How much range of motion is needed to develop muscle? This is a highly debated topic across multiple strength circles. There are camps that argue that a full range of motion is an absolute must, while others suggest that partial ranges of motion can have similar, if not equal benefits — so how do you decide which to employ?
The idea of training with various ranges of motion will often be a question of one’s goals and needs based on the context of their program, sport, and overall fitness level. However, for lifters that want to optimize training at all times, it can be useful to understand when to employ each and if there’s true benefit between using different ranges of motion for certain muscles.
In a recent review published on SAGE Open Medicine authored by Brad Schoenfeld and Jozo Grgic, they looked at the effects of full and partial range of motion training and how each impacts muscle development. (1)
The are of understanding when to employ full and partial ranges of motion in training is important for virtually every fitness enthusiast. For example, strength sport athletes require baseline levels range of motion in order to excel in their respective sport, while general fitness enthusiasts often need various ranges of motion to simply perform movements correctly and to move without compensations in daily life.
Study Inclusion for the Review
Before taking the suggestions below as cold hard truths, it’s worth acknowledging that more research needs to be performed on this topic before drawing definitive guidelines per research based evidence. However, this review does an awesome job at highlighting current suggestions, where research is lacking as of right now, and how one can tie the current evidence into their own experiential practices.
In this review, authors assessed a total of 1,396 studies and 10 of these studies were deemed as potentially relevant, however, only 6 studies made the cut after they were fully screened based on meeting the authors’ inclusion criteria.
There were seven variables that studies had to meet in order to be included within this review. As noted in the review, we’ve included the seven inclusion variables below.
- Had to be published in an English refereed journal.
- Subjects had to be randomly placed in training groups.
- The main comparison was between ranges of motion when resistance training.
- Had to compare markers of muscular hypertrophy.
- Study interventions had to run for at least 6-weeks.
- Only included resistance training.
- Subjects had to be adults over the age of 18 void of chronic disease and injury.
The six studies that made the review varied slightly in regard to their structure, intervention, and subjects. Five of the studies included untrained individuals, while one study included trained subjects. Partial and full ranges of motion and how they were defined varied slightly between the studies. And five studies used one movement to compare different ranges of motion, while one study used a protocol of exercises.
Lower and Upper Body Suggestions
Lower Body Suggestions
Authors noted that generally the lower body responded similarly or better with full ranges of motion compared to partial ranges of motion. They also suggested that when using free weights, the quadriceps saw slightly better hypertrophy compared to the use of partial ranges of motion, however, they point out that ranges of motion and their definitions varied slightly between the studies.
The hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and adductors were also lightly investigated, and the gluteus maximus and adductors were suggested to have higher hypertrophic benefit with full ranges of motion compared to partial ranges of motion.
Authors suggest that individual muscles may vary when it comes to ideal ranges of motion for training adaptations.
Upper Body Suggestions
Of the six studies included, only 2 studies looked at differences in upper body training and ranges of motion. One study included trained individuals, while the other study included un-trained subjects. Unfortunately, each of these studies saw benefits with full and partial ranges of motion, so practical inferences remain unclear with upper body training.
An Expert’s Thoughts and Takeaways
Lead study author Brad Schoenfeld shared some thoughts on the review on his Instagram page and wrote the following in a summary of five key takeaways,
- There does appear to be a benefit favoring greater ROMs for the quadriceps, although it isn’t clear if the benefits extend beyond 90 degrees
- The benefits of lower body ROM appear to be muscle specific, with some muscles showing a beneficial effect and others not
- The evidence for effects of ROM in the upper body remain equivocal; there isn’t enough evidence to draw strong conclusions.
- Hypothetically, there may be a benefit to combining ROMs, although this has not been studied to date.
- Importantly, evidence is fairly limited on the topic. Only 6 studies qualified for inclusion and only one of these studies was carried out in resistance-trained individuals; no studies have investigated effects in the muscles of the trunk (i.e. chest, lats, etc). It’s an area of research that needs further study.
Applying This Review to Your Training
This review — while slightly limited in nature — offers a ton of food for thought for coaches and lifters trying to push their performance to the next level. It’s worth noting that other factors like overall load, volume, and fitness level may also play a role on range of motion training and how their benefits effect certain individuals (as evident by the trained and un-trained populations included).
The contextual difference between certain populations is why it wouldn’t be incredibly advantageous to have a true beginner do something like heavy rack pulls (a partial range of motion movement) compared to simply performing full range of motion deadlifts when their goal is overall muscle development. It’s also interesting that different muscles may benefit better with various ranges of motion, as this could help coaches and athletes build out strategic protocols based on a muscle’s individual function.
The above suggestions are great starting guidelines for directing training with various ranges of motion for different level lifters. As Schoenfeld mentions, combining different ranges of motion may have benefit for certain adaptations, and this makes sense when you consider how lifters at different fitness levels currently employ range of motion training rationales.
At the end of the day, this research is great at providing some basic guidelines for differences in training ranges of motion, but more research is needed before we draw definitive conclusions.
1. Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review – Brad J Schoenfeld, Jozo Grgic, 2020. (2020). SAGE Open Medicine.
Feature image from Djordje Mustur/Shutterstock.