Full Range of Motion vs. Partial Range of Motion Training
Is this even a debate? Full range of motion, FOREVER.
Forget this 90-degree nonsense that defies every established principle of biomechanics, movement anatomy, neurophysiology and motor skill development that’s been producing muscle, strength and resilience results for hundreds of years.
But to avoid absolutist black and white “do THIS, not THAT” context, I believe that partial range of motion deserves a more nuanced discussion surrounding the range of motion spectrum, and how best to navigate it for gains across the board.
But spoiler alert, ONLY training at 90-degree joint angles is just fucking dumb (my honest opinion)…
We Are De-Evolving, Inside The Gym and Out
I’d argue that people who strength trained 50 years ago were achieving BETTER results across the board than the confused, frustrated and information innondated person today scrolling a social media feed in search for the next fraudlent faker shilling a new quick fix.
A big reason for this dubious de-evolution phenomenon is “new and innovative” coaches and training methods taking a steaming shit on the scientific theories and principles of human anatomy, physiology and movement mechanics. Like the established science doesn’t even matter.
This is the training equivalent of feelings over facts.
Today’s Training Reality
Today, we’re seeing a rapidly de-evolving world population (highlighted by our epic struggles right here in America) with record levels of preventable pain, sickness and lifestyle diseases strickening people from all walks of life.
But what does that have to do with the already outlying population of active gym goers and fitness fanatics?
People on the cusp of being obese, struggling with orthopedic pain and injuries OR barely hanging on by a thread both physically and mentally are desperate AF. And no one loves quick fix solutions more than desperate people.
Unwilling (or unable) to do the things that we know will produce results? Time to scroll instagram to find the next short-cut that will get me BIG, get me STRONG, get me LEAN or get me HEALTHY with the most minimal work involved.
You’ll find a lot. But the only problem? None of this shit works, especially 90-Degree only training.
The RIGHT Way To Train Range of Motion
When did strength training get so fucking complicated? Remember the days where you went into the gym, had a plan to learn some big lifts, perfect your form and add a little weight to that great form as you got stronger and needed more stimulus?
Those days are gone. But not because they don’t work to product results (this is actually the most effective way to get results if you want to get technical).
It’s because people are too physically and mentally lazy to do the work, and too physically and mentally weak to buy into a longer term solution for success across the board.
So what is this simple, predictable AND time tested progression I’m referring to?
Full Range of Motion Strength Training 101
Here’s what a simplified strength training progression for muscle, strength and injury prevention SHOULD (and always has) look like:
- Establish a full range of motion movement pattern
- Load full range of motion movement pattern
- Continue to overload full range of motion pattern
- Specialize with extended and partial ranges of motion
See steps 1-3? For a vast majority of people, this continual progression will take months, if not years of learning, developing, fine tuning and perfecting these 6 foundational movement patterns for proficiency, load capacity and overall skill development.
And for many? They will never leave this cyclical steps 1-3 process, which is absolutely fine.
We need to remember that movement is an ever changing landscape in the human body. Over time, due to chronic daily postural positions, change in lifestyle or work demands, sleep, stress, nutrition, hydration (and a host of other multi-factorial variables) things change. They get better, they revert back. Your body is a fluid environment.
So being able to maintain step 1 for life is HUGE! And the greatest thing about establishing, maintaining and gaining range of motion for life is that it gives you the best ability to build muscle, get strong AND stay healthy.
Yes, results STILL matter, contrary to popular belief on shiny object social media fitness and training.
How Is 90-Degree ONLY Training Even A Thing?
The above outlines a pretty clear cut scenario for intelligently training according to the range of motion spectrum. But this entire “debate” if you want to call it that begs the question, why is 90-degree only training even a thing? And who in their right mind would ever adhere to such absolutist (and incorrect) models of training and movement?
The problem today is weak, frail, piss poor movers want to take the short cut and buy into this 90-degree bull shit because it’s inherently easier. It’s cheating, it’s half repping, it’s not full range of motion, and it’s a straight up ego stroke. Fits a majority of clowns perfectly.
Is there a place for partial rep squats, deadlifts, presses, pulls? Absolutely. But this should serve as a more advanced method for intermediate to advanced trainees WHILE only making up less than 10% of total training volume througout a week. NOT the entire program, Jesus I can’t beleive I’m needting to address this once again. But here we are.
Think of partial range of motion like sprinkles on a sundae. Is ice cream and chocolate sauce fucking delicious without beads of processed sugar shaken on top? Absolutely it is. Will covering your sundae with loads of sprinkles make the entire thing taste like shit? Likely, yes. But will the perfect amount (and the right flavor for the right person) enhance the taste? It can for sure.
But the audacity that it takes to somehow say that 90-degree only training is superior to full range of motion is just unbelievable, literally. Whether you’re attempting to build muscle, get strong OR (especially) stay healthy, full range of motion is a clear cut winner.
What Full Range of Motion Looks, Feels and Functions Like
And just when you think barbell bench pressing to the chest is “full range of motion” think again. Full range of motion isn’t dictated on bar position relative to the floor or your body, but rather the full excursion of a synergy of joints, muscles, and soft tissues working in unision with one another at their terminal limits.
This principle holds true for squatting, deadlifting, pressing, pulling, rotating OR any more isolated work with single joint emphasis. Full range of motion is full range of motion, period. Establish it, train it, load it, maintain it.
If you can do that (for life) you will be in the best possible position to be strong, healthy and HAPPY that you didn’t buy into the BS that’s continuously being peddled on social media.
So the next time I have to empty my inbox or DM’s full of questions about “what do you think about 90-degree training vs full range of motion training” I’ll just link this article. Thank you for listening to my common sense training talk.
About The Author
Dr. John Rusin is a sports performance specialist and injury prevention expert that has coached some of the world’s most elite athletes, barbell sport competitors, and over 10,000 clients from all walks of life with his innovative pain-free performance programs and systems, which has gained him the reputation as the go-to industry expert for rebuilding after pain, injuries or plateaus. Dr. Rusin is also the founder of the Pain-Free Performance Specialist Certification (PPSC) that has certified over 10,000 personal trainers, strength coaches and rehab pros from across the globe in the pain-free performance training