Most people, when partaking in muscular training, have a tendency to do only partial repetitions. These are reps that do not take your joint through its whole range of movement. For example doing a bicep curl but only taking your arm down to halfway. If this is the exclusive way that you train then this will, over time, cause issues. The most common problem will be a loss in range of movement (http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/glossary/g/ROM_def.htm). This will then lead to other problems, such as poor posture, tight muscles, inability to perform certain moves and possible injury, such as muscular tears. (There are advantages to doing partial rep training, (http://www.naturallyintense.net/blog/exercise/weight-training/partial-reps-vs-full-range-of-motion-what-works-best/) which we will cover in another article).
A quick pro tip is to use machines if you want to train yourself to do full range movement. They are useful as you can clearly see the bottom part of the range, it’s where the weight plates are very nearly touching. You will then have a better feel for if you are training the full range when you move into free weights.
So what is the advantage of full range of movement reps?
Injury Prevention- Well the first advantage which is obvious from the previous sentence is that you are much less likely to suffer injury. The most common cause of injury from this type of training is the loss of mobility. This is due to muscles becoming tight whilst others become elongated and weak. A good example is pectorals (chest muscles) and the upper back muscles. If you train only the top range of the movement on the bench press, over time they will become increasingly tight in the part of the movement that has your shoulders fully rounded. This tightness will lead to your posture adopting this rounded shoulder position. Because your back muscles also attach to your shoulder they will be pulled and over time will become extended. And so you have short and tight muscles in your chest and long and weak muscles in your back. This increases the possibility of injury, as well as reduces your ability to put out optimal power.
Movement efficiency- The body should be able to produce power from any position and with a joint in any part of its range of motion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Range_of_motion). This is especially important for athletes. If your training has only strengthened a specific part of a joints range then the muscles will only be efficient at producing power in that part of the movement.
Increased flexibility- The flexibility of antagonist muscles (http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/pe/appliedanatomy/3_anatomy_muscles_rev4.shtml) will decrease. This will reduce mobility and can quickly lead to problems such as repetitive strain injury or general muscular aches and pains. A good example is beginners who are training their legs. Many will have tight muscles around the hips and so will only do half squats and lunges. However this just leads to the tight muscles becoming tighter. A better plan would be to do full squats and lunges, which will over time increase the mobility of the hip joints.
Increase overall strength- You will get bigger and stronger training in just the partial range. This is the most common argument thrown at me. Of course you will get stronger, you are training your muscles. But your training efficiency will not be optimal. There has been a wide range of studies done that show that training a full movement will lead to quicker muscular growth and so strength gains.
Burn more calories- If your goal is weight loss then be aware that you will burn a higher number of calories with full movements. This is due to the bit of extra energy that is required on each repetition due to the weight being moved further. It may add up to just 1 or 2 calories per rep, but over a set, a workout or a training plan that really adds up.
So there we go. The majority of the time a full range of movement repetition is the way to go. As I mentioned there are times when partial reps are useful, especially for athletes. Keep an eye out for a future article which will cover this.
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