The New Rules of Full Range of Motion

True full range of motion strength training is essential. But there are some training rules that EVERYONE should follow. Here they are:

1. Analyze exercises. Don’t just memorize exercises

We get stronger by creating mechanical tension across tissues and joints by overloading them through movements, which we call resistance exercises. This is strength training.

That said, when you think less about memorizing what certain athletes and coaches say about exercises, and instead analyze exercises based on how they put force across tissues and joints, you’ll see that just because you’re moving through the full range of motion it doesn’t mean you’re training or getting stronger through that entire range.

Another thing you’ll see when you go from memorizing exercises to analyzing exercises based up how they put force across tissues and joints is that multi-joint exercises leave a lot of joint movements untrained

2. Exercise Range of Motion Doesn’t Equal Effective Range of Motion

The body gets stronger by creating mechanical tension across tissues and joints. This can be accomplished by loading them through movement against resistance, which we call strength training exercises. All strength training exercises that involve free weights and cables have a point within the range of motion where the exercise is hardest on the working muscles involved, and where the exercise is the easiest, based on the mechanical tension involved.

In practical terms, the majority of strength training exercises involving free weights and cables do not provide the same level of mechanical tension at all points throughout the exercise range of motion, which can impact strength adaptations too, mainly in the aspect of the range of motion where mechanical tension is sufficient to create strength adaptions. Therefore, there is a difference between the exercise range of motion of a given exercise and the effective range of motion that offers strengthening benefits.

3. Minimize redundancy, maximize efficiency.

Doing a different exercise variation for a given movement pattern or muscle group doesn’t necessarily put force across tissues and joints (strengthen you) in a different manner. This means many exercise variations are redundant.

For example: Squats, deadlifts, lunges and certain variations of those exercises do a great job of loading the glutes when they’re closer to a lengthened (stretched) range, but they don’t do a great job of loading the glutes when they’re in their shortened range.

In other words, squats, deadlifts, and lunges create the most load on the glutes when your hips are flexed (at the bottom), but these exercises place very little load on the glutes, so they don’t do a great job of strengthening you when your hips are in extension.

If you’ve already done squats and lunges in a workout, you’re better off doing an exercise that loads your glutes mostly from their mid to shortened ranges instead of doing another exercise that mostly loads the glutes when they’re stretched.

Another example: Horizontal pressing exercises like bench press, dumbbell bench press, push-ups, and dumbbell flyes strengthen the muscles responsible for horizontal shoulder adduction when your arm is out to the side (when the pecs are in their mid to lengthened range). So, they’re basically the same exercise when it comes to how they load your pecs… making them redundant.

Once you’ve done one of these exercises in your workout, instead of doing another one of them, you’re better off doing CABLE flyes because they aren’t redundant to any of the other horizontal shoulder adduction movements since they load the pecs in a different manner than flyes would with dumbbells.

Redundancy is okay when you’re trying to emphasize some aspect of your training for whatever reason. However, when you’re trying to build overall strength in a wide range of movements to improve overall functional performance, avoiding redundant exercises is a solid programming strategy for improving the productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness of your workouts.

4. Build full range strength

We now know that some strength exercises only train the mid to shortened-ranges of motion, while others mainly train the lengthened to mid-range. Since strength adaptions are joint-position specific, the flipside to minimizing redundancy is to make sure to train both ends of the range of motion to ensure you strengthen as much of the active range of motion you can move through at each joint.

Think about it this way: Weightlifting and powerlifting are about mastering a limited number of movements and positions in order to gain strength in them. But the principles I’m recommending are about exposing yourself to a wider variety of movements and positions so you’re stronger in more ways and therefore capable of functioning at a higher level in any environment… not merely competition. This is what increasing functional performance is all about!

Functional performance is about building a stronger, more adaptable body that’s not limited to the competition lifts, though they have their value as well.

5. Train Both Strength Zones

True full range strength is only successfully accomplished when you train each muscle group in both of the two strength zones.

  1. Exercises that mainly train the involved muscles in a given joint movement in their lengthened to mid-range.
  2. Exercises that mainly train the involved muscles in a given joint movement in their mid- to shortened range.

Therefore, optimizing your strength training involves incorporating at least one exercise from each strength zone for each muscle group each week in order to strengthen different aspects of the range of motion in each main joint movement.

6. Use the 4 Mandatory Lifting Movements

Sports and life rely on specific movements for performance. Those actions are derivatives of the four main athletic movements and the four main lifting movements.

The four main athletic movements are jumping/landing, throwing/striking, locomotion, and rotation. But let’s focus on what you can do in the weight room. The four main lifting movements are:

  1. Pushing
  2. Pulling
  3. Knee Bend
  4. Hip Hinge

This list of movement patterns should guide your training on a weekly basis.

Now sure, the term “functional” is a buzzword, but think of these differently. Functional exercises give you the ability to carry out what you need to do on a daily basis. Having a functional body is about having physical freedom. This means building an all-around stronger, more adaptable body capable of performing at a higher level in any environment… not just inside the gym.

That said, strength solves a lot of problems. It provides a better physical foundation to perform the four main athletic movements. So, a focus on the four main lifting movements is needed.

7. Use isolation exercises to train in ranges missed by multi-joint exercises.

When it comes to the goal of increasing your overall strength and functional performance, the smarter way to use isolation exercises is to train in ranges of motion and movements missed by the multi-joint (compound) exercises.

For example, compound exercises train the hamstrings with movements that originate at the hip joint (deadlifts, single-leg Romanian deadlifts, etc.) but neglect to train the hamstrings with a movement that originates at the knee joint (knee flexion). And research shows that not only do knee flexion exercises activate the hamstrings differently, but incorporating knee flexion exercises can improve performance and reduce hamstring injuries.

8. Train movements AND muscles!

Strength and conditioning has gone from viewing muscles purely in isolation to recognizing more integrated movement patterns that show how these muscles create coordinated movement. As a result, some trainers and coaches now say to “train movements, not muscles” to direct people away from isolation exercises.

But as we know now, redundancy comes from following the “train movements, not muscles” mantra because it repeatedly loads the same areas and ranges of motion while failing to load others. Not good.

Isolation exercises are needed to train in the movements and ranges of motion missed by the multi-joint exercises. So, saying “train movements, not muscles” is like saying eat vegetables not fruits. Avoiding one or the other will leave your diet deficient.

Similarly, a strength training program that exclusively focuses on either multi-joint or isolation exercises will leave potential strength gains untapped since each method offers unique benefits others lack. In contrast, a training program that combines both multi-joint and isolation movements will help you get better results by improving your overall strength and functional capacity.

Strength Zone Training

As you can see, the strength zone training system is the simple groundwork for designing more effective workouts at improving your full range strength by helping you build a lifelong foundation for it.

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