Have you ever heard the phrase: ass to grass? Of course, you have! If not, don’t be embarrassed; it means getting into a deep squat, usually evidenced by lowering your hips below the level of your knees. Do you know why you would want to do that?
The reason relates to your range of motion (commonly referred to as “ROM” by fitness professionals) and how that range of motion impacts both your joints, muscles, and overall performance. While there can be some benefits to a partial range of motion exercises, if you're looking for functional results that translate into real-world benefits, it's better to stick to a full range of motion for every workout.
The Benefits of Exercising with a Greater Range of Motion
When you perform repetitions of Barbell Squats, Dumbbell Presses, and even calisthenic exercises like Push-Ups or Burpees with a full range of motion, you'll feel a significant difference in difficulty. You'll notice that you might not be able to finish your routines as quickly as you could before, or use as much weight as you usually do.
The reason for this is simple; using a full range of motion requires more effort. You're recruiting more muscles to move the weight a greater distance. Imagine you're standing next to someone performing a Barbell Squat. For one repetition they don't drop very low, keeping their hips above the line of their knees. How much did the barbell actually move? Probably only 6-12 inches. On the next repetition, they get their hips below the line of their knees (ass to grass!). How much did the barbell move this time? Depending on their height, that could be as much as 2-3 feet! Each individual repetition with a full range of motion could move the weight 2-3 times as far.
While this simple measurement shows that you're doing more work when you increase your range of motion, it's not the only reason why increasing your range of motion is beneficial. For example, when you increase your Barbell Squat range of motion, you're not simply working your quads and glutes harder (although you're doing that too), you're utilizing a variety of stabilizing muscles like your Sartorius, Gastrocnemius, Adductors, and Transverse Abdominus.
Performing exercise repetitions with a greater range of motion also require greater amounts of effort in terms of balance, flexibility, and joint mobility, in addition to muscular endurance and strength.
Getting Started with Exercising Using an Improved Range of Motion
Increasing your range of motion with each exercise will help you improve joint function, improve balance, and increase strength. Does that mean you should immediately start trying to get your butt to the ground with your next set of Barbell Squats? Maybe not. Your ability to move in full ranges of motion might be severely limited when you start out. Just because a greater range of motion might be the "right" way to exercise, that doesn't necessarily mean that you're capable of it.
Going back to our Barbell Squat example, let's talk about a few of the reasons why you might not be able to perform a full range of motion. For one, if you're like most people, you are in a sitting position for hour after hour each day. Not surprisingly, this occurrence isn't beneficial in terms of maintaining the flexibility and mobility necessary to squat deeply. Chances are that your hips are tight, your core is weak, and you might even be suffering from muscular degeneration and poor circulation in your lower body.
Don't fret though! Here is a list of tips if you're looking to improve your exercise form and range of motion (thereby enhancing your body in the ways listed above):
Consult a Trainer
Find a capable trainer and ask them to watch your form. Even if you're training in front of a mirror, there are probably a list of issues that you can't see.
Rather than trying to lift the weight you usually lift, start with a much lighter weight and work your way back up. If you try to go straight back to what you were lifting before, you'll probably fail or even hurt yourself.
Perform Mobility Exercises
There are dozens of mobility exercises created to increase the range of motion for each of your joints. Look for mobility drills online and start trying to perform them for at least 10 minutes a day. If nothing else, try to warm up and cool down with these helpful exercises.
Go High Tech
If you don't have access to a trainer and are unsure if you're performing your exercises correctly, there is now a high tech solution: the Atlas Wristband. This device will only count your reps if you hit the right range of motion. Slap one on and find out if you're really getting everything you need to get out of each workout.
Yours in health,
Mark De Grasse