What is it?
‘Range of motion’ refers to the distance that the muscle extends and contracts during the course of a repetition.
Why is it important?
Using the incorrect range of motion can result in susceptibility to injury, or can limit muscle growth.
How can I harness it to suit my training goals?
If you are bulking…
Muscle growth is generated by stressing a muscle, which then (with appropriate recovery) super-compensates in size. The bigger the stress, the bigger the response (again, assuming sufficient recovery). To get as big as possible, you have to target specific muscles and shock them into growing. At the beginning of a session, perform movements with the full range of motion. When lifting full range and heavy, you get great results because of the neuromuscular activation that takes place.
As smaller muscle groups fatigue – such as your triceps during a bench press – they limit the stress you can place on other muscle groups. It is therefore necessary to adapt the range of motion to continue to work stronger target muscles (in the case of the bench press, your chest). Concentrate on the lower three-quarters of the bench press and isolate the triceps later with another exercise once they have recovered (pushdowns should do the trick). During your later sets, use a shortened range of motion exclusively to squeeze every last drop of benefit from the workout. Failing to do this will mean your smaller, weaker muscles limit the gains to your bigger, stonger ones.
King tip An isometric hold – keeping the weight in the final position for as long as you can – on the last rep of each final set will help you wring every last fibre of the target muscle.
If you are training for strength and power…
Unless targeting a sport-specific movement, athletes training in speed and strength disciplines (such as gymnastics, sprinting, rowing, and cycling) should use a full range of motion at all times. This exposes the connective tissues, tendons, ligaments and muscle fibres to functional movement patterns that are closely mimicked in their sport, which in turn helps the body become stronger in the movements upon which performance is dependent.
If you are training for muscular endurance…
Once again, use a full range of motion throughout your workout. You’ll reduce your susceptibility to injury, improve your posture, and build stronger ligaments and tendons. Alternatively, isometric training – where there is no range of motion at all – is a useful tool to develop muscular endurance. The plank, head stands and body-weight hangs are all great for stimulating improvements in muscular endurance in the core, shoulders and back respectively.