There is a full range of motion or bust sentiment in the fitness world. Full range of motion (ROM) can be a great goal, but is it necessary? I prefer full ROM where it makes sense, but there are times when partial ROM is the right option:

  1. You are’t strong, mobile, or coordinated enough to maintain great form throughout full range of motion. In this case, partial range can be a great tool to help develop strength and/or mobility. Over time the exercise should start to feel easier, at which point you can gradually increase the range. We sometimes add resistance to the partial ROM exercise for our clients for a few sessions and then reduce the resistance and increase the ROM. It can be a very effective approach.
  1. You have an injury that either results in pain as you approach full ROM, or that makes your body move differently than expected to avoid the painful position. For instance, if you have an arthritic hip, your body might shift away from that hip when you squat. You may not even be aware of it (use a mirror or take a video to find out). In this case, if you can do a partial range squat without shifting, that would be better than doing a full range squat where you either shift or feel pain. It’s worth trying to see if you can build up to a full range squat (as noted in #1 above), but you may not.

What if, after working on it, you can’t get to full ROM without either pain or altered movement?

Should you:

a) continue to always use the reduced ROM

b) do the exercise with full ROM and just suck up the pain or accept the altered movement, or

c) abandon that exercise in favour of another option? 

First let’s remove one of the options: Continuing to do an exercise that is painful or that requires altered form to do without pain is not a good idea. So that’s a hard no for option b).

To pick between options a) and c), ask yourself how the reduction in ROM affects the exercise. 

  • Deadlifts, cable rows, and push-ups are all exercises where reducing the ROM by a few inches (which is often all you need) will only have a minimal effect on what you get out of it. Arguably you could even reduce it by more, and still not have much effect on the outcome. I mean, your muscles won’t do as much work because they aren’t moving as far, but they will work.
  • What about split squats, lunges, and squats? In these exercises, the lower you go, the more glute and hamstring recruitment you get; and the higher you stay, there will be relatively more quad and hip flexor involvement. Is that okay? It is if your workout has other exercises that work your backside (those hamstrings and glutes).

So there you have it: Aim for full range, but if you’re not strong enough yet, try partial range and build from there; and if you can’t get there due to pain or inadvertently making adjustments to avoid pain, stick with partial range, but understand whether this shortchanges some of your muscles, and if so, make up for it elsewhere.

This is an exerpt from a book I’m writing about Training Around Injuries. I’ve been writing it for years (literally), using the experience I have gained training hundreds of people at Custom Strength. But I’ve struggled to finish it. Partly because the only person enforcing deadlines is me, and it turns out I don’t always listen to me. But I’ve recently hired a coach to help, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I’ll continue to share some excerpts via my newsletter and my blog.

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