If you look around any gym you’ll see different people doing the same exercises, but chances are you won’t see them using the same range of motion. This is partly because some people are more flexible than others, but mostly it’s because they don’t know that training with a full range of motion is an important factor is building muscle. If you don’t know this you’re missing out on making the most of every single rep.
Every muscle has a position where it’s at its longest and another where it’s at its shortest. In either of these positions, because of the way muscles work, this is also where they are weakest. As an example I’ll use the triceps, which are at the back of the upper arm.
If you raise one arm straight up above your head and then bend your elbow as if trying to reach your shoulder blade, this is where the triceps are longest. If you straighten your arm by your side and reach it back and up as far as you can, this is where your triceps are shortest. Exercises that have your arm in either of these positions will be the hardest to do so you’ll have to use a lighter weight, but they will work your muscle just as much.
Compare this with the position of other exercises for triceps, which is often with your arms beside your body. This is halfway between the two, in the mid-range of the muscles range of motion. These exercises have their uses of course, but they are best done after the weaker ones.
There are two factors to consider when it comes to range of motion though. Starting with your triceps at their shortest or longest position is only half of it and won’t do much good if you’re not also moving through a full range of motion. This is because the more a muscle is lengthened and shortened during each rep the harder it has to work, so the more it will then grow.
Again using the triceps as an example, let’s say you’re doing the tricep extension exercise. This involves having one arm straight up above your head to start, lowering the weight by bending your elbow, then straightening your arm to complete one rep. Now instead of using a full range of motion, what I often see people doing is working in the mid-range of the exercise. In other words, not fully straightening or bending their arm. They do this because it’s easier, it means they can lift a bigger weight, and often because they don’t know any better. For the same reasons people tend to stay in the mid-range of most exercises they do.
This one change to your training will make a difference though. If you doubt it try doing an exercise working in the mid-range with as much weight as you can manage for 10 reps, then use the same weight working the full range. Notice how much harder it is and how many less reps you can do.
This doesn’t just apply to your triceps of course, it applies to every muscle and every exercise. Including your six pack. That means no more little crunches in the mid-range of your ab exercises or doing half a sit up. Instead you need to crunch your six pack as much as you can during the up phase, then extend them fully on the down phase. Try doing some crunches on a Swiss ball so you can get into a hyperextension.
Unfortunately it’s beyond the scope of this article to explain the best position to be in to get the greatest range of motion for each exercise, but I will be doing that in future articles.
As always, any questions or feedback leave a comment below.