Powerbuilding: How Important is ROM?

By: Tucker Loken

How important is range of motion on exercises?

A lot of powerlifters who want to try out a bodybuilding plan are purists – They always want to do full range of motion on their movements, because that’s what they were taught when they learned the Big 3. Full ROM is definitely important on your Squat, bench and deadlift – you don’t want to get red lights when you cut a squat high because you’d been training that way in the gym. But what about other movements when it doesn’t serve such a good purpose?


Keep in mind that 90% of the time I’ll tell someone I’m training to use full range of motion on their exercises, but below are a couple reasons why it can hinder, rather than help progress.

Loss of muscle connection 

When you’re using dumbbells or machines, you’re not being tested on your strength, you’re trying to work your stability and work muscles rather than a movement pattern with a bar. Let’s use a machine pec fly as an example. Since everyone is built differently, some people have better connectivity in certain muscle groups than others. I’ve always been a shoulder and triceps dominant presser, and my chest has lagged. When I allow the handles to come too far back, my chest stops engaging and my front delts take the brunt of the movement. It took me years to realize this, and when I finally did I had to drop my ego and find what worked for me. I started with little baby movements for my little baby chest. I only did as much as I could feel. I dropped the weight, and kept the ROM very close. I probably only let my hands come open two feet, and then I pushed them back together. If you have to do this, don’t worry! The situation will improve. The more mature, stronger and bigger a muscle is, the easier it is to feel. I worked for a couple weeks only letting my hands open two feet, then I tried a little wider and I was able to feel it, so I moved on to three feet. Over time I was able to get my arms back to being just about parallel with my body. It’s stuck there for a while, but as I’ve continued to develop the muscles and nerves that activate them, I have made progress and can now bring them back behind me a little bit farther and still be able to feel my chest muscles. These types of training adaptations are important to powerlifters because everyone will have lagging body parts, and learning how to properly do isolation movements will help you bring those up. If you’re weak off the chest and your pecs have no strength (like I was), then doing the standard motion of pec flies probably isn’t going to help you work your pecs. You’re going to be all shoulder and your weak spot off of your chest will still lag.



Another risk with machines and dumbbells is that the increased range of motion some of them provide can cause serious injury. Imagine you’re doing DB bench press – if you were doing it with a barbell it would stop at your chest, but because there’s nothing between the dumbbells, you can let them come back as far you want, which can cause serious damage to your shoulders and rotator cuffs. Leg press is another good example – you could do “full ROM” and let your knees come back and squish into your chest, but you would get some major flexing at the lumbar spine and your knees would take a beating. The idea is to get your quads stronger, not injure your back and knees.


Times when short ROM can cause more harm

Are there times when a shorter ROM can hinder progress as well? Yes, absolutely. If you only ever do movements in a stunted pattern, you’ll eventually tighten up and you won’t get the full breadth of stimulation that you could have gotten from going all the way. I used to do this with lat pulldowns all the time. I’d let them most of the way up, and bring it down about ¾ of the way to my chest. In that short movement I worked my lats, but not as efficiently as I could have. I never let my shoulder blades fully come up and out and then pull them back down and together, so I never got to really work on scapular retraction, which is a huge part of all 3 major lifts. Because I never pulled the bar very tight to my body at the end, I never got the full contraction and muscle stimulation for all the little muscles that engage when you really squeeze your shoulder blades together. I usually wouldn’t let my rows all the way down or pull all the way into me either, and this became a theme in many of my back exercises. This led to some very tight tissue over time, and finally when I realized it and started doing full ROM, it felt like a whole new exercise. It was new and interesting and was really just bound up tissue that hadn’t been worked in years moving again. After not too long my mobility improved and my muscles in the area developed much better than they had been, and this led directly to increased strength in all of my big lifts.


Make it work for you

There’s no set principle of when you should go all the way up and down in a movement, it’s all about your body and your goals. Small range of motion can be very useful for some goals, and can hinder others. The general rule of thumb for me would be – If you can go farther, feel the muscle and not hurt yourself, by all means work through the full range. But if you start to lose connectivity or feel pain in the joint then back off and reassess how you’ve been doing that exercise.

The following two tabs change content below.
Avatar photo
Tucker Loken is a Bodybuilder turned Powerlifter turned Powerbuilder from Eugene, Oregon. He did his first bodybuilding show when he was still in high school, and has been training male and female competitors for shows since 2011. Several years ago he decided to take a step away from his normal routine and learn how to get strong. He worked with Brian for 9 months, added 200 pounds to his raw total and qualified as an Elite lifter in the 220 pound weight class. He returned back to bodybuilding much stronger and now incorporates the 10/20/Life philosophy into his training to keep himself healthy and making continual progress in the Big 3 as well as adding size and shaping his physique. Now part of Team PRS, he brings his unique expertise of nutritional knowledge and how to balance Bodybuilding with Powerlifting to help athletes achieve their best potential.
Avatar photo

Latest posts by Tucker Loken (see all)

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Contact Brian Carroll

Schedule A Consult Below

Take 25% OFF
Your first purchase
Subscribe Now!