Every gym has an egomaniac (or two) that lifts way too much weight with way too little range of motion. Once in a while, these cats may pack on a little size but they generally have the aesthetics of a turtle. These short-reppers are missing out on a lot of muscle. Studies continually show that greater range of motion produces greater strength gains and greater amounts of muscle hypertrophy. By using exercises with a longer range of motion, you get more time under tension and greater amounts of muscle damage, igniting hypertrophy. Longer range of motion movements also serve as an ego check because lifting unruly amounts of weight while joints are in these compromised-by-design starting positions is a great way to get hurt. When going longer, being conservative is the key, but your gains will be anything but.
Mike MacDonald held the world record in the bench press in the 242-pound weight class for close to three decades. He actually invented a specialty bar with camber in the middle to increase his bench press range of motion. MacDonald believed strongly that this is what built hellacious pressing power off his chest.
Virtually every great deadlifter in history has used extended range of motion deadlifts to increase starting strength off the floor. Many of the greatest squatters have used deep pause squats, including Ed Coan.
Bodybuilder Gustavo Badell had immaculate hamstring and back development in his prime and said, “I do my deadlifts standing on a deadlift platform so I can get a much deeper stretch and a better range of motion.”
Strength athletes have known for decades that increased range of motion movements build starting strength; smart bodybuilders and physique-minded athletes are just now catching on.
Let’s take a look take a look at the top six extended range of motion movements and integration to your routine.
EXERCISE: Deficit Deadlift
Perform deficit deadlifts by standing on a 1-3 inch elevated surface. No platform to stand on? No problem! Instead of deadlifting with 45-pound plates, use 25- or 35-pound plates or use a wider snatch grip technique to increase the range of motion.
>> For hypertrophy perform these movements for 6-12 reps and for strength perform 1-5 reps.
EXERCISE: Olympic Pause Squats
Instead of using a traditional squat to parallel, try an Olympic pause squat. Use a narrow foot placement with a high bar position and squat as deep as possible maintaining proper technique and pause for one second in the hole.
>> For hypertrophy perform 5-10 reps and for strength perform 1-5 reps.
EXERCISE: Incline Dumbbell Curls
Give incline dumbbell curls a shot instead of traditional barbell curls. This variation, a favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger, emphasizes the stretch at the bottom of the movement to increase range of motion. It also hits the outer head of the biceps better than traditional curls.
>> Perform this movement for 8-15 reps. Going heavier is not advisable because of the stretch on your shoulders at the start position.
EXERCISE: Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Extensions
Unless you want skullcrushers to actually, you know, crush your skull and stuff, there’s only so far you can stretch the triceps on these. Try neutral-grip dumbbell triceps extensions to the side of the head, emphasizing the stretch.
>> Perform this movement for 8-15 repetitions. Heavier reps may put your elbows at risk.
EXERCISE: Incline Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Opt for incline dumbbell lateral raises over traditional lateral raises, emphasizing the stretch at the bottom of the movement. Set an adjustable bench to a slight angle – just shy of 30 degrees if you’re new to this – and perform lateral raises from a seated position, moving your arms perpendicular to the floor. You can deepen the angle of the bench as you gain experience (and flexibility) but don’t go past 45 degrees. After that, you have better options.
>> Perform 10-15 repetitions.
EXERCISE: Dumbbell Bench Press
Bench pressing a barbell limits the range of motion. Again, the bar cannot travel through your body. So why not give dumbbell bench presses a shot? Instead of focusing on the weight of the dumbbells, focus on the stretch at the bottom of the movement and converting that into an explosive positive press. If your gym has heavy dumbbells, then you stand to gain a lot from abandoning the bar, even if occasionally.
>> Perform 8 -12 repetitions.
STRETCH IT OUT
Using extended range of motion movements can produce greater gains in size and strength.
But you should proceed with caution! Do not sacrifice technique in order to extend range of motion. In other words, if you lack the mobility to get in a good starting position for deadlifts, don’t attempt deficit deadlifts! If you experience shoulder pain at the bottom of a bench press, don’t start implementing dumbbell bench presses or incline curls. And remember, total poundages are not the focus with extended ROM exercises – you should focus on controlling the weight, period.
It is only through the judicious use of these moves that you will be able to reap the benefits!
Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of JoshStrength.com and co-author (with Adam benShea) of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong. His new book, Built to the Hilt, is now available at Amazon and EliteFTS. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website at www.joshstrength.com.