Every gym has at least one. You’ve seen him, but hopefully you aren’t him. It’s the guy who lifts entirely too much weight, allowing his ego to overrun all rational thought. He’ll strain, he’ll sweat, he’ll rock and contort his body and scream loudly, all in an effort to move the bar or dumbbells just a few measly inches at best.
Stopping your reps short, of course, allows you to lift more. You can tell yourself how strong you are and how you just crushed a new personal best. And as long as you don’t have to prove it by demonstrating your heaps of strength to others, all will be well.
Well, not really. Study after study proves what’s a relatively obvious fact: A greater range of motion produces greater gains in strength and hypertrophy. Repping through a longer range of motion, after all, means the muscles are under stress longer — otherwise known as time under tension — leading to not only greater amounts of muscle damage but also the resulting repair and growth.
LONGER EQUALS STRONGER
Mike MacDonald held the world record in the bench press in the 242-pound weight class for close to three decades. An interesting fact on MacDonald is that he actually invented a specialized bar with a camber in the middle to increase his bench-press range of motion. When asked about it, he couldn’t be more emphatic: This bar is what helped him build such hellacious pressing power.
And it’s not just benching. Virtually all great deadlifters in powerlifting history have used extended-range-of-motion deadlifts to increase their starting strength off the floor. Many of the greatest squatters have used deep “pause” squats, including the legendary Ed Coan.
A host of bodybuilders have used longer ranges of motion to their advantage, as well. Gustavo Badell, who won three IFBB pro shows over a 14-year career and came in third at the Mr. Olympia twice, had impeccable hamstring and back development in his prime. His not-so-surprising secret? “I do my deadlifts standing on a deadlift platform so I can get a much deeper stretch and a better range of motion.”
Whether your main goal is strength, stamina, size or function, extending your range of motion pays dividends. Here are a few alternatives to common exercises that you can use to get the most out of every millimeter of movement.
For these, stand on a one- to three-inch elevated surface to do your reps. If you don’t have a platform, trade out your 45-pound plates for 25- or 35-pound plates (which allows you to get lower to the floor in the down position) or use a wider snatch-grip technique. For hypertrophy, work in a six- to 12-rep range; for strength, stay in a one- to five-rep range.
Olympic Pause Squat
Take a narrow stance with a high bar position and squat as deep as possible, pausing for one second in the hole. For hypertrophy, go for five to 10 reps each set; for strength, do one to five reps per set.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Bench-pressing with a barbell limits your range of motion, meaning you’ll want to include dumbbell presses in your chest routines. Instead of fixating on the weight of the dumbbells you’re handling, focus on the stretch at the bottom of the movement.
Incline Dumbbell Lateral Raise
For shoulders, opt for incline dumbbell lateral raises over traditional lateral raises. Be sure to accentuate the stretch at the bottom of the movement. Aim for 10 to 15 reps per set.
Incline Dumbbell Curl & Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension
To bomb your biceps, try incline dumbbell curls, emphasizing the stretch at the bottom of each rep. For triceps, instead of barbell skullcrushers, try neutral-grip dumbbell lying triceps extensions to the sides of your head, again emphasizing the stretch. Both movements can be performed for eight to 15 repetitions.