Back in May 2012, I had the honor of being the subject of a 12-page spread in MuscleMag. A variety of training concepts and techniques used in the Performance U approach to bodybuilding were covered in that article, one of which was 1.5 reps.
Here’s the section from the MuscleMag feature on 1.5 reps:
When most bodybuilders consider doing partial reps, they think of deadlifts off of a rack or bench-press lockouts – movements that focus on the top end of the range of motion. “I’m talking about staying within the midrange, the reason being that all our muscles have strength curves and the place we are strongest is in the midrange,” Tumminello explains. “So what we do is a very focused movement in which your muscles work the hardest and where you can spend a lot of time under tension. It’s a different stimulus because you don’t rest by locking out at the top.
“One of our favorite ways to incorporate midrange partials into a regular bodybuilding routine is with 1.5’s,” he adds. “So if you are doing barbell squat, you go all the way down but come back up only halfway. Then go back down and come all the way up. That’s one rep, and it’s a great way to create overload.” Count every 1.5 rep as one. This is a favorite intensity technique of pro-bodybuilder Ben Pakulski.
1.5 Reps: The Science
Something that makes 1.5 reps unique from some other overload techniques is that they emphasize the midrange of the repetition, which make them a very valuable tool in improving muscle growth due to a principle of physiology known as the length-tension relationship or the length-tension curve.
Put simply, the muscle length-tension relationship is the relationship between the length of the muscle fiber and the force that the fiber produces at that length. This length refers to the length of an isolated fiber and is dependent upon the position of the actin and myosin filaments in the sarcomeres. The sarcomere is the contractile unit of a muscle fiber – a muscle fiber is composed of thousands of sarcomeres.
Muscle fibers generate tension during the action of actin and myosin cross-bridge cycling. The actin and myosin filaments are proteins that create cross bridges and are responsible for the contractions (i.e. shortening) of a muscle fiber.
(Note: Muscle fibers respond differently to passive vs. active conditions.)
In short, when a muscle fiber is actively stimulated by a motor never, as in the case when lifting weights, its ability to generate tension is closely related to its length because the number of sites available for actin/myosin binding depends on the muscle’s length.
Here’s the takeaway: The greatest number of actin-myosin binding sites are available when the muscle fiber is at an intermediate length (i.e. at mid-range) allowing maximum tension to be realized. (1,2)
As you can clearly see in the chart above, muscles have the lowest potential to generate force when they’re either fully elongated (stretched) or fully shortened (contracted). They generate the highest possible tension in the middle – halfway through the range of motion, and we know that muscle tension is one of the 3 primary mechanisms for increasing muscle hypertrophy. (3)
Additionally, based on the principle of specificity, which tell us that the adaptations to training will be specific to the demands the training puts on the body; you want to also perform full range of motion reps so you can develop strength through your full (active) range of motion.Well, 1.5 reps offer us the best of both worlds, which why they’re a favorite technique in the Performance U approach to muscle-building.
Top Ten 1.5 Rep Exercise Applications
It’s pretty obvious that you could perform 1.5 reps with just about any exercise you choose, whether it be using a barbell, dumbbells, cables, resistance bands, machine, or bodyweight. That being said, certain overload techniques work better with certain exercise applications than others. And 1.5 reps are no exception. So to help you hit the ground running, here’s a list of our top 10 exercises to apply the 1.5 overload technique to.
1.5 Barbell Squats
As I described in the beginning of this article, to perform 1.5 squats, drop down into the bottom of the squat, then rise only halfway up. Go back down to the bottom of the squat, then finish by standing all the way up.
When performing 1.5 barbell squats, I recommend using a lighter load in doing higher rep ranges of 8-10 reps, as this exercise requires a tremendous amount of endurance in your lower back muscles in order to maintain your lordodic back arch to protect the lumbar spine. We’ve found that when using heavier loads, the lower back often fatigues before the legs, which can put you at a greater risk of injury by losing your position. So, in order to minimize risk and maximize reward, we’ve found that using lighter loads performed for slightly high repetitions when doing 1.5 squats helps us to ensure that we do not overwork the lower back muscles and allow them to continue to do their job of keeping the lumbar spine the strong position throughout the set.
1.5 Leg Press
Bring your legs as far as you can into your body, press them halfway out. Then bring them back all the way into your body, and press them all the way out.
1.5 One-Leg Hip Thrust
With your shoulders resting on top of a bench, with one hip flexed at 90°, and your down leg bent at the knee bent to 90°, lower your body halfway down toward the floor, and press your hips back toward the sky until your torso is parallel with the floor. Then lower your body all the way down until your glutes touch the floor. Finish by pressing back up to the top to complete a single 1.5 rep.
1.5 Pull-Ups or Chin-Ups
Pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar, then lower yourself halfway down so your elbows are bent to 90°. Then pull yourself back up so your chin is once again above the bar, finish by lowering yourself all the way down until your arms are straight.
1.5 Lat Pull Downs
Pull the bar down to the top of your chest, then allow the bar to go halfway up until your elbows reach a 90° bend, with the bar at roughly your forehead level. Then pull the bar back down to the top of your chest, then finish by allowing the bar to go all the way up so your arms our fully extended above you.
1.5 Bent-Over Rows
Using either an overhand or underhand grip, pull the barbell all of the way into your body, then lower it only halfway down. Pull it back into your body, then lower the bar all the way down until your arms are straight.
1.5 Dumbbell Press (Flat or Incline or Overhead)
Lower the dumbbells all the way down, then press them halfway up. Lower them all the way back down, then press them all the way up to the top so your arms are straight.
1.5 Dumbbell Raises (Front, Lateral or Rear-Delt Fly)
Raise the dumbbells all the way up so they’re parallel with your shoulders, then lower them halfway down. Raise them back to the top, then lower them all of the way down.
1.5 Biceps Curls (Dumbbell, Barbell, or EZ-curl Bar)
Curl the weight up to your shoulders, then lower it halfway down so your elbows reach roughly a 90° bend. Then curl the weight back to your shoulders. Finish by lowering the weight all the way down so your arms are straight.
1.5 Triceps Rope Extensions
Extend your arms all the way straight, then let them come up halfway so your elbows reach roughly a 90° bend. Extend your arms once again straight, then allow your elbows to bend all the way to your shoulders.
How Many 1.5 Reps Per Set?
Keep in mind that, in a way, doing two 1.5 reps is like performing three full-range reps. In other words, doing eight normal reps is not at all like doing eight 1.5 reps. So the number of 1.5 reps you do in a set will generally be less than what you might do in a normal set.
That said, when performing 1.5 rep sets, we usually perform 6-8 reps.
1. Lieber, R.L., & Bodine-Fowler, S.C. (1993). Skeletal muscle mechanics: Implications for rehabilitation. Physical Therapy, 73, 844-856.
2. Smith, L.K., Weiss, E.L. & Lehmkuhl, L.D. (1996). Brunnstrom’s clinical kinesiology (5th ed.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.
3. Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72.