Every day in every gym in America you can hear the words, "Take it through the full range of motion." It seems to be one of those bodybuilding precepts that was chiseled in granite back in the time of Samson and passed down through Hercules and Charles Atlas to us, Well, Samson,
Hercules and Atlas are gone) and it's time to dispatch the outdated canard about getting a full range of motion as well.
First of all, most people don't understand what range of motion is. Actually, there are three different aspects to the concept to consider: possible range of motion, exercise range of motion and target range of motion. Possible range of motion is the distance between the full extension and full contraction of a muscle. Based on that definition, it would be impossible to do any worthwhile exercises for bodybuilding, because the full anatomical range is simply too great for you to use much weight. Yet this is what people mean when they say to use a full range of motion. There are exercises on which you can't even get such a range. For example, a barbell bench press is limited when the bar hits your chest. Full anatomical range of motion maybe of value in yoga but not in the gym.
Exercise range of motion refers to the range a muscle moves through during the standard execution of a given exercise. Sometimes these movements are codified, as in the Olympic lifts, where the rules ensure that everyone lifts the same way. Sometimes the movements are simply the product of custom and habit.
These rules and customs don't work for everyone, however. While competitive lifters must obey the rules of their events, bodybuilders have just one rule: Get as big and ripped as possible. No one will ever check their technique in the clean and jerk or hand them trophies for the best bench press. They won't be graded on how they lift their weights but on how the weights affect their bodies. So toss out the phrase "full range of motion." The "exercise range of motion" idea is useful, but you've got to go beyond it for serious growth.
What bodybuilders too often forget about is the target range of motion. Muscle growth is generated by targeting stress toward the muscle. The champions know this, take advantage of it and so separate themselves from the also-rans. To get as big as possible, you have to target specific muscles and nuke them into growing. For example, consider the bench press, a compound exercise that works the chest, triceps, shoulders and various stabilizing muscles. When you break down the action, you find that the lower three-quarters of the movement target the chest well, while the upper quarter involves mostly the triceps. So, if you're looking to build your chest, why waste valuable training energy on the portion of the lift that hits mainly the triceps?
What's more, the weaker triceps and stabilizers will break down first and limit the movement's effect on your chest. Whenever your workout calls for high-repetition training on a major muscle group, you'll find it beneficial to modify the movement to more accurately target the area you want to build up. Don't limit the bigger, stronger muscles to what the smaller, weaker ones can do. If you're targeting your chest, then, concentrate on the lower part of the bench press movement and isolate the triceps later with another exercise.
If you're targeting front delts, do three-quarter reps of the military press. Using the full exercise range of motion on the pec deck will limit you too, so do partials on the front of the movement, Experiment with other exercises as well. You'll find this technique works for many of the major bodyparts. Working within a target range of motion is also a great way to do leg work. Performing partials at the end of a squat set really pounds the quads, and you can get a lot more from leg extensions when you shift into partial reps. Shorten the range and lust keep working, even when you're barely budging the weight. When you can't move it anymore, hold it for a muscle-sizzling static rep.
In my own training I do this in a dynamic sense, meaning I modify exercises within sets and from set to set as my workout progresses. At the beginning of a session I perform movements with classic form through the exercise range of motion. Then, as my smaller muscle groups like triceps in the bench press begin to fatigue, I shorten the range of motion so that I can continue to work certain targeted muscles. By the time I get to my fourth or fifth set, I may be using the target range of motion exclusively.
This technique will help you get the most from your high-rep training. You can hit targeted muscles with more reps and more sets than you can by sticking with strict form. This kind of workout will help you ramp up to the optimum training zone during the high-rep part of your cycle. I have just a few words of clarification, however. I don't use these set-extension partials on heavy- training days. Why? Well, a lot of my motivation comes from lifting heavy weights, and it's just more mentally satisfying to take that heavy load through the full exercise range motion. Otherwise, it seems as if it just doesn't count.
Another reason is the muscle growth efficiency inherent in doing compound exercises with heavy weights. When lifting heavy, you get great results from full compound moves because of the neuromuscular activation that takes place. When I'm going for high reps and extended sets, though, using a target range of motion helps rue squeeze every last drop of benefit from my workout.
So forget all that full range of motion stuff that's scratched on those granite tablets. Use the target range to give each of your sets a life and personality of its own. Then step to the minor and admire the results.