We've all seen those guys at the gym doing pull ups. You know the ones I mean, they smash out the reps, they move really fast, but don't seem to be doing a lot. They stay up at the top and barely get their shoulders lower than their elbows.
When I am training, I want to get the most out of each exercise, so that I can train quickly, efficiently and get the results I want.
If you don't move much, you aren't going to get much in return. The further you move, the further you progress, it's that simple.
What Is Range Of Motion?
Range of motion (ROM) is the potential distance from joint flexion to joint extension. In training terms, it is the distance a load can be moved, that load being your body. The greater the distance, the greater the range of motion
Using the full range of motion is important because it uses the maximum amount of movement available to you, obviously using more energy and muscle than lesser range of motion.
If you are only going down to 90 degrees with your pull ups, you are missing out on 90 degrees of movement that you could have been utilizing to get much more effective workouts using the maximum amount of muscle in each exercise.
Developing Your Mobility & Range Of Motion
To improve your mobility, flexibility obviously comes into the equation. Posture is a big factor, particularly around the shoulders, and is a common problem.
Stretching and other mobility exercises are going to help improve your ROM overall, but you also want to think about ROM within an exercise.
Stretching and mobility work will increase the boundaries of your ROM but it is in the sets and reps that it counts for strength development.
Developing Range Of Motion Within Your Reps
Flexibility training isn't the only way to improve your ROM, you can do it within reps.
If you're reading this and going 'shit I only do those half reps...' don't worry you can improve it fast by focusing on it now.
When you are doing your reps, slow down in the eccentric phase, thats the negative usually. allow your muscles to stretch right out and hold the lowest point of engagement - don't relax the muscles. It is important to do this slowly to increase the activation of those muscles at that position, otherwise you wont get much out of it.
If you are doing 10 reps in a set, say pull ups, but you are only going down from the bar to 90 degrees, then you are leaving 90 other degrees of movement on the table. But you cant do those full reps, otherwise you would, so train that mobility in the negative and it will build your range of motion within the rep while the muscle is engaged.
If you are doing 10 reps of pull ups with a full ROM then you are working the full 180 degrees of movement in at each joint rather than half so you are working twice as hard each rep, and thus getting twice the benefits. This doesn't necessarily show in size, but it will show over time as you progress with your skills much faster and leave the other guys in the dirt.
Full Range Of Motion In Pull Ups
When you do a pull up, it's no good sitting at the top and going down halfway. Neither is it good to only go up halfway from the bottom. The only way for that rep to count is going from a dead hang, all the way up until your head is above the bar.
Fair enough, if you have to progress up to full pulls then you will need to work at half reps at times. But even then you would get just as much, if not more out of slow negatives.
Using the full range of motion means that you are going from the most extended to the most contracted movement and back.
So with a push up as an example, you start full extended with your shoulders and arms, go all the way down to the floor and then push all the way back to fully extended again.
You don’t go half way down and you don't come halfway up. Start at the very top, go all the way down, come all the way back up to finish.
Full Range Of Motion In Dips
When doing dips, the lower you get the better. Don't stop at 90, get your shoulders right down to the bar, as close to touching your hands as possible.
This may be difficult at first but as you train the full movement your range will increase along with your strength.
The lower that you can get the more you will stretch out your chest muscles. If you stop at 90 your chest is barely used in a dip, but going right down lower opens the muscle up along your chest, in the same direction as the muscle fibers.
Shoulder Engagement & Injury Prevention
When I talk about always going to dead hang and always locking your arms, it is obviously important that you do this safely. The reason a lot of people tell you not to is because then they guarantee you aren't going to risk damaging your shoulders or elbows doing this.
I always stress training to these super extended positions because working these maximum ROM's is key to maximizing your results. Not avoiding them and potentially leading to imbalances.
Shoulder Engagement In The Pull Up
The very first and last thing you do in the pull up, every rep, is engage or disengage your shoulders. This is the entry and exit point of the movement and the way that you build shoulder strength and mobility rather than damage them:
Step 1 - Engage Scapula
Step 2 - Pull Up
Step 3 - Negative
Step 4 - Disengage Shoulders To Dead Hang
Follow this simple formula for hanging exercises, slow the movement down at the eccentric phase and engage or disengage shoulders at either end of the movement.
Shoulder Engagement In The Dip
For push exercises it is slightly different. Because you aren' really disengaging your shoulders at all, you are instead adding a little extra to the rep in the form of intentional scapula activation.
Lot's of complicated words there - sorry guys - all i mean is that you will press from your shoulders at the top of the dip, once your arms are already extended.
Step 1 - Engage Scapula & Press
Step 2 - Negative Dip
Step 3 - Dip
Step 4 - Super Extend Scapula
You may find you create a hollow body position at the top, thats ok, but don't go as far as raising your bum into the air as if to press to handstand - show off 😉
Rep Control & Range Of Motion
A lot of people recommend NOT locking out your arms, or going to dead hang, in exercises. However I believe the total opposite.
You should always go to dead hang or lock your arms out at the far extremes of ROM.
The reason people tell you not to is to stop you from jolting your joints snapping your elbows out at the top of the dip - we have all seen people do this with push ups.
How does this happen?
If you are smashing out your reps as quickly as possible, it is easy for your form to slip and risk injury from going to dead hang or locking your arms out. The important this here is disciplined Rep Control. You need to make the most of each exercise, use pacing and be definite about each rep, rather than throwing your body around.
3-2-1 Rep Count & Pacing
the 3-2-1 rep count is a simple way of pacing your reps. There are many others but it essentially comes down to timing each part of the rep by counting in your head or doing it to music. The better control you have over each rep, the better result you will get from it.
If you just rush reps out as quickly as possible you are going to lose out on the 'time under tension' element that basic rep counts are based on. Meaning you will lose a lot of the stability element of the exercise too.
To Sum It All Up
If you are only doing half of the ROM you are only doing half of the rep, if you are only doing half of the rep, that is 50% less exercise.
If you aren't using the full ROM in an exercise then what you will often find is that you are training into problems and injuries.
Half of the movement will be really strong, and the other half - more often than not it is the ‘bottom’ half - isn't getting trained as effectively.
This could result in postural issues in our back, such as a kyphotic posture, or create weak links in your body that create injury or further misalignment.
I cannot stress how important it is to training the full ROM in every exercise - to the best of your ability.
And the crazy thing is, if you train with the full ROM you will get stronger faster and in better shape than you will if you don’t. You will be less likely to injure yourself because all of your musculature is getting trained to its full potential.
Yes, if you have been cheating on your reps, you will find the process of fixing your form kinda annoying. You will drop a few reps and that bottom or weaker end of the movement will be really frustrating to build and catch up with the easier part.
But the benefits of disciplined ROM focus within your exercises makes all the effort worth it in the end.
Putting It Into Practice
Guy's I've given you a lot to think about, ways to analyze your reps to improve your mobility and make the most out of your reps, but I don't want to leave you empty handed:
Get my Foundation Workout FREE! and apply what we have been through in this article to this Total Body Workout