[This is a guest blog by Richard (Lee) Bowie. Lee is an coach participating in our Coaches Mentorship program at Athletic Lab.]
We’ve all been to the gym and we’ve seen that person who always has too much weight on the bar and has to shorten their range of motion (ROM) in order to complete the lift. The question many people ask themselves is: which is better? More weight with a shorter ROM or less weight and a full ROM? The right answer is: “It depends.”
People who resistance train do so to get bigger, faster and stronger. Muscle force or force production is the key to to this and is proportional to the cross sectional area of that muscle. In short, to get stronger, you need bigger muscles. Resistance training provides this stimulus and it can be varied many different ways including type and order of exercises, intensity, load, volume rest intervals and ROM.
More Weight and Shorter ROM: There are a few common thoughts when this topic is discussed or brought up. The first being that partial ROM exercises are of no benefit to a serious lifter. The second is that training a partial ROM will only make you stronger in that specific ROM. Both of these are inaccurate. In one study, college men trained full, partial and a combination ROM in the bench press and found that both the full and partial ROM groups increased their bench press by an average of 25 pounds. The partial ROM group not only got stronger but increased their strength by the same amount as the full ROM group in their 1-RM Bench Press. When used correctly, partial ROM exercises can absolutely aid in your training.
Less Weight and Full ROM: Full ROM in an exercise or lift is what most coaches preach and this is for good reason. In another study, three groups of women trained partial, full and a combination ROM in the bench press similar to above. The results yielded slightly different results. The full ROM group increased their average 1-RM Bench Press by about 25 pounds, while the partial and combination groups only increased by about 16 pounds. Another study concluded that there were significant morphological differences between larger ROM and narrow ROM groups but also the muscle strength was enhanced to a greater extent for those who trained with the larger ROM.
What Does All This Mean: As you can see, there are benefits for each variation. Full ROM exercises should be used for all major exercises and as the foundation of any training program. The ROM should be performed only to the limits that one’s capability and mobility allow with continued effort to attain a full ROM in the movement. Over time, as your mobility improves and you become stronger, you will reach a full ROM if you cannot at the start of your training career. Partial ROM movements are best used in the form of supplemental or accessory movements and should not be foundation of your training program. Utilizing partial ROM movements in this way will allow you load heavier most of the time, work a portion of the ROM and still get stronger in the full movement. In the end, partial ROM exercises can have their place in a training program and ultimately help you become the bigger, faster and stronger version of yourself but your training program should be built on full ROM.
- Massey CD, Vincent J, Maneval M, Moore M and Johnson JT (2004) An analysis of Full Range of Motion vs. Partial Range of Motion in the development of strength in untrained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 18(3): 518-521
- Massey CD, Vincent J, Maneval M, and Johnson JT (2005) Influence of Range of Motion in Resistance Training in Women: Early Phase Adaptations. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 19(2): 409-411
- McMahon GE, Morse CI, Burden A, Winwood K and Onambele GL (2013) 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