Optimal Range Of Motion (ROM)

This is probably a daily occurrence in fitness forums around the world, people argue about proper range of motion. A very common view is that if you are not going ‘all the way’ that you are not getting all the benefit from the exercise. Great examples of this are bench press and squats. Many people will tell you that when you bench press you have to go all the way down till the bar touches your chest and that when you squat, you have to go all the way down till your butt touches your ankles (ATG squat).

I have gone many rounds with the people I call the full-ROMers who think that you have to use max range of motion for every single exercise for maximum gains. These folks are extremely vocal in their criticism of my ‘micro-reps’ and to them I have something that I suggest they think about.

how many 50+ year olds do you see at the gym doing ATG squats or bench press with the bar down do their chest?

I have never seen any. Not so say they don’t exist but they are very rare, why? Because people who lift this way get injured and cant lift anymore! I have been lifting 30+ years with my ‘micro-reps’ and have never been injured in the weight room. Muscular gains come from consistent workouts and being injury free for 30 years has allowed a lot of consistency.

So when we talk about optimal range of motion, we have to talk about optimal ‘for what?’. Preparing for olympic powerlifting team tryouts or the college football team is completely different than trying to gain muscle mass and get stronger as part of a general fitness program.

Isometric Exercise

I would offer this though experiment for those who think you need full ROM to gain strength and muscle. Lets say today is a squat workout. Rather than your normal workout you do the following. You rack up your 5 rep weight, drop down till your thighs are horizontal and do a static hold there as long as you can – 0% ROM. You do that for 12 ‘sets’ with 2 minutes rest between sets. My guess is that you are going to be VERY sore the next day. You might not get as much strength gain as you would from a normal 80% ROM or 100% ROM workout but its definitely going to make any beginner or intermediate lifter stronger. You CAN gain strength and muscle with 0% range of motion. Its certainly not as much as you gain with 100% ROM but its up there.

For me, there is an optimal range of motion which might be different than yours because my goals are different. I want the most gains I can have without getting injured, not maximum possible gains. Too much ROM and I get injured, too little ROM and I am leaving gains on the table. Here is a chart that tries illustrates my personal ROM sweet spot:

ROM, strength, and injury sweet spot

What is YOUR ROM sweet spot?

Optimal Range Of Motion (ROM) For Muscle Gain

ROM sweet spot for max gains

4 thoughts on “Optimal Range Of Motion (ROM)”

  1. The more I’ve been thinking about this lately, I think you are right. It all depends on your goals, and since 99% of people are just looking to build some strength/muscle in the safest & most effective way possible, I have to say that 99% of people should take your advice on the “sweet spot”. Train your muscles, not your joints!

    As Leroy Colbert said, if you get joint pain, you’re screwed!

  2. You only need look to Pro-Bodybuilders Videos for evidence of your point, If I had £1 for every time I heard someone say “Look, Joe-pro’s form is awful in that video” …And usually when they say form, they mean his ROM, Yet its pretty clear that this ‘poor form’ is working for Joe-pro, admittedly with his amazing genetics. I have long believed in learning and using effective ROM over Full ROM, However, there is a huge difference between understanding and using a reduced ROM, and just performing an exercise badly out of ignorance, this is why I tend to teach people full ROM initially, and then letting and encouraging them to evolve from there. Excellent advice though nonetheless, as it seems is consistently the way on your page!

  3. Hi

    Just found your page searching for info on the “Cutting/Bulking Myth” and discovered a lot of interesting stuff on here. I think that with regard to ROM a lot of it has to do with the propensity of people to stay stuck in certain dogmas and their refusal to experiment with other approaches and techniques. What I specifically have in mind is that with many exercises, you can actually “feel” with your muscles how half-reps or micro-reps cause greater overload compared to full ROM. That is why I personally support the combining of full ROM and half-reps, which, in fact, most people do anyway unknowingly or not. I mean, isn’t using a spotter to get that last rep at failure comparable to using a half-rep? Although I am relatively new to weight training, I discovered the magic of half-reps and micro-reps on my own, because it just “felt” right and effective and a lot of what I have researched later on has confirmed my view. So I suggest that people keep an open mind and approach their training in a creative way, try out new approaches and not judge or condemn others for having form that does not fit their preconceived notions of “correct form”.

    Best

    Artur

  4. Hi Scooby,

    I hope you are well!

    I really like this blog post as I have never thought of ROM in that way. I always believed that you have to get the full ROM to achieve your goal. But like you said, it depends on what you are training for!

    Thank you for providing another prospective on this topic!

    All the best,

    Harry

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