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 … well, 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, 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 is a relatively obvious fact: A greater range of motion produces greater strength gains and more robust amounts of muscle 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 greater amounts of muscle damage and 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 to me — this bar is what helped him build such hellacious pressing power.
It’s not just benching. Virtually every great deadlifter in powerlifting history has 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 legendary Ed Coan.
Many bodybuilders have used longer range of motion to their advantage as well. Gustavo Badell, who won three IFBB pro shows over a 14-year career and came in third twice at the Mr. Olympia, had impeccable hamstring and back development in his prime. His secret? “I do my deadlifts standing on a deadlift platform,” he said, “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 ways to use this tactic in your own training:
1. On back day, instead of using conventional deadlifts, opt for deficit deadlifts. For these, you stand on a 1- to 3-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, and for strength, stick in a one- to five-rep range.
2. Trade your traditional barbell squat for an 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, and for strength, do one to five reps per set.
3. Trade the barbell for dumbbells on chest day. Bench-pressing with a barbell limits your range of motion — meaning you’ll want to also include dumbbell pressing 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.
4. 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.
5. To bomb your biceps, try incline dumbbell curls, emphasizing the stretch at the bottom of each rep. And for triceps, instead of barbell skullcrushers, try neutral-grip dumbbell triceps extensions to the side of your head, again emphasizing the stretch. Both of these movements can be performed for eight to 15 repetitions.