By Josh Bryant ProSource
Most rules are just guidelines. One steadfast guideline for gaining size and strength is full range of motion for full development. Sometimes, partial movements help overload portions of the movement where force capabilities are the highest. This is why we have already covered the implementation of partial movements in the Muscle Mechanics series.
Keep in mind, if the choice was full range of motion or partial overloads, full range of motion trumps partials every day of the week and thrice on Sunday. Scientists have long known full range of motion movements produce better strength and hypertrophy gains.
A recent study compared the effects of an eight-week training program on two training groups that trained with either short range or long range of motion movements. Not surprisingly, the group that trained with the longer range of motion had greater increases in strength, muscle mass and even decreases in body fat. The results were no surprise; the interesting twist was four weeks after the cessation of training the long range of motion group held on to gains much better than the partial group.
In Exercise Physiology, the Overload Principle tells us that in order to make Mother Nature overcompensate you must stress your muscles beyond what they are already used to. Sure, you can pile more weight on the bar, add sets/reps and decrease rest intervals to overload training. You can also increase range of motion, one of the most effective underutilized overload modalities.
Leave your ego at the door because this will mean working out with less weight.
Strength Building Staple
For centuries, strength athletes have taken advantage of increased range of motion movements to develop power out of the bottom of the given movement they are training.
My first powerlifting mentor, Steve Holl, used to say after we did a cycle of increased range of motion deadlifts by standing on 100-pound plates, when we went back to the floor, it felt like cheating.
Mike MacDonald, the first 242-pounder to ever bench press 600 pounds raw and who held the world record for nearly a quarter century, built a specialized bar to increase his range of motion in the bench press. Today, at close to 70 years old, MacDonald still bench presses double bodyweight and stills swears by his cambered bar/extended range of motion bench presses.
Many of the greatest squatters of all-time used deep, narrow stance pause squats in their training. Bodybuilders are starting to catch on!
In the more recent era, Gustavo Baddell never won an Olympia but had a beautifully built back and a set of hamstrings that matched. Instead of opting for rack pulls or traditional deadlifts off the floor, Baddell trained his deadlifts in a deficit style and the results followed.
Extended range of motion movements go far beyond the three competitive powerlifts (squat, bench press, deadlift). There are plenty of other applications that can benefit the aesthetic-minded trainee.
Next time you are training biceps, instead of opting for barbell curls or machine curls, try incline dumbbell curls. Lean back on an incline bench press and intentionally emphasize the stretch at the bottom of the movement. Do 3-4 sets of 8-15 repetitions.
Instead of the standard issue lateral raise, give incline lateral raises a shot. Like the incline bicep curls, focus on the stretch at the bottom of the movement. Prefer presses for shoulder development? Do a one-armed standing neutral grip military press, emphasizing the stretch at the bottom of the movement. For lateral raises do 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions, for the neutral grip presses do 3-4 sets of 6-10 repetitions.
Instead of traditional stiff leg deadlifts for the hamstrings, do stiff leg deadlifts standing on a 2-3 inch platform emphasizing the stretch at the bottom of the movement. A famous old-time Finnish Deadlift routine calls for 5 sets of 10 reps, give it a shot. For quadriceps, instead of heavy weight squats to parallel, try sissy squats. Do these for a full range of motion for 3-4 sets of 15+ reps, you will feel like a sissy because your quads will be screaming with just bodyweight.
Who doesn’t love traditional skull crushers? For an extended range of motion, do dumbbell triceps extension to the side of the head, taking the dumbbells down to ear level. Do 4-5 sets of 12-15 repetitions.
Push-ups have been around since the beginning of time, for good reason; they require no equipment and, more importantly, they work. A way to spice up the traditional push-up is with deficit push-ups. Elevate your feet and place each arm on a box or elevated surface then lower yourself between the boxes going beyond a traditional push-up. Do this for 3-4 sets of 12-20 repetitions; avoid this movement if you have a history of shoulder problems.
Regular deadlifts are one of the best exercises a trainee can do! But if you want to make a hard exercise even harder, instead of doing regular deadlifts, do deficit deadlifts. Stand on a platform that’s elevated 2-3 inches and perform a deadlift. Do this movement for 3 sets of 5-8 repetitions. Disclaimer: if you are unable to get down or maintain proper position on a regular deadlift, avoid this movement.
Extended range of motion movements are taxing and cause large amounts of muscle damage. Use these exercises sparingly, start off with one extended range of motion movement per training session. If you cannot bend down and touch your knees, do not load up a bunch of weight and use stiff leg deficit deadlifts, these exercises require greater mobility, make sure you have it.
Instead of cutting off your range of motion, extend the range of motion and extend gains.