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Range of Motion
A burrito without guacamole, a cheeseburger without bacon, anything else without bacon. Sure it's good, but it's not quite reaching it's full enjoyment potential. It can be so much more, with just a little bit extra. That's what exercising without using a full range of motion is like. You're most of the way there, and with just a little bit more movement and effort, you can have that bacon and unlock more benefits out of the same workout.
Range of Motion
You may have seen it at the gym, or been guilty of it yourself: doing pull ups but not dropping until your arms straighten out, or doing pushups but only lowering your chest halfway to the floor. By doing this, the muscles are trained to move only to that point, and only part of the whole muscle is strengthened and benefiting from the exercise. By following the full range of motion, the entire muscle can be worked, resulting in the potential for more strength and a higher level of fitness.
As a result, not utilizing a full range of motion has the potential of causing injuries. This can lead to muscle imbalances across the body, leaving weak points that are more prone to harm. Because only part of the muscle is being strengthened, the rest remains weak and becomes more susceptible to injury. Furthermore, a full range of motion often taps into other stability muscles whose purpose is to support larger muscles. By not following this range of motion, these muscles may not be utilized to a full extent, creating more imbalance and decreasing joint stability.
Roadblocks to Full Range of Motion
So with all of this information, why do people still cut out half of their workout? One of the main reasons people don't exercise using a full range of motion is because of a lack of knowledge. They may not know the benefits of doing so, and the potential harm that it can cause. But now you know better and can avoid this issue.
Some people may not be able to reach the full range of motion of a particular exercise, because that section of the muscle is not strong enough. It is much more difficult to perform the full motion of an exercise, especially for the first time. Through activities of daily life, we don't always follow the full motion of the muscles. We brace ourselves and use tools to make things easier, and our muscle health can suffer as a result. Rather than continuing to follow this limited mobility, a great way to reach the full potential is by modifying the particular exercise to make reaching the full range easier. For example, if you cannot perform a full push up, switching to push ups on your knees, or an incline pushup on a step, can help build up strength in the hardest part of the movement.
The inability to reach a full range of motion may also be due to impeded flexibility. One factor that contributes to a lack of flexibility is tight overworked muscles. This can be caused by existing muscle imbalances, when one muscle is tight and cannot fully extend, while its antagonistic pair partner is loose and cannot fully contract. Furthermore, not exercising following a full range of motion can lead to an even greater muscle imbalance, and more risk for injury further down the line. Mobility work and drills can help to overcome this, loosening tight muscles, and allowing them to relax fully so their pair partner can contract further and strengthen.
Another cause of limited flexibility can be tight fascia throughout the body, leading to restricted movement. One way to overcome this is through regular Myofascial Release, manually easing tightness caused by this connective tissue.
Being able to utilize a full range of motion in your exercises is key to maintaining muscle fitness. Avoiding injury and getting the most out your workout by simply following through with your current exercises is a simple and effective way to maximize your time at the gym.