Increase your exercise range of motion for more gains

Are you missing this important key to workout effectiveness?

Range of motion refers to how much a joint needs to move to complete any given movement. So when it comes to exercise, range of motion simply refers to how much movement you need in order to complete an exercise optimally.

For example, the range of motion (ROM) for a squat is how low your body needs to go to complete the exercise. For a full ROM squat, your butt would be as close to the ground as you are anatomically able to get (without breaking form).

Many exercises can call for only partial ROM, when you stop short in an exercise. In the squat example, this would be only going halfway down. Partial ROM can be a particular training technique (such as time under tension) but a lot of the time, it’s an accident. Trainees might think they’re using full range of motion when they aren’t.

That can be a problem because if you’re not working through a full ROM, then you are not maximising the growth potential of your muscles. You want to be able to be strong throughout the whole movement, not just part of it. A 2012 study found that full range of motion strength training increased muscle strength and size more than partial range of motion training.

In addition, increasing your ROM will help your overall mobility and flexibility — both in and outside the gym. Indeed, if you have a job where you’re sitting down all day, your muscles aren’t getting enough regular full ROM movement. Even a simple warm-up of stretching and moving through a full ROM can help improve your mobility. So you can imagine how taking your exercises through their full range of motion can be of enormous benefit.

How to increase your range of motion

1. Take note of your form

Increasing your ROM in your various exercises is sometimes simply a matter of just noticing whether you are taking your muscles through the full range of a movement. For a biceps curl, it’s fairly easy to note whether or not you have begun and ended the movement with your arms straight.

2. Work on your mobility

Some exercises will require a bit more work. So another method of increasing your range of motion for a given exercise is to actively try to increase your mobility by pausing at the hardest point in the movement. For a squat, that would mean sitting in the bottom for as long as you can (pause squats can help train this).

3. Warm up with a full range

Another method to help increase your ROM is to use a warm-up technique such as foam rolling to increase your natural range of motion. A 2019 study found that foam rolling significantly increased strength trainees’ hip flexion, which would be beneficial in exercises such as squats and deadlifts.

4. Work the opposing muscles

A final method to increase ROM would be to work the opposing muscle group to your target muscle. It’s often a case of finding the corresponding pull or push exercise for your movement. For example, to increase range in your shoulder press (a push movement), work your lat pulldowns (a pull movement). For leg extensions (push), do hamstring curls (pull).

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