Should You Always Use a Full Range of Motion?


chuck vogelpohlYou want the simple answer?

No.

Even though you hear a ton of people saying it the fact of the matter is you don’t have to and, in fact, shouldn’t always use a full range of motion on every exercise you do.

People who recommend this are well intentioned. I’ve recommended it myself and still do to beginners. In a general sense it’s very good advice. But when we get more advanced and examine things more closely we get a different story.

Sometimes a full range of motion can be dangerous. Other times it can simply be less productive for building muscle, just because the bottom position might put more stress on the connective tissues than the muscles and the top position might have the joints supporting the weight instead of the muscles. Not that that’s a bad thing for strength gains. Joints are meant to lock out and support weight. So if someone on The Biggest Loser or something tells you not to lock out for that reason they are ill informed.

So let’s start from the neck and we’ll work our way down through exercises and body parts that I think you should limit the range of motion on.

Neck Work
This is one body part you definitely want to be careful training. Never do a full complete range of motion on any type of neck work. You want to stay in a safe range where all the tension can be felt in the muscles of the neck; not the top few vertebrae. It’s very easy to overdo the range on this so always play it safe, go too light and use a small range of motion until you get used to it. Let the movement occur just by cranking your head back and forth and not over extending or overflexing your spine.

Shrugs
I recommend both types of shrugs. Lighter ones where you try to touch your traps to your ears and heavier sets where you’re just moving big weights. Deadlifts build traps better than almost anything else and there’s no range of motion there. So that proves you don’t need full range stretch and contraction all the time.

Shoulder/ Vertical Pressing
If you are only using the military press to build muscle you’d be much better served to start with the bar at about chin height instead of on your chest. Yes, starting on your chest makes it “official,” but it also places a lot more stress on the shoulders. I’d start at chin height and even use a little leg drive, on at least the first rep of the set, to get the bar moving out of the most stressful position at the bottom.

As far as lockout goes there are a few ways of looking at it. Again, to be an official press it should be locked out. Locking out also trains the triceps effectively. However, by transferring the stress to the triceps you are removing it from the delts. So if you’re just using the military press primarily to build bigger shoulders it would be a good idea to stop a couple inches short of lockout.

The decision is up to you based on your goals.

Not that I use or program lateral raises that much but they can be more effective when done with a smaller range of motion and heavier weight in a lot of cases. Just something to think about.

Chest/ Horizontal Pressing
Full range benching is stressful to the shoulders. No matter what anyone says I will never be convinced otherwise. I’ve discussed this with the top shoulder surgeons in New York City and have the shoulder surgery scars from too much heavy benching as a reminder. I always recommend pressing on a 15-30 incline to lessen the stress on the shoulders. If you do that the low incline press can be a great chest exercise provided you limit the range of motion. You should stop the bar 2-3 inches off the chest in order to keep the tension on the pecs and off the connective tissue. You should do the same at the top and stop shy of lockout to also maintain that tension on your chest on not transfer it to your triceps.

Yes, some people can bench for years with no shoulder problems. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned over more than two decades of training.  What you choose to do is up to you.

This advice of shortened range of motion really applies to any type of barbell or dumbbell pressing you do for the chest.

With pushup variations you can also stop shy of lockout to keep tension on the pecs and off the triceps. Getting into a full stretch at the bottom position of a suspended pushup is safer than doing so with a bar or dumbbells so if you’re looking to train that very bottom position pushups are the exercise to do it on.

Fly exercises should always have a limited range of motion as the very bottom position is too dangerous for both the pecs and the shoulders and the top 1/3 of the movement places no tension on the target muscles at all, unless you’re using cables.

Note: If you are stopping all of your pushing exercises 2-3 inches shy of lockout you are getting less triceps work in and may have to make up for that with more direct work for this muscle. So, on one hand you’re making the exercises more efficient, but from a time perspective you’re adding more stuff to your workout that you need to do. If you intended to do direct triceps work anyway it’s not a big deal. If you didn’t and rely on pressing to get your triceps training in this may not be the ideal plan for you. You gotta decide that on your own.

Dips and Direct Triceps Stuff
You absolutely have to limit the bottom range on dips otherwise you’re begging for a shoulder injury. Go no lower than the point where upper arm is parallel to the floor. For some, even this might be too deep. If you’re feeling more stress in your shoulder joint than your triceps you’re going too low.

Pushdowns and extensions are stressful to the elbows no matter what. But they can me made safer by only doing them after you have gotten a triceps pump and by limiting the range. If you wanted to do some pushdowns after dips that would be the perfect time for them. Start with a limited stretch at the top and work up to it as you warm up. Pushdowns with bands are a great option because they lessen the tension at the top stretched position where there is usually the most stress on the elbows. I’d usually recommend them over regular pushdowns in most cases.

(Dont’ have bands? You can order them HERE.)

After pushdowns,  if you hit an overhead cable or band extension or even some type of lying extension next you’d want to limit the full range stretch position on that if you have elbow issues. But doing it after dips and pushdowns is a lot safer.

Another way to make direct triceps exercises safer is doing them with a full biceps pump. That reduces the range of motion and automatically keeps you in a safer position.

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you liked this post do me a favor and hit the Facebook “Like” button and fire away with any questions you have in the comments section below.

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37 Responses to Should You Always Use a Full Range of Motion?

  1. Brandon Cook June 22, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Awesome post Jay! I started thinking about limiting the range of motion after reading your article on How to perform reps properly and watching Coleman’s pumping reps in some of his training vids. This probably makes even more sense if you have longer monkey arms like me! lol

    I’ve found that bench presses totally put my shoulder in a compromised position and that has led to some shoulder issues for me. Nothing requiring surgery, so that is good.

    It’s funny because I remember watching Lou doing overhead presses in pumping iron and thinking “man he’s not even doing full reps.”… Hmmm, life always makes more sense in retrospect!

  2. Gary Deagle June 22, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    Would you still recommend keeping the straps 5 feet apart on suspended pushups & flyes to get that pull stretch push/pull type range of motion?

  3. Jason Ferruggia June 22, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Thanks, Brandon.

    Gary- For sure.

  4. Will June 22, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Jason, please can you just clarify this for me. Shoulder health is vital, so I want to be clear on this. From what you’ve said here and elsewhere, you recommend the following as the safest chest exercises:

    (1) Suspended pushups with the straps roughly 5 feet apart and the ROM reduced by 2-3″ at the top and bottom; combined with a fly-type movement, this is highly effective for hypertrophy.
    (2) Ring dips to no lower than parallel and staying at 8 reps or above; this is probably the best choice for overall athleticism. Also, completed to lockout, it works the triceps adequately.
    (3) Incline barbell/dumbbell press with the ROM reduced by 2-3″ at the top and bottom; this will probably allow for the most weight out of all three exercises, which amy suit it to being the heavy movement for the day (3-5 reps), with one of the other two exercises being used as a back-off set (8-12 reps).

    Thanks,
    Will.

    • Jason Ferruggia June 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

      @Will: Yes, yes, yes.

      Kohy- Thanks for sharing. And good point.

      Craig- Thanks for the comment and sharing your experience.

      Dale- Good point

  5. Liam June 22, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Jason
    Have you tried the one lift a day program or workouts similar? What are your thoughts.
    Good post too thanks

  6. kohy June 22, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    stopping a few inches short of touching my chest on flat bench had done wonders for my chest development. I’ve always believed that full ROM for bodybuilding is relative to a persons limb length.

  7. Craig L. June 22, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    I know first hand that you should also limit your range of motion when performing barbell curls or preacher curls. I was performing these lifts with heavy weights and allowing my arms to lower until they were locked out which led to my getting tendonitis.

    As you would probably guess, I never let my arms lockout when working my biceps any more.

  8. Raymond- ZenMyFitness June 22, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Great you have has mentioned this topic.
    I was always thought if I didn’t do full range motion I’m cheating myself of a work out.
    I want to keep lifting for a long time and it’s aways a worry about how much damage that all the continual exercising is doing to my joints, tendons, tissues etc.
    If this helps keep my body health I’ll definitely be changing the way I lift and press.
    Raymond

  9. Dale June 23, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    I like to define ROM as how far the joint wants to go, not how far the joint can go. Put another way, how far you can safely move the weight, not how far you can move the weight.

  10. Guðmundur June 24, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    What about pull up and chin up ?, how high and how low ? I thought that perfect form of FROM would be the thing there.
    But this make perfect sence in those cases you wrote about like dips, military press, fly … and i have injured myself doing FROM in all of them.

  11. Michael- The Underwear Body June 24, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    I’ve avoided a full range of motion on a few exercises for a while since I’ve found that working out at home it means I can get away with using lighter dumbbell weights. It’s important to take steps to make the exercises as safe as possible, I know way to many wounded gym warriors who can’t train anymore.

    Michael

  12. Lame-R June 24, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    @Gudmundur: Jason has done a few great posts on chins and he addresses the subject of ROM in those.

  13. CB June 24, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    I don’t know Jay, I think you have offically fallen off your rocker this past week !! I tend to agree with the majority of what you have to say, but….

    “I always recommend pressing on a 15-30 incline to lessen the stress on the shoulders”

    I don’t care if you “limit” the range of motion by decreasing it by 2-3 inches at the bottom, the fact of the matter is: Inclines = over rotation of the shoulders, thus an injury waiting to happen. Sorry, but there is no way you, your surgeon friends or anyone else is going to convince me that inclines will stress the shoulders less than a properly executed flat press.

    To limit the shoulder rotation on an incline press to that of a properly executed flat press, you would have to stop (depending on an individual’s forearm length) 8 – 12 inches off the chest. It doesn’t take a doctor or certified trainer to look at the execution of both movements and clearly see which one places more stress on the shoulders.

    • Jason Ferruggia June 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

      @CB: Like Kanye rapped, “That’s not a very nice way to start a conversation.”

      You are aware of the difference between 15 degrees and the standard 45 degree incline bench, right?

      You are aware that Dorian Yates, Dante Trudel and all of their legions of followers share my viewpoints here, right?

      You are aware that I have literally hundreds of people who couldn’t flat bench doing this low incline pain free, right?

      You are aware of proper pressing technique, right?

      You are aware that a properly performed RAW bench press has you pushing the bar back so you finish in the exact same position as you would in a low incline, right?

      Lie down with your shoulders on the end of a flat bench and your hips hanging off the end of it. Your body should be flat like it’s on the bench. Lower your hands to where they would be in the bottom position of a flat bench press. Now drop your hips so that your body is at about a 15-20 degree angle with the floor. Keep your hands, arms, shoulders locked in place where they were the whole time. Notice what happens? See how your elbows are further behind you on the flat bench position, thus putting more stress on the joint?

  14. CB June 24, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Jay =
    “You are aware that a properly performed RAW bench press has you pushing the bar back so you finish in the exact same position as you would in a low incline, right?”

    WRONG.

    That is part of the problem and part of what I mean by people not knowing proper set up, form and execution!! You do not press back, you press straight up, almost away. That prevents overload of the shoulders. And your explanation of the set up is WRONG. You do not bring the bar straight down so that your elbows flair and are further back than they should be. You bring the bar low, keeping the elbows tucked and utilizing your lats more on the lower part of movement than overloading your shoulders. No offense Jay, but if what you wrote is your impression of proper execution of a flat press, then it is no wonder you injured yourself. You might want to take your own advice and follow others whom are more knowledgable to expand your own knowledge – not only for yourself but your clients.

    • Jason Ferruggia June 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

      @CB: WRONG indeed. You’re gonna tell ME about proper bench technique?! I’ve been studying Westside for as long as I can remember. Tate and Wendler are personal friends whom I’ve both trained with.

      The Westside style of benching is to push the bar in a straight line.

      What you and others fail to realize, however, is that you push the bar in a straight line if you are wearing a bench shirt.

      Again….

      IF you are wearing a bench shirt.

      Jim Wendler and I discussed this for an hour one night in my gym. When he stopped wearing a shirt, he stopped doing that.

      BIG difference between the two.

      Now I have another task for you. Have a friend lie down on a bench with broomstick and press it up in a straight line. Notice the angle that his upper arms are now at. They are pitched forward toward his feet, rather than perpendicular to the floor as they should be. This places all stress on the front delts and cuts the weight you can use by a good 20% or more. When you learn proper RAW benching technique as taught by men like Kaz, Kirk Karwoski, and Jim Wendler you will see that by properly timing it and pushing slightly back as the bar nears lockout, only then will you be able to utilize your front delts properly and lock the bar out more safely. The other way has you fighting gravity so much that lockout is nearly impossible because of the unnatural position. It is very subtle and unless you knew what to look for you might think the bar was being pressed in a straight line and not slightly back.

      Now, having said that I teach the Westside style at first simply because most people’s triceps are too weak and they will naturally push the bar back. This is completely wrong. The way the bar is pushed back is very, very subtle and must be properly timed. When done this way the arms will end up perpendicular to the floor. When you done in the manner you described the arms will be pitched forward and strength will be severely compromised.

      If I had known this years ago I may have prevented shoulder surgery.

      Please understand that I am not arguing with you as your ignorant comments would never warrant that. I wouldn’t argue training with anyone; especially those with far less experience. I simply don’t care enough. But I will discuss it.

      If you’ve read this site before you would know that I have described the bench press set up exactly as you described. And for you to suggest that I would recommend an elbows flared bodybuilder style press lets me know that your argument attempt was based on ignorance from the jump.

      If you wanted to discuss something there’s a much more respectful way of doing it.

      I am hoping that others read this can see from the examples I illustrated how to do this properly.

      If you’d like to discuss this further and learn proper pressing technique please stop by our gym some time.

  15. Tyler June 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Proper bodily mechanics agree with Jay’s argument here (as well as common sense). Without a shirt you can’t bench in a straight line perpendicular to your shoulders. The top position is directly above your shoulders, providing the most leverage. Anything but perpendicular to your shoulders at the top position adds unnecessary muscular and joint stress and is just bad form. On the other hand, the bottom position is not directly across your shoulders, or even across your upper chest. The bottom position is directly across your mid-to-lower chest. While the line from point a, your mid-to-lower chest, to point b, directly above your shoulders, is technically a straight line, it doesn’t mean you are pressing straight up. You press at an angle.

  16. J-dub June 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    BOOM!!! Roasted

  17. Deafkwondo June 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    @CB I have done bench your ways and guess what? Now i have a messed up left shoulder because of the stress on my shoulders from that way that you say there is not that much of stress there. So now I can not do a raw flat bench that way anymore but I have tried Jason’s way and it works perfectly and i have no problems with my shoulder that way and it is still as effective if not more that the RAW flat way. In fact with most of my clients Jason’s way is the way i suggest for them to do it due to the fact none of them don’t want to be bodybuilders.

  18. Marc June 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    @CB – Just give up.

    @Jay – Once again, truly brilliant. That is all. See you in the Inner Circle, bro!

  19. Joe C June 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    I’ve seen you and others say to go with the exercise that lets you move the most iron, I can lift more in a decline bench than a incline or flat but I never really see anyone talk about the decline bench… is that because its a waste of time or..?

  20. Raymond- ZenMyFitness June 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Actually have to thank CB ( although not for the attitude so much) for getting more details out of Jason on this one.
    Have a much better idea on this now!
    Raymond

  21. Will June 25, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    Not only did Jay take CB to school on bench technique, but he also did with the correct use of ‘whom’. LOL.

  22. michael June 25, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    Hi Jason again from Italy. great article indeed!!

    I see in the comment is recommended to go no lower than paralel in ring dips. since I started a ring training to strenghten all the muscle in the arms in unstable environment, I was wondering about muscle ups.

    since Im a beginner in ring training I do assisted muscle ups by placing my feet in a 90 cm tall bench. as you know, the transition phase between the pull and the push puts the body in a sort of very stretched dip, somewhat lower than the safe forearm-parallel-to-the-ground.

    true that there is a sort of momentum coming from the pull phase. nevertheless the push phase starts with deep streched dips.

    how about that? do you think it should be avoided?

    after all though, if you want to do tha muscle up on the ring I don’t know any other way to avoid the streched push phase………

    every advice is precious

    Michael, Italy

  23. Vaclav Gregor June 25, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    Great article. But I do have a question to the shoulder exercises part. You recommend doing laterals with heavy weights and shortened range of motion instead of the full range with lighter weights, am I right? Why do you think this is better? I always thought that this would be considered as bad form.
    Thanks,
    Greg

  24. Scott June 25, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Hey CB hows that taste! Haha upside your head!

  25. Scott June 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Jay do you have any videos to link to a 15-20 degree low incline bench press? Not only for me, but also for CB?

  26. Eddie June 25, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    For anyone reading this, I’ve noticed recently as my bench has actually started to get to some respectable numbers (Today I benched 235X7, 245×4, 205×9); that after benching, I felt more sore in my shoulders then my chest…Nothing crazy (Probably cause i’m only 20), but it feels weird.

    So today, I made an expeiriment, I was going to bench the exact way Jason says NOT to. I did a flat bench, went full range of motion, i didn’t flare the elbows out to far, but guess what? Ignoring jason’s advice lead to my shoulders hurting! Jason, you’re totally 100% right. I’m never flat benching or doing full range of motion again.

  27. Michael July 7, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Jay I usually only read the comments you respond to because there is always added information worth noting. I read your back and forth with “CB” lol. You shouldn’t have to argue on your own blog. Anyhow, would you be willing to make a video of what you are talking about when it comes to the flat bench and the modified incline bench you are talking about. Not all your readers are advance so I bet many would learn a lot from such a video. Beside, it is just easier to learn from a visual demo video. Peace.

    ps do you still arch with the incline bench as you would with the flat bench???

  28. LEWIS February 8, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    Cracking article, i agree, when flat benching or incline benching or even incline dumbell press i only lower untill my elbows drop JUST passed my torso (upper arm parallel with the floor). shoulders are much better now and the 1RM on shoulders and chest soon went up as i felt much fresher and with less joint soreness its much easier to work harder.
    I always thought i would be called a chump for not going full ROM but either way im getting good results with no painful or “career” ending injuries. Your shoulders take hits all week long, joints stressed on back days, joint and muscle stress on chest days and of course when doing shoulders… even big compound stuff like deads and squats require huge shoulder stability, poor form or over excentuating full ROM is GOING to… not might…GOING to hinder progress and cause injury. Well said Jason.

    +++ isolation of the pecs or when hitting your delts heavy shortening the range of motion causes prolonged tension in desired muscles without the risk of joint injury. Best way to get absolute isolation with freeweight in my opinion and you feel MORE burn for sure. Anyone seen pumpin iron? some great scenes of those monsters using shorter rom on shoulder press really heavy, admittedly drugs are used, but they are still getting monster results… must be working :-)

    apologies i have been reading you blogs for a while but never bothered to post.

    Thought it was about time i said hi :-)

    Lewis, Northamptonshire, England, Uk

  29. shawn March 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Jason,
    Just being introduced to you for the first time. GREAT article.
    Can’t wait to read more of your no “BS” knowledge/expertise.

  30. Hafiz Omar April 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Been waiting for this sort of articles. Can’t agree more with you and thanks for making it so clear with no confusion. New trainers and coaches need these sort of informations and experienced trainers/coaches need to refresh their knowledge on range of motion considering there’s a lot of information out there that can misleading. Great start for my Sunday (I’m in Australia).

  31. AL May 24, 2013 at 4:23 am #

    Great article! What’s your opinion on limiting the ROM on rowing exercises like dumbbell or barbell bent over rows?

    • AL May 24, 2013 at 4:41 am #

      Specifically: limiting the ROM at the top of the concentric part of the rep, where the elbows may travel behind the back.

  32. Davey T. June 20, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    When I do horizontal pressing movement like pushups, dumbbell presses, etc I try not to lockout even though I still don’t feel that much tension on my pectorials. I tried all kinds of techniques to improve the contraction on the chest, but I like your advice on horizontal pressing I had a hard time with it in the past…..

  33. Adam Harper August 20, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    With almost 2 decades of training myself, I am coming to the realization that full ROM isn’t the panacea that I have always thought it was. After finishing a 10 week program using Static (yes static, as in no movement) Contraction Training and having by far the biggest strength gains of my life, I see little reason to do full ROM ever again. Let me ask you this question: in the real world, how often is it that you would use the full ROM when lifting anything maximally? You don’t. You find your “sweet spot”, normally a few inches from lockout, and you produce the maximum force in that few inches. Read Train Smart by Pete Sisco and you will be questioning everything you thought you knew about strength training.