What Your Range of Motion Means for Your Workouts

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

Everyone has exercises that make them groan. Sometimes that difficulty is not because they aren’t up for the challenge, but because their bodies find the movements so damn challenging.

Maybe tight hips and ankles make getting your thighs parallel to the ground (let alone your ass to the grass) difficult in the squat. Or maybe your shoulders just won’t allow you to move your biceps next to your ears in the overhead press. Whatever the biomechanical glitch is, the underlying issue is the same: You aren’t able to move one or more joints through a complete range of motion.

Whether you’re talking about your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, or any of the other 250-plus joints in your body, your range of motion (ROM) is the degree to which you can move that joint from full extension to full flexion. The amount of flexion varies from joint to joint, but any limitation in ROM affects not only your ability to execute exercises with good form, but also your capacity to express your strength’s full potential.

That’s why athletes place such a premium on increasing ROM (i.e., mobility) in addition to building strength, power, endurance, and agility. It’s the key to unlocking just about every other athletic skill.

Your move: Continue to strive for perfect form in every exercise you do, even if you can’t nail it 100-percent right off the bat. If that means doing a half or quarter squat instead of a full squat, for example, so be it. Fitness is a long game anyway, and working within your current ROM can help you increase it. Indeed, research shows that strength training is just as effective as stretching when it comes to improving mobility as long as you try to keep your form on point.

Adding dedicated mobility training to your weekly routine can also help to improve your ROM. What you should never do is to purposefully lift through a smaller ROM (i.e., by doing partial reps) just so you can lift heavier. There are benefits to performing partial reps under certain circumstances, but studies show that executing moves through a full ROM typically leads to greater strength gains—even if you use less weight than you would if you shortened your ROM.

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