point where I am riding the line of pain and excruciating pain. If we ever get to train together, you will find me often shaking my head no as I descend into yet another squat, mentally overriding my desire to stop.

Because staying the same, never growing, and never challenging myself feels like death to me.
Maybe I was a huntress in a previous life, but I find extreme satisfaction in the hunt. In this case, the hunt for hypertrophy.

So on a recent Friday night, I was nose deep down a muscle hypertrophy rabbit hole on PubMed (as one does on a Friday) and came across some interesting meta-analysis on long-length partials compared to full range of motion and their effect on muscle hypertrophy. I was so excited I started rabidly consuming several studies, and have now incorporated them into my training routine and have noticed some exciting preliminary changes in my strength.

WHAT

Long-length partials are essentially a half rep focusing on the lengthened portion of the movement.

For an easy visual, think of a bicep curl. Where the bicep muscle is most lengthened is when the elbow is straight. A half rep would be bending the elbow to about 90 degrees of flexion, rather than bringing the weight to your shoulder.

  • For a pull-up: It would be when the arms are straight, and you pull up halfway.
  • For a squat: It would be at the bottom of the squat and lifting up halfway before going right back down again.
  • For a chest press: It would be when the bar or weight is closest to your chest, with the pec muscles stretched out.

The literature agrees that long-length partials, when the goal is muscle hypertrophy, seem to be at least equivalent to a full range of motion (ROM).

This study [*] looked at women performing knee extension exercises at various ranges of motion varying from full ROM to long-length partial extension to shortened-length partial extensions. They found partial ROM training in the lengthened phase of the knee extension promoted greater relative hypertrophy in certain muscle regions than training in other ROM configurations.

It holds true for the entire body. This study [*] looked at muscle hypertrophy in the bicep muscle, again in women, and found an identical result.
This meta-analysis [*] concluded full range of motion or long ROM enhanced results for most outcomes (strength, speed, power, muscle size, and body composition).

HOW

So, should you swap out all your full ROMs for partials? No! They’re a useful tool in the proverbial tool belt but by no means a total replacement for full ROM.

Where you can, proper form and full range of motion should be performed. This preserves muscle movement at all angles and is conducive to range of motion and proprioception at the level of the joint as well.

Where I think long-length partials (LLPs) may be handy:

  • When you are injured and cannot perform a full ROM. This can be useful as a rehab tool for getting back to full ROM and preserving muscle tissue.
  • When you have a condition like rheumatoid arthritis, adhesive capsulitis/ frozen shoulder, or bursitis and cannot perform full ROM without pain. Again, LLPs can preserve tissue, and act as a stepping stone to full ROM.
  • When you are close to completing a set but can no longer move the weight through the full range of motion, you can begin using long-length partials. I have found I can punch out five or six more reps this way.
  • When you want variety and are combating boredom. I have been playing with alternating a full ROM repetition with a LLPl rep in many of my leg and upper body days.

NOW

For your next workout, choose to incorporate LLPs in one of the following:

  • All sets and all reps are LLPs
  • Full ROM reps until you cannot anymore, then switch to LLPs to really finish the muscle you are working
  • Alternating between a full ROM and a LLP

Which one are you going to try?

Also a word of warning–it might be the novelty, but I have never had such an amazing pump and ensuing soreness the next day! Have your favorite recovery tool at the ready.

A few of my go-to recovery tools include: Coldture cold plunge, Sunlighten sauna, Bon Charge sauna blanket, and Bon Charge massage gun. (Curious? You can use code DRSTEPHANIE to get special discounts.)

Question of the Week

Q: I’ve noticed on Dr. Stephanie’s IG that she tends to use machines rather than free weights/barbells during her strength workouts. I’m very interested to learn her recommendations for women around this—the difference between using free weights vs. machines.

Thank you to April who sent in this question that I get asked a lot! I use a combination of all of the above.

For legs, I often use a Smith machine (which is a barbell with a fixed range of motion), a barbell for deadlifts or squats, walking lunges with dumbbells, Bulgarian split squats, and then machines like abduction and hamstring curls or leg extension.

Same goes for back days and shoulder days–it’s usually a combination of free weights, some type of axial loading with a barbell, and machines.

There is no right way or wrong way to train.

Machines have a predetermined line of drive, so in a sense, they are more stable because you do not need to create the stability yourself. There is an inherent trade-off to this. We want stability when we’re focusing on strength because the less stable the surface, the less strength you generate. But we also want to endogenously generate stability with accessory muscles and joints. So, I often use certain machines for six to eight weeks and then switch it up.

As long as you are going close to failure (making ugly faces, grunting noises, and getting to a place where you can no longer perform a full range of motion rep and drop down to long-length partials)–truthfully do whatever you love to do.

YOUR TURN!

I’ll be answering your questions every week right here in the Mini Pause! Let me know what’s on your mind. I’ll be checking for both questions and feedback at support@drstephanieestima.com.

WHAT I RECOMMEND: Tips for nutrition, hydration, sleep & stress

I love hearing from my Bettys! When you write in, DM me, or comment on my socials, consistent themes emerge, like: Ways to keep your nutrition on point, how to stay hydrated, what to do to get good sleep, and how to handle stress. Here are some simple choices I make that you may find useful.

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SLEEP:

  • Hello NED: A unique combination of CBN plus full-spectrum hemp and botanicals (non-addictive). Check out the Sleep Blends. On April 29 & 30, all Sleep Blend tincture + capsules will be buy one, get one free with code DRSTEPHANIEBOGO.
  • Qualia Night. Help your nervous system naturally wind down, starting after dinner. Learn more about how this supplement works differently here. If you try it, use code ESTIMA15 to save 15%.

STRESS: The Apollo wearable uses the gentle vibrations of touch therapy to promote stress resilience. (My kids use it, too.) Explore its features and use code DRSTEPHANIE to save $50.

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Hey There!

I’m Dr. Stephanie

I’m part geek, part magic and it’s my mission to be a voice for women who just aren’t getting the answers they need about their health - whether that’s from their friends, their family or their primary health providers.

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