Are you getting the full benefits from your strength-training routine? Many factors affect the results you get from strength training. These include the resistance you use, the number of repetitions and sets, frequency of training, choice of exercises, the tempo you use when you train. But what about the range-of-motion that you use when you do each repetition? Intuitively, you might think that using a full range-of-motion on exercises would maximize the benefit you get from your training. Is this always the case?
Most sources say that you should do a full range-of-motion for every exercise or you’re “cheating.” However, there are times where you might choose to use a more limited range-of-motion. The squat is an example. When you’re first starting out, you may not have the mobility or skill level to do a full range-of-motion squat, much less a deep squat. If you do that, are you limiting your gains? What does science say about range-of-motion and how it affects the results you get from strength training?
What Science Says
Although there aren’t a lot of studies looking at the impact of range-of-motion on strength-training gains, there are enough to offer some insight. For example, a study published in Sage Open Medicine reviewed six studies that compared full range-of-motion training with partial range-of-motion. Some looked at upper limb training while others focused on range-of-motion regarding lower limb training.
After reviewing the literature, the researchers found that using a full range-of-motion for training the lower limbs enhances muscle hypertrophy more than using partial range-of-motion. However, the results were conflicting for the upper limbs. It’s not clear whether using full range-of-motion enhances gains in the upper limbs more than doing partial range-of-motion. However, other studies show full ROM is superior for both upper and lower body strength gains.
Another study that looked at range-of-motion and strength and hypertrophy gains found that even when subjects lightened the resistance by 25%, they made greater strength and hypertrophy gains when they used full range-of-motion. That’s a pretty strong testimony for using a full ROM when you train.
Why would full range-of-motion lead to greater strength gains, even when using lighter weights? When you maximize ROM, for example, going deeper into a squat, it places you at a mechanical disadvantage, you have to work harder, and recruit more muscle fibers, to rise from a deep squat relative to a shallow one. So, even if you have to lighten up on the resistance to maximize ROM, you’re forcing your muscles to work harder to compensate for the mechanical disadvantage.
Plus, some, but not all research, also shows that you boost hypertrophy gains when you increase the stretch on the muscle. Using a full range-of-motion achieves a greater stretch at the bottom of the movement than using a partial range-of-motion.
Beyond Strength Gains: Reasons to Use Full Range-of-Motion
For lower limb strength training, using full range-of-motion will help you gain more strength and muscle, Although it’s less clear for upper limb training, based on the first study, there are still reasons to maximize ROM. When you extend the range-of-motion of exercises, it builds greater mobility and helps improve functional strength and movement quality.
One reason people can’t do certain exercises well, like squats, is they lack ankle and hip mobility. By taking most exercises through their full range-of-motion, you enhance how mobile your hips are and that will help you perform better when you weight train and as an athlete. Plus, too many people have limited hip mobility because they sit too much on the job.
Partial Range-of-Motion May Have Benefits Too
You can make a convincing argument for doing using full range-of-motion mostly when you train; yet using partial range-of-motion during some sessions may be helpful too. For example, a 2014 study found that men who did partial squats half the time and full squats the other half gained more strength than those who did only full squats of deep squats. Why not use this in your own training? You could even alternate between full range-of-motion squats and partial squats.
Partial range-of-motion reps are also helpful for building strength within a particular range of joint movement. For example, if you work a muscle over a portion of its normal range and use a heavier resistance, you’ll build greater strength within that narrower range-of-motion.
Another time you might use a more limited range-of-motion is when you’re injured and don’t want to push an injured joint or muscle too far. However, once you’ve rehabbed, it’s best to advance your range-of-motion as long as you’re healed and don’t experience discomfort.
Some coaches recommend that athletes use partial movements more often during a season of competition. That’s because full range-of-motion is more exhausting and, if used too much, could lead to excessive fatigue. Instead, they push full ROM repetitions during the off-season when they’re trying to get into shape for competition. You might use this principle too in your training. If you did a tough training session the last time you trained, you might lighten up and not do full range-of-motion.
The Bottom Line
Most research suggests that using a full range-of-motion maximizes strength and hypertrophy gains. If you could only train one way, that would be the best option since you get other benefits, like increased mobility, too when you train in this manner. However, as mentioned, there is some evidence, at least with squats, that you can make greater strength gains by doing partial and full range-of-motion squats rather than choosing between the two. So, don’t be afraid to add some partials to your strength-training routine. It could lead to greater gains!
- J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Nov;28(11):3024-32. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000465.
- com. “What Is Range of Motion, and Why Is it so Important?”
- J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Aug: 18(3): 518-21.
- com. “What Is Range of Motion, and Why Is it so Important?”
- Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Aug;113(8):2133-42. doi: 10.1007/s00421-013-2642-7. Epub 2013 Apr 20.
- Strength and Conditioning Research. “How Does Range-of-Motion Affects Strength Gains”
Related Articles By Cathe: