Must all exercises be performed with a full range of motion to build muscle? Jason Ferruggia says no. Find out how partial reps can help increase your workout results.
One of the most popular, faulty and dangerous myths espoused in nearly every muscle building program is that you must use a full range of motion on every exercise in order to achieve maximal growth. Supposedly you have to take each movement to the fully stretched position and then finish in the fully “peak” contracted position. If you don’t you will never get huge… or so they say.
Without getting all technical and scientific let’s just look at a few real world examples to see if this advice makes any sense at all.
Starting from the ground up let’s begin with calves. All fat guys have big calves. They walk around all day with a lot of weigh on their calves but never once achieve a full stretch or contraction. It’s simply high loads, tension, volume and frequency.
The same can be said for a lot of runners and bikers. And when the Olympics start today you will surely be awestruck by the calf development of the female gymnasts, who do spend a lot of time in the fully contracted position while walking on their toes but no time in the fully stretched position.
And speaking of the Olympics, not only will you notice that many 15 year old female gymnasts (with minimal testosterone levels) have calves bigger than the average guy but they also have thighs bigger than a lot of guys who spend several hours per month on the leg press.
Yet, very rarely in their gymnastics training do they achieve a full squat position. There is actually very little, if any, full range of motion training done for their thighs, but they all have completely jacked legs.
Baseball players, rock climbers, mechanics and other manual laborers have huge, muscular forearms. But do you think that development is brought about by these guys consciously trying to achieve a full stretch and contraction throughout their game or work day? Of course not.
Powerlifters have huge legs yet only squat to parallel most of the time. Not a full range of motion movement. They also have huge traps which are mostly due to a lot of heavy deadlifts.
There is NO range of motion for the traps on a deadlift. They contract, but don’t actively move from a full stretch position to the peak contraction position.
Not only is the deadlift the best trap building exercise there is, it’s also probably the best overall mass building exercise there is for the entire body. It has been heralded as such since the beginning of time from guys like Paul Anderson to Arnold to Ronnie Coleman. But name me one muscle group that is taken through a full range of motion on the deadlift. There is not a one!
So how can some experts espouse the value of full range of motion training while simultaneously listing the deadlift as one of the top exercises in any muscle building program? Ditto for the clean, clean and press, snatch, jerk, etc.
Not only is this myth incorrect but it can also be dangerous advice to adhere to. Achieving a full range of motion for the pecs would entail bringing your arms all the way behind your back to start the exercise and then crossing them all the way across your body in the front. First of all, that would destroy your shoulder. Second of all, it’s impossible and impractical.
Some guys try to really go for the deep stretch on dumbbell presses and allow their elbows to drop way below the bench. Others drop down into the deepest stretch possible on the dip bars.
They have been led to believe that this extreme, loaded pre-stretch is needed for maximal muscle growth. The truth is that they will probably be seeing an orthopedic surgeon long before they get mistaken for Mr. Olympia.
Leg presses are another exercise where guys commonly push the stretch position way too far. If you bury your knees in your chest on a leg press, like many bodybuilders and coaches recommend, and allow your spine to round and your butt to come up off the pad you will surely have back problems that may plague you for quite some time.
Not only is going into the fully stretched position not recommended, but a lot of exercises have no tension whatsoever in the fully contracted position, which therefore makes that recommendation somewhat useless as well.
If you want to target your chest and shoulders and not your triceps, most pressing movements should actually be done with a partial range of motion; stopping a few inches shy of lockout. A ¾ range of motion there is more beneficial than a full range. Think Lou Ferrigno doing military presses in Pumping Iron.
There are numerous other exercises where partial ranges of motion are far more effective and safer than full range movements. However, covering them all is beyond the scope of this article.
But hopefully by now you realize what a ridiculous recommendation this full range of motion nonsense truly is and will stop following it blindly without rational thought as soon as possible.