Letters to My High School Self: Let’s Talk About Range of Motion

April 10, 2014

Hey Man,

I just want to let you know that I think it’s awesome that you’re showing up to the gym every day and working your ass off. As you get older, you’ll realize the only training “secret” anyone ever needs to learn is the art of consistency. As long as you show up, you’ll keep making gains. That’s how life works, too.

If you’re going to keep showing up to the gym, it’s important to make the most of your time. The way to do this, I’ve found, is to work smart, not hard. In other words, when you have a barbell in your hands, the key is to get the most effective possible results from what you’re doing.

I’ve seen you and your friends bench pressing and squatting, and that’s what I want to talk to you about today. To get my point across, though, I need to explain something called “range of motion.” Your range of motion is the distance a barbell, dumbbell or your body travels over the course of a single rep of any exercise. When we talk about a “full range of motion,” we’re referring to performing reps from the absolute bottom of an exercise to the absolute top.

When you bench press, you’re supposed to lower the bar until it touches your chest, then press it back up to a locked-out position at the top. When you squat, the idea is to descend until your thighs are parallel to the floor — or lower. There’s some value in doing what we call “partial lifts,” but you won’t need to worry about that for a while.

When you’re benching and squatting with your buddies, what always happens? Your range of motion is okay at first, but when you guys start stacking on more weight, that range decreases like crazy. You don’t touch your chest anymore when you bench press, and you’re not even coming close to a parallel squat.

What I want you to think about from now on is the idea of being in control of the weight you’re using. If you’re not strong enough to bench or squat through a full range of motion with the weight you have on the bar — and you have to resort to half-reps — are you really in control of that weight? Do you own it? No, you don’t. It owns you. When it’s on your back or in your hands, that weight is telling you, “You can’t control me, so I’m going to scare you into not going all the way down.”

I know you’ve got an ego. (And don’t worry, it’s only going to get bigger in the years to come.) What’s more important to you? Being a half-rep coward and worrying about what other people think about the weights you’re lifting, or being in control, calling the shots by eventually doing full-range movements with those heavy weights you’re always dreaming about?

My advice? Take off some weight and only do full-range reps with every exercise in the gym. You’ll get strong really fast, you’ll have better workouts and you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror when you get home and know you’re not a poseur.

What would you tell your high school self about training? Let us know at myhighschoolself@musclemag.com