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July 31, 2017

Improve your Range of Motion for more Gains

Improve your Range of Motion for more Gains

Walk into the gym with me. When you step in and look around, what do you see? Do you see everyone doing the same exercise for biceps? Or do you see many different variations of bicep exercises? You see the latter. Why is that? Why doesn’t everyone workout the biceps with simply a dumbbell bicep curl? The answer is simple- we all want optimal muscle growth.


In order to grow those guns and build those buns, you’ve got to strengthen your muscles through varying ranges of motion.

Range of motion means the full distance of movement around a joint or the number of degrees a joint moves. Let’s take a look at the knee joint, for example. The knee goes from fully straight (~0 degrees of knee extension) to fully bent (~120-145 degrees of knee flexion). If you are limited in knee flexion (bending) then when you squat, you may be limited in how far you can squat down. If you are limited in knee extension (straightening) then when you use the leg extension machine, you may be limited with how far you can kick the leg up. The result? You are unable to strengthen through a full range of motion, which means decreased gains baby. Countless studies have proven that strengthening through a full range of motion is superior to strengthening in only a partial range of motion because they stimulate growth over the entire muscle’s length. 1,2,3


How can you improve range of motion? Stretching and practice. 

Will this work every time? No, because we are all unique and have a case-by-case basis. But for the general population, stretching can improve your range of motion at each joint.


The point I am trying to make: The better your range of motion and flexibility are, the better your strength gains will be. Moving through a full range of motion leads to superior strength benefits and muscle growth.


In today’s blog, I'm going to share with you what sort of stretching will help you improve your range of motion. Plus, I’ll give many examples as to how having good flexibility will allow you to strengthen within a larger range of motion: therefore allowing you to see more muscle growth and improved physique changes.


improve your range of motion for more gains


Stretching

Stretching can either be dynamic or static. What's the difference? A dynamic stretch is one in which you take a joint through a full range of motion while holding it for more just a second or two. An example would be doing some walking lunges across while performing a pelvic tilt: this stretches the hip flexors. On the other hand, a static stretch is one in which you hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds. An example would be holding a yoga Down Dog pose for 30 seconds to stretch your back, hamstrings, and calves. 


So the debate is, do you have to do static stretches or will dynamic stretches and strengthening exercises in a lengthened range of motion be enough?

Let's think about what stretching does. It increases your neural tolerance and allows the muscle to reach a greater range of motion.

So you have a choice. How do you want to achieve this end-range of motion?

  1. Dynamic stretching
  2. Stretching while strengthening
  3. Static stretching 

It's up to you! Here's my thought process.

#1 Dynamic stretching is excellent because it's a quick 1-2 second stretch that you also use as a warm-up. I'm a huge endorser of warming up prior to lifting a heavy bar off the ground. So YES! I say yes to dynamic stretching.

#2 Stretching while strengthening in a lengthened range of motion? YES. When I program my own workouts or workouts for my online coaching clients, I program exercises in varying ranges of motion: shortened, mid-range, and lengthened range. I think that for most muscle groups, there are plenty of exercises to achieve a lengthened range of motion strengthening exercise which involves a stretch at end range. However, some don't have many options. Below are some examples I thought of:

#3 Static stretching? I leave this up to you. If you look at the list above, I think most active, healthy people who workout regularly are able to stretch while strength training most muscle groups sufficiently. However, for the glute and core muscles I feel as though there are less options. Interestingly enough, the glutes tend to be the area I treated many patients for. *Light bulb* So how do we address this end-range movement if it's lacking? Dynamic stretching or static stretching. 

So should you do static stretches? You get to choose! If you can hit each muscle group with dynamic stretching and/or while strengthening then you're golden and there's no need to do static stretches. However, if you're someone who finds doing static stretches relaxing, a good way to cool down, or you just darn feel better afterward- then go for it! I am someone who feels better when doing static stretches and I really enjoy doing some yoga every once in awhile...so I'm going to continue static stretching. If there's just one static stretch you ever do, make it a glute stretch.


Now that we've covered the meat of the matter, I want to share some examples of all 3 kinds of stretching so it makes more sense.

#1 Dynamic - watch this video for total body dynamic warm-up exercises.

#2 Stretching while strengthening - I covered this in the yellow box above.

#3 Static - see the photos below.

stretching program
stretching program

Note: When people say IT Band stretch, you're technically stretching the TFL/Gluteus Medius muscles as the IT band is a tendon.

stretching program

online health and fitness coach


Now I want to share six examples that demonstrate how poor range of motion can hinder your strength potential.


Example #1 Hamstring Strengthening


When we want to strengthen the hamstrings, we can strengthen them in a lengthened range, mid-range, or shortened range.


1A) Good Mornings are an exercise to strengthen the hamstrings in a lengthened range. With a barbell on your back, you hinge forward at the hips while keeping the legs straight. Doing so requires good hamstring flexibility. So if you are not flexible in the hamstrings, you will only be able to hinge forward a few inches, compared to how far I can go in the video below. The result? Less gains.

good morning

Doing this exercise often will improve your range!

If you want a static stretch option, you could do this: Standing hamstring stretch. Or try the dynamic stretch in the video here.

hamstring stretch


1B) Prone Leg Curls are an exercise to strengthen the hamstrings in a shortened range. Lying on your stomach and curling the feet up toward your bottom is the action. Doing so requires good quadricep flexibility. So if you are not flexible in the quadriceps (thighs), you will only be able to curl the legs up part of the way, compared to how far I can do in the video below. The result? Less gains.

leg curl range of motion

Doing this exercise often will improve your range!

If you want a static stretch option, you could do this: Prone quadricep stretch. Or try the dynamic stretch option in the video here.

quad stretch


Example #2 Tricep Strengthening


When we want to strengthen the triceps, we can strengthen them in a lengthened range, mid-range, or shortened range.


2A) Seated Barbell French Press is an exercise to strengthen the triceps in a lengthened range. Sitting with a barbell overhead, you lower the weight to achieve a stretch of the triceps and then press back up. Doing so requires good tricep (and back) flexibility. So if you are not flexible in the triceps, you will only be able to lower the barbell a few inches, compared to how far I can go in the video below. The result? Less gains.

French press range of motion

Doing this exercise often will improve your range!

A static stretch that mimics this movement: Tricep stretch.

tricep stretch


2B) Tricep Presses are an exercise to strengthen the triceps in a shortened range. Hold a cable with your elbow behind your torso, start at a 90 degree elbow bend, and press your hand back. Doing so requires good bicep flexibility because you want to achieve shoulder extension too. So if you are not flexible in the biceps, you will not be able to extend at the shoulder and elbow enough to straighten the arm while keeping the humerus behind your torso. The result? Less gains.

tricep press range of motion

Doing this exercise often will improve your range!

A stretch that mimics this movement: Standing wall bicep stretch.

bicep stretch


Example #3 Bicep Strengthening


When we want to strengthen the biceps, we can strengthen them in a lengthened range, mid-range, or shortened range.


3A) Incline Dumbbell Curls are an exercise to strengthen the biceps in a lengthened range. Sitting on an incline bench with dumbbells in hand, you start with your elbows behind you and arms straight. Then you curl the weights up with palms up. So if you are not flexible in the biceps, you will not be able to get into the right starting position with your elbows behind your body. Which means you’d be doing the exercise in more of a mid-range than lengthened. The result? Less gains.

bicep curls range

Doing this exercise often will improve your range!

A stretch that mimics this movement: Incline bench bicep stretch.

bicep stretch


3B) Kneeling Cable Shortened Bicep Curls are an exercise to strengthen the biceps in a shortened range. Kneeling with a bar in your hands and elbows overhead, you simply curl the hands toward the shoulders. Doing so requires good tricep (and back) flexibility. So if you are not flexible in the triceps, you will not be able to get the elbows up high enough to achieve a fully shortened bicep position. The result? Less gains.

bicep curls

Doing this exercise often will improve your range!

A stretch that mimics this movement: Tricep stretch.

tricep stretch



Strengthen to your Full Potential


Is it starting to become redundant yet? I can take every muscle and give you several examples as to how having poor flexibility or range will hinder your ability to strengthen a muscle to its full potential. With poor flexibility, you will end up strengthening every muscle in the mid-range or partial range ONLY. That will get you average results. But if you want better results and want to break through a plateau, give this stretching thing a shot. Guys and girls- everyone can benefit from stretching. Just remember, stretching doesn't have to be static. Consider dynamic stretching or specifically programming strengthening exercises that take you to end-range.


stretch


Proper Workout Order


Let’s put this to practice now. When you walk into the gym, get a dynamic warm-up in first. Then start your strength training program, which should include strengthening each muscle in a full range of motion. Start with some full range of motion compound exercises and then isolate more with partial range of motion exercises in the shortened range, mid-range, and lengthened range. You may feel weaker and have to decrease how much weight you use for the shortened and lengthened range exercises, so check your ego at the door. Finally, finish with cardio, if desired, and then 5-10 minutes of static stretching (if you have time and only if you want to). 



References

1. Effect of range of motion on muscle strength and thickness. Pinto RS, Gomes N, Radaelli R, Botton CE, Brown LE, Bottaro M.J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Aug; 26(8):2140-5.


2. Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance. Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M, Dalic J, Matuschek C, Schmidtbleicher D. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Dec; 26(12):3243-61.


3. Impact of range of motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. McMahon GE, Morse CI, Burden A, Winwood K, Onambélé GL. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan; 28(1):245-55.


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