Is training with a full range of motion really king or are partials at long muscle lengths here to completely take over? The answer may be more exciting than you think!
What did they test? The authors reviewed the current literature to examine the effects of range of motion on muscle hypertrophy.
What did they find? They found that repetitions performed with a full range of motion or partial range of motion at long muscle lengths were equally effective at promoting significant increases in muscle hypertrophy.
What does it mean for you? Training with a full or long partial range of motion is best if you want to maximize muscle hypertrophy.
What’s the Problem?
Range of motion, or ROM for short, is a topic that has been hot in the world of lifting for some time. ROM refers to the “degree of movement that occurs in a given joint during exercise” and can heavily influence the adaptations induced from resistance training. From performing half reps at the midpoint of a lift’s ROM for “constant tension” to using full ROM, ie: using the greatest ROM possible, ROM seems to always be in the forefront when maximizing muscle growth is of interest. More specifically the terms “full ROM” or “partial ROM”, refer to either to exercises performed at a significant ROM, including a full stretch and lockout, eg: a very deep squat with a complete lockout at the top, or exercises performed at a partial ROM, either at the bottom half of an exercise’s ROM, skipping the lockout, or the opposite. An example of two different types of partial ROM reps:
Partial ROM at long muscle lengths: A bicep curl where the elbow is fully extended, ie: when the muscle is fully stretched, and the rep is completed when the elbow reaches shy of 90 degrees.
Partial ROM at short muscle lengths: A bicep curl where the rep begins when the elbow is at 90 degrees and the rep is completed at maximum elbow flexion.
When it comes to ROM and what’s “socially” acceptable, we’ve seen it all: memes about people doing squats above parallel, slogans like “half reps don’t count” and “experts”, with an emphasis on the quotation marks, like Joel Seedman advocating for partials at short muscle lengths as THE way to maximize a range of muscular adaptations.
In the world of evidence-based fitness, training with full ROM seems to be the default setting for maximizing hypertrophy but that may be about to change given how the literature is developing.
In 2020, a systematic review by Dr. Schoenfeld and Jozo Grgic, found that a full ROM seems to be beneficial for hypertrophy when compared to partial ROM but noted that the research on upper body musculature is limited and somewhat conflicting 1. They also noted that different muscle groups may respond differently to different ROMs and also referred to a recent, at the time, systematic review showing that isometric training at longer muscle lengths was better at increasing muscle size versus isometric training performed at short muscle lengths.
Since the above systematic review was published, more evidence started to emerge on ROM and muscle growth, with a systematic review and meta-analysis by Wolf et al 2 published in 2022 looking at both upper and lower musculature, finding that a partial ROM at long muscle lengths was as good as a full ROM at increasing hypertrophy (among other outcomes).
Mini note: This month’s issue will be the first to introduce a new section titled “expert weighs-in”, where the issue’s cover article will have a short paragraph from a relevant expert giving you a practical overview of the literature related to the study covered. Soon-to-be Dr. Wolf will be this month’s guest expert, giving us an inside view of the literature as he is currently in the finishing stages of his PhD which is investigating ROM and its effects on muscle growth.