SUMMARY OF RANGE OF MOTION FOR HYPERTROPHY:
- While it is accepted that full range of motion training is likely optimal for muscular development, recent findings challenge this paradigm.
- The biceps and triceps do not show additional benefits from using greater ranges of motion in strength training.
- The quadriceps and hamstrings display a more significant hypertrophy response when trained with larger ranges of motion.
- Muscles that are active on the descending limb of the curve appear to garner greater hypertrophy from using larger ranges of motion
Traditionally, muscle growth was thought to take place due to mechanical tension on the muscle. Mechanical tension within muscles is detected by mechanoreceptors, which measure muscular force production. This increase in tension placed on the muscle is suggested to result in protein remodeling and increases in muscle growth. (Wackerhage et al., 2018)
Using a full range of motion is suggested to maximize tension placed on the muscle, leading to greater muscle gains over a long-term training program. (G. McMahon et al., 2014)
New Review Suggests Some Muscle Groups Respond Better to a Full Range of Motion
A new study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal titled “Muscle Hypertrophy Response to Range of Motion in Strength Training: A Novel Approach to Understanding the Finding” (Ottinger et al., 2022) discusses the relationship between the range of motion and muscle hypertrophy in various muscle groups. The article reviews studies showing that the length-tension curve plays a significant role in muscle hypertrophy, and training with longer muscle lengths can lead to greater hypertrophic adaptations in some muscle groups. However, the optimal range of motion for muscle hypertrophy may vary depending on the muscle group and the specific exercise being performed. This article will briefly discuss some of the findings in the review article.
Maximizing tension through a full range of motion during training has been suggested to lead to greater hypertrophic gains over a long-term training program. Common training variables used in resistance training programs include changing repetition ranges (6-30 reps), training intensity (i.e., amount of weight used), training frequency, contraction speed emphasized (slow, normal, or fast repetitions), and rest periods between sets. (Schoenfeld et al., 2017, 2015)
RANGE OF MOTION
A new variable that should be added to this list is the range of motion performed in resistance training exercises. Mechanical tension within muscles is detected by mechanoreceptors, which measure muscular force production. Maximizing tension through a full range of movement during training has been suggested to lead to greater hypertrophic gains over a long-term training program. However, several studies have challenged this concept.
· Three studies have found similar increases in triceps muscle growth when using a full range of motions and a partial range of motion at long muscle lengths. (Goto et al., 2017) (Pinto et al., 2011; Stasinaki et al., 2018)
The Impact of the Length-Tension Curve on Muscle Growth
For muscle groups that are active on the descending portion of the length-tension curve, training with larger ranges of motion can lead to greater tension at longer muscle lengths, potentially increasing the hypertrophic stimulus.(Bloomquist et al., 2013; Hoffman et al., 2012)
Length-tension relationships are like a see-saw. When you sit in the middle of a see-saw, it doesn’t move much. But if you sit on one end, it goes down a lot. Muscles work the same way. When they are at their resting length, they don’t produce much force. But when they are stretched or shortened, they can create a lot of force. So, when you exercise, you want to use the right amount of stretching or shortening to get the most out of your muscles. Different muscles work best at different lengths, so we must be careful about how we exercise them.
Enhancing Lower Body Muscle Growth through Range of Motion
According to the article, muscles that are active on the descending limb of the length-tension curve appear to garner greater hypertrophy from using larger ranges of motion. The quadriceps and hamstrings are examples of muscle groups that display a more significant hypertrophy response to training with larger ranges of motion. Because both muscle groups are active on the descending portion of the length-tension curve, these muscles likely experience greater tension at long lengths, thus increasing the hypertrophic stimulus from training with larger ranges of motion. (Maeo et al., 2021)
When we bend our knees a lot, such as a full squat or a seated leg extension, we get better muscle growth from the quadriceps and hamstrings. This is because these muscles work best when they are stretched out. So, doing exercises with a full range of motion, or bending our knees as much as possible, helps these muscles get bigger and stronger.
(Bloomquist et al., 2013) and (G. E. McMahon et al., 2014) found that greater ranges of motion at the knee were more effective at inducing muscle hypertrophy in the quadriceps muscle group. Training with a greater range of motion at the knee increases tension at longer lengths, leading to greater hypertrophic adaptations. Similarly, the seated knee curl results in a greater lengthening of the hamstrings than the lying leg curl, thus imposing a greater range of motion for the hamstrings and muscle growth.
Contrary to the general assumption that using a full range of motion is best for muscle hypertrophy, (Pinto et al., 2011) discovered that partial range of motion bicep training was just as effective as a full range of motion training in promoting muscle hypertrophy in the biceps. Goto et al. and Stasinaki et al. also showed similar levels of triceps hypertrophy after training with full or partial elbow extension ranges of motion. The biceps and triceps muscle groups are least likely to benefit from training with a full range of motion.
Several research groups have found that the gluteus maximus is likely active on the descending portion of the length-tension curve. Additionally, they suggest that a greater hip flexion angle (bottom portion of the lift) will likely induce greater hypertrophic adaptations compared to a shallow hip flexion angle (top part of the lift) (Kubo et al., 2019; Nakamura et al., 2021).
For example, previous studies have demonstrated that the gluteus maximus responds more favorably to larger ranges of motion in training, such as deep squats. However, it is necessary to conduct further research in order to determine the optimal range for maximizing hypertrophy (Kubo et al., 19).
Brett Contreras has been a big proponent of the hip thrust for growing the glutes. He found that the gluteus exhibits maximal activation in the top region of the barbell hip thrust exercise, which suggests that the gluteus likely is not active on the ascending portion of the curve. Therefore, training the glutes at longer muscle lengths, such as with deep squats, deep hip thrust, or full ROM leg press, may be more effective for inducing hypertrophy in the gluteus maximus. (Contreras et al., 2011) However, it is important to note that the length-tension relationship of the gluteus maximus is currently unknown and further research is needed to confirm these findings.
FULL REP VS HALF REP: WHICH PRODUCES MORE MUSCLE GROWTH?
A meta-analysis conducted in 2020 found that a full range of motion resulted in more muscle growth in four studies (three lower body and one upper body). In one lower body study and one upper body study, growth was similar between a partial and full range of motion.(Schoenfeld & Grgic, 2020) Therefore, all results concerning the lower body favor a full range of motion for muscle growth. For instance, when considering a partial squat, the bottom part of the squat is completely neglected, resulting in less muscle stretch. Stretching a muscle with a full range of motion is necessary for muscle growth.
Another meta-analysis conducted in 2021, which examined 16 published studies, reported that a full range of motion resulted in more muscle growth and strength improvement in the legs compared to a partial range of motion.(Pallarés et al., 2021) One study focusing on leg extensions found that performing partial reps with the muscle stretched in the bottom portion of the leg extension, a full range of motion, or a combination of both resulted in similar muscle growth responses in the legs.
The key takeaway from this study is that muscles stretched at long muscle lengths, even with partial reps, can cause similar hypertrophy as a full range of motion training. (Pedrosa et al., 2023)This suggests that stretching a muscle is extremely important for muscle growth, even if it is not taken through a full range of motion.
The study also suggests that doing partial reps with a stretched muscle, such as starting leg curls with the hamstrings fully stretched and then using a partial rep, can be as effective as performing a full range of motion. However, these preliminary findings are promising, indicating that partial exercises with a stretched muscle can yield results similar to those of a full range of motion.
- · For optimal muscle hypertrophy, training with long muscle lengths for some muscle groups (i.e., quadriceps, hamstring) is recommended. However, other muscle groups, such as the arms (i.e., biceps/triceps), will likely not benefit from a full range of motion.
- · Muscles that are active on the descending limb of the curve appear to garner greater hypertrophy from using larger ranges of motion.
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