Exercise Range of Movement - Does it Impact Muscle Development?
It is a common belief that weight training with full range of motion achieves better results for muscle development than exercises that are performed through a smaller range of movement. So is it worthwhile chasing the glory of heavy squats and bench press at the cost of smaller range? Does it really matter? In this blog post we will be looking to answer these questions
To begin with, let’s talk about the physiology of muscle growth. In simple terms, we introduce stresses/micro-trauma to muscle fibers through weight training. This is primarily achieved through;
- Progressive overload: adding more weight, reps or sets
- Metabolic stress: reduced rest time (think about lactic acid build up)
- Eccentric training: exercises that emphasize lengthening a muscle slowly under tension
By utilising these strategies, it disrupts normal cellular activities within the muscle fiber and brings on a low-grade inflammatory response. As a result this then causes the cells multiply and differentiate, with the end result being stronger and larger muscle fibers with greater endurance. The rate of recovery and growth from training is also greatly impacted by achieving adequate nutrition. Nutrition is a complicated topic and is deserving of a blog post in itself, so for the purposes of this article that part of the discussion will be left there.
So to answer the question of if range of movement matters. This may surprise a lot of you but, YES! Full range of motion exercise is superior to partial range of movement as it induces greater stimulus for muscle development. There are numerous studies comparing the training effects of full range and partial range exercise. Although the papers look at different muscle groups (i.e. Biceps/ Quadriceps are most commonly studied), most of them show superior results in strength and size gain with full range exercises (2-5A) study published in 2017, which compares full range and mid-range (50-100 degrees) biceps curls concluded that “Even though higher absolute load was achieved with partial ROM, elbow flexion exercise with full ROM seems to induce greater muscle damage than partial-ROM exercises”(2). Another group of researchers also suggested that range should not be compromised for greater external loading (3).
Unless you have any restrictions in your range of motion, specific training goals or musculoskeletal conditions like joint impingement, reactive tendinopathy, myopathy, etc., you should perform exercises in full range of motion.
So even though less weight with full range of movement might not impress your gym crush, it will definitely impress your physiotherapist. Remember training is a marathon and not a sprint. Higher working weight will come with time and can’t be rushed.
1. Guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. 10th edition. ACSM. 2018.
2. Baroni BM, Pompermayer MG, Cini A, et al. Full range of motion induces greater muscle damage than partial range of motion in elbow flexion exercise with free weights. J of strength & con. research. 2017; 31 (8): 2223-2230. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001562
3. Mcmahon G, & Onambélé-Pearson G. Impact of range of motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. J of strength & con. research. 2013; 28. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e318297143a.
4. Bloomquist K, Langberg H, Karlsen S, et al. Effect of range of motion in heavy load squatting on muscle and tendon adaptations. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013; 113: 2133–2142. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-013-2642-7
5. Pinto RS, Gomes N, Radaelli R, et al. Effect of range of motion on muscle strength and thickness. J of strength & con. research. 2012; 26(8):2140–2145. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823a3b15