How many times have we all heard or read phrases like you must use a full range of motion, go all the way down, lock out at the top, touch the bar to your chest, ass to grass, partial range equals partial development, and the list goes on.
To maximize muscle hypertrophy and development yes you need to take the muscle through its full range of motion in order to recruit all available motor units. In other words you should train it from the fully lengthened to the fully shortened position. Most experts will agree on that.
However it is important to make a critical distinction between taking a muscle through its full range vs taking an exercise through its full range in the context of hypertrophy development.
No single exercise will overload a muscle maximally through its entire range of motion. Let me repeat that so it sinks. “No one exercise will overload a muscle maximally through its entire range of motion.”
Any given exercise will typically overload a muscle in the middle, bottom or top position of the strength curve based on where the tension is highest.
For example compounds movements like bench presses and squats primarily overload the middle range. If we analyze the Squat biomechanically we can deduct that the torque is highest in the middle when the thigh is perpendicular to the ground. Since tension in the muscle is proportional to the torque and tension is a key trigger for muscle protein synthesis it stands to reason that those exercises offer greater muscle-building stimuli in the middle range.
As such for most compound movements I typically instruct my clients to stop a couple of inches off the bottom and short of lockout. That way they can keep the muscle under near maximal tension the entire time.
In doing so I have consistently experienced that clients develop a much stronger mind to muscle connection, and strength and size increases almost immediately.
But what about the top and bottom positions?
Well if I wanted to overload specifically the bottom range I would add a flye movement for the chest or a sissy squat variation for the quads going all the way to a complete stretch at the bottom but stopping a few inches short of lock out.
For the top range I would use a pec deck or cably flye for the chest or leg extensions for the quads. In this case I would actually stop a few inches short at the bottom and go to full lock sometimes even adding in a pause at the top.
That way again I am maximizing muscle tension for those particular exercises based on where the resistance is highest.
As you can see I am still a big believer in working a muscle through its full range of motion but I hope that now you understand it takes a minimum of three exercises to work a muscle through the entire strength curve.
Each exercise will have its own what I call “sweet spot” where tension will be highest. So don’t be afraid to experiment with each exercise to see what feels best to you.
If you look at a lot of the top pro bodybuilders train on YouTube or on one of their videos you will notice many of them don’t lock out or go all the way to the bottom on a lot of their exercises. Even though in their articles they may tell you that you must use a full range of motion for each exercise.
Yet these guys know almost intuitively they get a lot more out of certain exercises when they don’t use full range of motion.
For me it was IFBB pro Ben Pakulski back in 2012 when I first attended his hypertrophy camp in Sydney who opened my eyes to the fact that you can never fully stimulate a muscle with just one exercise.
For complete video demostrations of how to perform over a hundred exercises and their variations through the optimal range check out my exercise video library here.