Partial Reps FTW! …and other ways to improve your strength workouts

A couple weeks ago I did my usual leg day workout– 3 sets of varying reps and styles of lunges and squats. For the past six or so weeks that I had been doing this, I would be sore the next day (and a few days after) without fail. However, this time was different. I woke up and my legs felt fine. I was disappointed in myself; I felt like I hadn’t worked as hard as I should have. That got me thinking about how I could improve my workouts and continue to build muscle as I get stronger. 

After doing some online research, I decided to try doing ‘partial’ repetitions– i.e. only doing moves halfway. So, instead of standing up all the way after each rep of my lunges/squats, I would keep my legs partially bent. This proved to be INSANELY effective. I was shocked how such a simple difference could make the workout 10X harder. My legs were already shaking after the first two sets. They were completely jiggly and useless by the end of the 3rd.

partial squat
Full vs. partial squat.

I also tried to make my calf raises harder by doing a double rep. (I don’t think that’s an actual exercise term, I just made it up.) What that means is I do one rep and then, while my calf is still contracted, try to go even higher on the balls of my foot. Another simple yet very effective move.

So, if you are like me and wondering how to get stronger as your body adapts to your routines, here are some techniques that have helped me boost my workouts:

  1. Do the same amount of reps/weight as normal but do partial reps instead.
  2. Increase the weight of your dumbbell/kettlebell/bar/whatever.
  3. Time yourself– e.g. 2 minutes per exercise– and try to get as many reps as you can in that amount of time. Keep rest between exercises to 20-30 secs.
  4. Bodyweight workouts are great, but if you want to push yourself even further start incorporating weights if you are not already doing so. Start with a low weight (e.g. 5-8 lb dumbbells) and work your way up.
  5. Combine moves to make each rep a full body movement– e.g. lunge with shoulder press, squat with bicep curl, sumo squat with upright row. Even just walking lunges will get your heart rate way up. Isolated moves are great if you want to focus on form or technique, but combining moves is a great way to get your heart pumping while engaging multiple muscle groups. You don’t need to follow a guide you find online or wherever to come up with these combos. Just do what flows and makes sense for you.
  6. If you’re holding moves (plank, squat, lunge, push-up position, wall sit, etc) try to hold the position for 10 seconds longer than you did the week before, every week. It’s so rewarding to see yourself get stronger week to week!

For reference, below is the leg day workout I do once a week. It takes me around 7 minutes to complete each set; around 25 mins total with rest in between.

Note: I use 12 lb dumbbells (24 lbs total) for all the exercises except the calf raises and deadlifts. I don’t use any weights for the calf raises, and use 25 lbs weights (50 lbs total) for the deadlifts. 


Do you have any suggestions for me? What other techniques do you use to improve your workouts? Let me know!

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