Optimal Range Of Motion (ROM)

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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