Half Measures

Going half way on reps can maximize your gains.


Phil Heath focuses on the crucial upper half of side lateral reps for his medial deltoids.

Sometimes halfway is the best way. Most bodybuilding training advice prescribes full ranges of motion, and generally this is the best strategy. However, if done correctly, limiting your range of motion (ROM) can focus more tension on the targeted body part. We’re not speaking here about partial reps done after reaching failure with full reps, though those too can be very effective. Our focus this month is on sets that consist of only half reps or those that start with half reps but end with full reps. This kind of “half-stepping” can make sets both harder and more effective.


The reason to do half reps is to focus more on a specific part of an exercise’s range of motion. Sometimes this is done with compound lifts to increase your strength during a sticking point. For example, powerlifters may work on only the top halves of bench presses in order to get stronger lockouts—the area where many bench presses fail. Bodybuilders can do the same thing in order to target their triceps, which are the prime movers during lockouts (pectorals play a greater role during the bottom halves of reps). Because multiple muscles are stimulated during a compound lift, it’s crucial to select the right segment of such an exercise to work the targeted area. For example, top deadlifts eliminate most lower-body movement and thus focus more on the back and traps than full deadlifts.

You can also do half reps during some isolation exercises. Select a lift with a long ROM. Shrugs, for example, would be a poor choice because their ROM is short. By contrast, leg curls have a long ROM. You also need to be aware of when the muscle is most engaged. You might assume this is always during the top halves of reps when the muscle maximally contracts, but sometimes it’s during the bottom halves when the muscle stretches. For example, the biceps are most engaged during the lower halves of preacher curls. Therefore, doing only the top halves would be inefficient.


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