Another Reason Your Muscle Building Program Sucks

Jason Ferruggia
Written By: Jason Ferruggia
November 14th, 2013
Updated: June 13th, 2020
30.8K Reads
Must all exercises be performed with a full range of motion to build muscle? Jason Ferruggia says no. Find out how partial reps can help increase your workout results.

One of the most popular, faulty and dangerous myths espoused in nearly every muscle building program is that you must use a full range of motion on every exercise in order to achieve maximal growth. Supposedly you have to take each movement to the fully stretched position and then finish in the fully “peak” contracted position. If you don’t you will never get huge… or so they say.

Without getting all technical and scientific let’s just look at a few real world examples to see if this advice makes any sense at all.

Starting from the ground up let’s begin with calves. All fat guys have big calves. They walk around all day with a lot of weigh on their calves but never once achieve a full stretch or contraction. It’s simply high loads, tension, volume and frequency.

The same can be said for a lot of runners and bikers. And when the Olympics start today you will surely be awestruck by the calf development of the female gymnasts, who do spend a lot of time in the fully contracted position while walking on their toes but no time in the fully stretched position.

And speaking of the Olympics, not only will you notice that many 15 year old female gymnasts (with minimal testosterone levels) have calves bigger than the average guy but they also have thighs bigger than a lot of guys who spend several hours per month on the leg press.

Yet, very rarely in their gymnastics training do they achieve a full squat position. There is actually very little, if any, full range of motion training done for their thighs, but they all have completely jacked legs.

Baseball players, rock climbers, mechanics and other manual laborers have huge, muscular forearms. But do you think that development is brought about by these guys consciously trying to achieve a full stretch and contraction throughout their game or work day? Of course not.

Leg Extensions

Powerlifters have huge legs yet only squat to parallel most of the time. Not a full range of motion movement. They also have huge traps which are mostly due to a lot of heavy deadlifts.

There is NO range of motion for the traps on a deadlift. They contract, but don’t actively move from a full stretch position to the peak contraction position.

Not only is the deadlift the best trap building exercise there is, it’s also probably the best overall mass building exercise there is for the entire body. It has been heralded as such since the beginning of time from guys like Paul Anderson to Arnold to Ronnie Coleman. But name me one muscle group that is taken through a full range of motion on the deadlift. There is not a one!

So how can some experts espouse the value of full range of motion training while simultaneously listing the deadlift as one of the top exercises in any muscle building program? Ditto for the clean, clean and press, snatch, jerk, etc.

Not only is this myth incorrect but it can also be dangerous advice to adhere to. Achieving a full range of motion for the pecs would entail bringing your arms all the way behind your back to start the exercise and then crossing them all the way across your body in the front. First of all, that would destroy your shoulder. Second of all, it’s impossible and impractical.

Some guys try to really go for the deep stretch on dumbbell presses and allow their elbows to drop way below the bench. Others drop down into the deepest stretch possible on the dip bars.

They have been led to believe that this extreme, loaded pre-stretch is needed for maximal muscle growth. The truth is that they will probably be seeing an orthopedic surgeon long before they get mistaken for Mr. Olympia.

Leg presses are another exercise where guys commonly push the stretch position way too far. If you bury your knees in your chest on a leg press, like many bodybuilders and coaches recommend, and allow your spine to round and your butt to come up off the pad you will surely have back problems that may plague you for quite some time.

Not only is going into the fully stretched position not recommended, but a lot of exercises have no tension whatsoever in the fully contracted position, which therefore makes that recommendation somewhat useless as well.

If you want to target your chest and shoulders and not your triceps, most pressing movements should actually be done with a partial range of motion; stopping a few inches shy of lockout. A ¾ range of motion there is more beneficial than a full range. Think Lou Ferrigno doing military presses in Pumping Iron.

There are numerous other exercises where partial ranges of motion are far more effective and safer than full range movements. However, covering them all is beyond the scope of this article.

But hopefully by now you realize what a ridiculous recommendation this full range of motion nonsense truly is and will stop following it blindly without rational thought as soon as possible.

13 Comments
Shane
Posted on: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 12:25

For the past two weeks I've read about you telling us what NOT to do. How about coming out with a little more of what TO do. Obviously what the "norm" is works for a lot of people or else they we wouldn't be seeing results.

Jonathan
Posted on: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 11:47

It all depends .. Ie if your doing a squat.. I can just get as strong as a person doing a full squat and me going to your basic athletic stance.. Optimal range for your muscles is about 80% you want your myosin heads to still be able to attach to actin during a contraction. Anything beyond that your myofilaments cant produce such a strong contraction.

Ralph
Posted on: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 04:28

Please defend your odd theory of half reps.

P.s. maybe you should skip the gymnast part. Might be better off sticking to the fat guy example.

jacob
Posted on: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 00:19

Partials work the nervous system to help lift heavier weights and get stronger faster without risk of injury and is easier and safer to do than full range movements and you can get 2 sets of 20 reps of partials. Full range movements build muscle tissue and help you look big and strong ,but you can`t use heavier weights for lots of reps or get strong fast. I have a friend who did partial rep bench presses for 3 months and he started doing partial reps bench presses with a 165lbs. and in 3 months he was doing partials with 325lbs. bench press doing 2 sets of 20 reps.

Sterzy
Posted on: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 19:47

I think full range of motion as a primary lift is best for total development and overall strength. I think partial reps are a good secondary lift, once you have already been using full range of motion exercises... especially if you have sticking points or a hard time getting past a certain portion of the exercise. I also think it is for more of a high intermediate to advanced lifter. Beginners should stick to the basics for a while.

Examples to help visualize my point. Bench press vs towel bench. Putting a 3-5 inch rolled up towel on your chest so you cannot go all the way down. Many people (who don't bounce the bar off their chest) often push hard and only get a short distance before they stall and need help. So this is why people do partials... to help the full range of motion exercise.
Another example is deadlift vs, deadlift from blocks. Some people have a hard time getting past the initial pull, and sometimes they need a little help.

Sometimes it is technique but other times they haven't developed a strong enough base, and for others it is just a mental block, but I feel partials do have a place in one's repertoire, but only once in a while after they have been working on the full range of motion exercises first.

Carl
Posted on: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 18:24

Man, I agree with that you could throw in some movements without full ROM into your routine. But you totally lost me with that gymnastics example. Being a gymnast myself, I can assure you that there's no other sport in the world that requires more work with full ROM in your calves than gymnastics. That's to get your toe point right. You need to stretch and strengthen your calves to get that right. Girls gymnasts spend hours walking in their toes and strengthening and stretching their calves to get the that right. Besides, (this is common sense IMO) if you want to hit all the fibers in a muscle you need full ROM if you don't hit those areas you might get volume but you won't get full development. (And we know how all the beefy guys look like when they don't take care of the form).

Carl
Posted on: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 18:22

Man, I agree with that you could throw in some movements without full ROM into your routine. But you totally lost me with that gymnastics example. Being a gymnast myself, I can assure you that there's no other sport in the world that requires more work with full ROM in your calves than gymnastics. That's to get your toe point right. You need to stretch and strengthen your calves to get that right. Girls gymnasts spend hours walking in their toes and strengthening and stretching their calves to get the that right. Besides, (this is common sense IMO) if you want to hit all the fibers in a muscle you need full ROM if you don't hit those areas you might get volume but you won't get full development. (And we know how all the beefy guys look like when they don't take care of the form).

Carl
Posted on: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 18:27

Thought my first post was not saved....had to write it again...

CFS
Posted on: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 17:54

WHAAAT ARE YOU SAYING?!!! Dude, you don't have a clue about what you're saying! You lost me when you gave that example about gymnastics. Being a gymnast myself I can assure you there's no other sport in the world that needs more work on your calves with full range of motion than gymnastics! That's to get the perfect form on toe points: http://www.zujava.com/gymnastics-how-to-improve-toe-point. Now I do agree shorter ranges could help, that if you want a body of a fat mexican wrestler. If you want full development of a muscle you need to hit all the fibers, as simple as that. I'd say You should do your research before writing an article.

Nate
Posted on: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 17:35

You really don't need to go full ROM. Your muscles sacromere optimal length is halfway during contraction, so you obtain the best results and strength during this point.

Chris
Posted on: Thu, 11/14/2013 - 19:11

Great stuff Jason, I've purchased Renegade Diet, Finishers, and other work you've put out, always insightful, always proving "bro science" wrong, very good article! Thank you for the info, I've lost 50lbs. since April of this year, and your advice has had a great impact!

Dakoda
Posted on: Thu, 11/14/2013 - 19:01

My buddy truly seems to think you are an idiot, And that ROM must be full all the time to achieve max development. Please give me an email I can gey in touch with you to discuss training.

Nicolaos
Posted on: Thu, 11/14/2013 - 04:53

some really good examples that I've never actually thought about. great article.