Is a full range of motion best for growth?

written by Philip Stefanov  |  AUGUST 22, 2023

Range of motion. It’s a hot topic with opinions on both ends. Some deem a full range of motion unnecessary, whereas others swear by it for growth and strength gain.

The question is, who is right, and what should we do in our training for optimal results? Let’s break it down.

Let’s Quickly Define ‘Range of Motion’

Just so we are on the same page, in the context of weight training, range of motion refers to the ‘length’ of each rep you do. It looks at the extent of movement performed from the established start of a repetition to its end.

A clear example of a full range of motion would be ass-to-grass (ATG) squats, where you start with your knees extended and descend until your butt is lower than your knees, a few inches from the ground.

An example of a partial range of motion for the same exercise would be when a trainee only goes halfway down, keeping the hips above knee level.

An Important Detail About Range of Motion

While everyone (including myself) likes to talk about full range of motion training, it’s important to note that it depends on the individual. In other words, a full range of motion for one person could be partial for another.

Let’s take the squat as an example again. If anatomical limitations prevent you from safely squatting ATG, this is not a full range of motion for you. Instead, a full ROM for you on that particular movement might be if your thighs become parallel to the floor.

There is no point in chasing some theoretical range of motion to squeeze out two percent more growth if that puts you at risk of an injury.

What is the Role of Range of Motion In Our Training?

The first role of range of motion in training is specific to strength development and sports performance.

Simply put, those interested in a performance-related outcome (throwing or kicking a ball with more force, squatting more weight, overcoming a sticking point on a lift, etc.) should use the range of motion specific to their desired outcome.

For example, if someone struggles to lock out the top of a deadlift rep, they could employ partials (rack pulls) to strengthen the second part of the range of motion.

Muscle growth is a bit different because there isn’t a clear answer. We know what the main objectives are (feeling the correct muscles working, experiencing a deep burn, getting sore from time to time, etc.), but partials and full ROM reps can achieve these. Does that mean the two are equally good?

Why Do Full Range of Motion?

The primary idea behind full ROM is that it maximally stimulates our muscles on every rep, leading to more growth per rep.

Another idea is that by training through a full range of motion, we can achieve equal regional growth, thereby growing all parts of the muscle. However, the research isn’t as convincing here.

The third idea is that full ROM allows us to build strength through all parts of the movement pattern. For example, by squatting deep enough, you can more effectively build strength at the bottom of the range of motion. However, since this applies more to performance than actual growth, we can move forward.

But What About Lengthened Partials?

A lengthened partial is any partial range of motion where you’re training a muscle in a lengthened state. To use the standing bicep curl as an example, full ROM would be to lift until your wrist is slightly higher than your elbow (causing the bicep to shorten maximally) and extend the arms fully on the way down.

In contrast, a lengthened partial here might be going from the bottom to the halfway point, thereby using partial ROM and keeping the bicep in a lengthened state.

According to some people, such as Milo Wolf (a coach with a PhD), lengthened partials could result in as much as 8-10 percent more growth compared to full range of motion training.

So, What Range of Motion is Ideal?

As discussed above, people primarily driven by performance outcomes should pick ranges of motion that suit their needs. For example, if you aspire to compete in powerlifting, do full ROM training and include partials to resolve sticking points in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

However, folks looking to build as much muscle as possible might consider a blend of full ROM sets and lengthened partials.

For example, start experimenting with lengthened partials on accessory and isolation exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions. Alternatively, do sets with full ROM and squeeze a few extra reps of lengthened partials to go beyond failure.

Final Considerations for Lengthened Partials

It’s important to remember that lengthened partials (especially if you choose to use them to go beyond failure) could be more challenging to recover from. Because of that, it would make sense to increase your rest periods to some degree and possibly reduce the number of sets you do to reduce the risk of overtraining.

Additionally, you can slow down each rep's eccentric (negative) portion to keep your muscles in a lengthened phase state longer. For instance, instead of using an even 2-2 tempo (2 seconds up, 2 seconds down), you can go 2-4 (2 seconds up, 4 seconds down).

As far as judging your range of motion to ensure you’re in the clear, a good rule of thumb is to do 50 to 75 percent of your usual ROM, ensuring the target muscles are mostly in a lengthened state. You don’t want to shorten the range of motion too much because that can have the opposite effect: limiting hypertrophy.

Thanks for sticking around. I'll catch you next week!


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