The problem with stopping at the 90 degree range of motion is that we end up doing half repetitions, or less.
I’m sure that most people have heard rumors of or taken advice regarding stopping your range of motion when your joints form a 90 degree angle. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this and why it’s good and why it’s terrible training form. Some people advocate that going past the 90 degree angle puts unnecessary stress on your tendons, muscle, and joints. I’ve also heard that by stopping at a 90 degree angle, you neglect the remaining range of motion (ROM) and never develop the muscle to it’s fullest potential. As the muscles grow from stopping at a 90 degree angle, the tendons and muscle fibers simply will not adapt to added stresses from additional weight. In layman’s terms, if you only train for the 90 degree ROM, add too much weight, and accidentally slip below the 90 degree ROM you risk pulling or tearing the muscle and/or tendons.
The other major problem with using a 90 degree ROM is that most people stop before the 90 degree mark
We’ve all seen it – a guy doing a dumbbell shoulder press with the 90 or 100 lb dumbbells and he only lowers the weight a quarter of the way down. Of course he’s trying to hit the 90 degree mark but his muscles simply aren’t developed enough from the limited range of motion. I see this all the time…and it bugs the heck out of me. I’m not the guy to correct someone in the gym simply because I’ve had it happen to me and I hated being given advice. I thought I knew everything when I was younger. Man, was I ever wrong.
Here’s an example of less than the 90 degree ROM
Here’s an example of the full ROM
Notice in the last picture, that my upper leg and lower leg form slightly more than a 90 degree angle at the joint. I actually bring my legs even lower than this on most reps. That being said, I’m a huge proponent of using the full range of motion. It’s an ego crusher at first, simply because you will need to reduce the weight. For guys like me that love exercises like bench press, shoulder press, squats, and leg press, you’ll need to check your ego at the door. By using the full range of motion you will develop your muscle to it’s fullest potential. I noticed years ago that once I started using full ROMs that I became much stronger on my lifts and my muscle mass increased significantly. Not only that but the overall shape of my muscles changed. They elongated and became extremely defined in the connecting tissue areas.
So what does all this mean for me?
Check with your doctor if you have joint issues or have a pre-existing injury before attempting the full range of motion on any exercise with weights. If you’re stopping at the 90 degree ROM, try dropping the weight and using the full ROM for a bit. Finally, if you are the guy that’s only doing 1/3 or 1/4 ROM on your reps, it’s time to rethink your training goals. Moving heavy weight for a partial rep only makes you look like a goof in the gym. Drop the weight, do the exercise correctly, and trust me – you’ll be happy with the results. Plus, you’re street cred in the gym will have boosted a few extra notches.
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