elitefts™ Sunday Edition

How important is using a full range of motion when you train? The answer seems obvious. Without thinking about it any deeper, almost anyone would answer quickly that it's incredibly important. Why? Because most of us have heard and preached this mantra for a very long time. But is this thinking antiquated or can you back up, logically, that you need to train with a full range of motion for optimum growth and development?

I enjoy challenging what people think to be true. I've found that too much of what I thought was true over the years wasn't true. I'm not a studies guy, as most who know me will attest. That isn’t to say that I feel studies don't have any merit, but I've always felt that you can construct or run down a study to back up almost anything. Supplement companies do it all the time. I put far more emphasis and significance on practical and applied knowledge and experience. This is likely because I've been in this game for a long time, and I feel that many things on paper can sometimes look awesome, but when applied, the results end up being less than arousing.

In my experience, I've seen many people, including myself, benefit from great form through a full range of motion, and I've seen many people over the years benefit from terrible form as well. I've had progress with both, if I'm being honest. But is one better than the other? I'm sure that you've seen the guy in the gym doing what we all would deem shitty curls and yet his arms have continued to grow probably better than anyone else's. We've all seen guys with huge, well developed legs who squat so high that we could take a picture and post it to Facebook with the caption, “Check out this dipshit squatting like a pussy and he wonders why his legs suck.” But we can’t...because he has insanely great legs.

Maybe training with a full range of motion is machismo bullshit. Maybe this is just one more way that we judge each other. Maybe it's like how not squatting makes someone an instant pussy or how you'll never get a huge back if you don’t deadlift. Clearly, these aren’t literal truths, but most of us believe them to be, and we believe that they're etched in some stone template somewhere, existing since Christ was alive. These truths aren't to be questioned and to do so is at best, blasphemous, punishable by being banished from bodybuilding to CrossFit or something equally as terrible.

range of motion ken skip hill casey williams 082614

The answer lies more in the middle. Range of motion is important for things like flexibility and injury prevention more than it is for overall hypertrophy of muscle. I have seen too much during my marriage to this sport to know that full range of motion isn’t the only way to train or the best way. It doesn’t produce monsters with absurd amounts of muscle any more than doing super strict side laterals with a twenty pounder will make your shoulders huge. The bigger you get, the more your range of motion suffers anyway. Anyone who has grown to even average muscle size knows that doing a barbell curl doesn’t feel anything like it used to when you were smaller. Your shoulders and lats and chest all tend to kind of “get in the way” and straightening your arms completely at the bottom just isn’t comfortable anymore. You have to look no further than a bench press (at any angle) to clearly see that range of motion can't possibly be the end all that we are told it is because the elbows don’t even come close to coming together at the top of the movement, leaving benchers at roughly two-thirds of a full range of motion. If range of motion were king, wouldn’t dumbbell presses be king for size and dumbbell flyes be lauded as another king mass builder, dwarfing benches? If range of motion is king, where does that leave things like stiff-legged deadlifts for hamstrings?? There are many examples like these.

As with anything else in this sport, genetics likely dictates how well you grow far more than whether you lock out a bench press or not. The guys responding well to high squats or shitty curls are usually genetically gifted individuals. The more “genetically gifted” you are, the more likely you are to respond well to training. As long as you're able to put a huge stress on that muscle, it will likely grow, full range of motion or not.

I'm not writing this article to provide black and white answers. With training, there aren’t any. Again, I'm challenging what you think you know. If you believe that a full range of motion is the best way for you to train, stay with it. I have to stay with a full range of motion on most exercises these days because this allows me to use less weight and still hammer the target muscle group hard. It guards me from injury after so many years of pounding the weights. In the back of my mind though, I know full well that if I could move more weight, with an abbreviated range of motion, it would almost certainly allow for more growth. Of course, it would also set me up to be called names and, I mean, that never happens these days, right? Just sayin’.