Range Of Motion (ROM)
Range of Motion (ROM) is often a term we hear thrown around the gym from personal trainers, coaches or the “tips” guy at the gym. The problem with the term is that many do not actually understand what or how to achieve a full range of motion. I want to open this blog by answering the question “is it important?”. The honest answer is that it depends on your goals.
IF your goal is to optimize HYPERTROPHY and STRENGTH as a whole, in my opinion using a full range of motion is important.
“What a full range of motion is for me, may not be full range of motion for you”.
Range of Motion may be a self explanatory term for some, but to give a brief definition, it is essentially the entire movement potential at a given joint. Taking this one step further would be to suggest it is the entire movement potential at a joint for an Individual understanding that joint structure, and injury can play a role in ROM discrepancies. So how can manipulating loading specific ROM lead to greater gains in size and strength?
By training muscles where they are mechanically disadvantaged throughout a ROM (shortened and lengthened), we are somehow able to alter their strength and size at these ranges. This can result in larger net strength and size gains for that muscle.
What Does the Research Say?
There is a relatively large body of literature that supports using a larger ROM for maximizing muscular adaptation. In a study by Mcmahon et al (2014), 8 weeks of resistance training using either a short or long ROM was performed. It was found that the longer ROM led to much larger increases in muscle cross-sectional area, muscular strength and reduced the amount of subcutaneous fat. Though mechanisms are unclear regarding why this seems to be the case, there appears to be a large benefit to training a muscle(s) in the lengthened or stretched position.
Another article by Pinto et al (2012) examined ROM and its effect on muscle strength and thickness. Over a 10 week periodized program, trained subjects were given a 2 times per week quota to meet regarding training. Here’s what they found:
The two graphs above showcase muscle thickness and specific loads in kilos used at a variety of rep max’s. To keep this simple, full ROM saw a greater increase in muscle thickness and with this also came an increase in muscular strength. What is even more interesting though, is that this was done under the use of 36% less load than the Partial ROM group as the graph on the right depicts! This poses the question of whether increasing load should come at the expense of sacrificing ROM – but we will leave that argument for another time.
Now that it seems clear that ROM does in fact impact muscular adaptation to some extent, what else is important to understand??
The “Length – Tension Relationship”
Below is a simple graph of the…
“Length-Tension” relationship of a muscle. To keep it very simple, muscles become weak at their extremes of the range. So when a muscle is fully lengthened or shortened at a specific joint position, it is generally much weaker than it would be at resting length or the mid range of that movement.
The Biceps cross both the elbow and shoulder joint meaning that they play a role in creating movement at both of those joint locations. To be more specific, the main functions of the biceps are to flex the elbow (bring the forearm close to the upper arm), supinate the forearm (turn the palm to the sky) and also to flex the shoulder (bring the arm over head).
Now to put this information to work, it would mean that a fully shortened bicep would be indicative of having a flexed elbow, forearm/palm is supinated and the shoulder is in full flexion. Try putting your arm in this position! Your elbow should be pointed to the ceiling with your pinky finger touching or somewhere near the front of your shoulder. How often do you see someone in the gym performing a curl over their head with a cable apparatus in this position? Even if you do, it’s probably executed poorly. On the other hand, a fully lengthened bicep would reverse those actions completely where the elbow and shoulder enter full extension and the wrist pronates. Try putting your entire arm behind you with the palm of your hand facing forward.
PS – you just learned some anatomy for free..
SO… WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!
It means that it’s highly unlikely that you will use a true full contractile range of motion in ONE exercise not only for the biceps, but for nearly every other trainable muscle in the body. Make sure to use different exercises as tools in an attempt to stimulate strength and hypertrophy adaptations at a variety of muscle lengths.
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Take Home Points:
- LEARN SOME ANATOMY!
- Training with a larger ROM does seem to be indicative of increases in muscle cross-sectional area, strength and reduction in subcutaneous fat.
- If increasing load on an exercise causes a reduced ROM, consider using a lower weight, as research has shown reduced hypertrophy and strength under partial ranges of motion.
- This may be more applicable for physique competitors as athletes may only require strength in a sport specific ROM.
- Use exercises as a tool to train a muscle through its entire contractile ROM not in 1 single exercise, but in 1 workout or training session.
- This does not mean to never use a Partial ROM! In fact in some cases it can be beneficial (IE; Adding partial reps following full ROM reps in an exercise)
Mcmahon, G. E., Morse, C. I., Burden, A., Winwood, K., & Onambélé, G. L. (2014). Impact of Range of Motion During Ecologically Valid Resistance Training Protocols on Muscle Size, Subcutaneous Fat, and Strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1), 245-255. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e318297143a
Pinto, R. S., Gomes, N., Radaelli, R., Botton, C. E., Brown, L. E., & Bottaro, M. (2012). Effect of Range of Motion on Muscle Strength and Thickness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2140-2145. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31823a3b15
Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181e840f3