We’re often asked about the benefits of going through a full range of motion with your strength exercises. Here is why we recommend that you do and what it means for your training.
1. You get a more complete stimulus and development across the full length of the muscle. We know that muscle fibres don’t always run the entire muscle length from origin to insertion. We also know through the specificity principle that strength gains are specific to the joint angles that are trained so it is important to cover as much of the movement arc as you can. A full range of motion allows greater activation of as many fibres as possible and better strength and hypertrophy gains.
2. Technique standardisation. When you go through the same, top to bottom range for each and every rep, you can be sure when you are progressing and not simply changing form to accommodate the load.
3. Length and strength in long positions. Research has been piling high with the benefits of loading in long muscle lengths (such as in the bottom position of a squat or stiff-legged deadlift, pull up, or bench press where you feel the greatest stretch). This enables strength gains specifically in those ‘stretch’ positions where typically we are not able to produce as much force. Loading into lengthening (eccentric loading) also allows greater overload as well as flexibility improvements.
4. Less injury risk. There is a greater dispersal of stress across more joint systems and larger excursions of motion mean that less load is needed to provide an overload. This greatly reduces the likelihood of a training-related injury.
There certainly are circumstances were you might consider reducing range, such as:
1. To provide a greater overload in a particular joint position thereby effecting a specific muscle or group of muscles. Less range means more weight can be used so caution is advised here. This is to be used sparingly and mostly for the advanced lifter only.
2. Specific sport application – half squats have been shown to have carry-over to running and sprinting activities.
For the most part, the bulk of your training should emphasise taking the joint through as much pain-free range as is controllable and the muscle through full stretch to full contraction. It might mean you’re using a little less load however the benefits hugely outway the risks:
In our post on compression garments and recovery, we brought up the potential role of the placebo effect which sparked some questions and commentary.
Adding a little more to the placebo/recovery discussion, in a new study from Wilson, et al. 2019 compared the effects of cold water immersion (CWI), whole body cryotherapy (WBC) or a placebo (PL) intervention on recovery markers after a resistance training session.
Although a single training session does not reflect the everyday workload demands placed upon competitive athletes, there was substantial enough effect on the recovery markers used following the single training session to directly compare the three interventions.
What did they do?
24 males with a minimum training age of 12 months were matched into CWI (10mins at 10 degrees Celcius), WBC ( 3 and 4 mins at – 85 degrees Celcius) or PL group and performed a high volume lower body resistance training session at 80% of predicted 1RM.
Recovery markers were assessed before and after at 24, 48, and up to 72 hours post-exercise including ”Perceptions of soreness and training stress, markers of muscle function, inflammation and efflux of intracellular proteins.”
The single training session did cause the expected perceptual soreness and muscle function disturbance with WBC managing to attenuate soreness at 24hrs and positively influencing peak force at 48 hrs post, greater than in CWI pr PL group. This has been a consistent finding in the literature to date: Stanley et al. 2012; Leeder et al. 2011; Versey et al. 2013; andRoberts et al. 2014.
It should be noted however that the WBC temperatures used in the study (- 85 degrees Celcius) were higher than those typically suggested (-110 to 140 degrees Celcius) possibly influencing results.
Aside from this small difference, it appears that ”many of the remaining outcomes were trivial, unclear or favoured the PL condition.”
Readers should be aware that we are still not aware of the chronic effects of cold water therapies and that some research has suggested it can negatively interfere with vascular and muscular adaptations from resistance and endurance training while CWI has shown some small benefits for recovery from endurance protocols.
Danny James is the Head of Personal Training and Strength and Conditioning services at Central Physio and Performance Fitness, located in Surry Hills in the Sydney CBD area. firstname.lastname@example.org
Although a relatively recent addition in Australia, Compression Garments (CG) have rapidly become quite the fashion statement, initially designed to promote recovery from hard training and competition and subsequently to help improve performance.
Compression Garments are a type of tight-fitting form of clothing made from elastic material providing a gentle compression of the limbs. Some of the reported positive outcomes include:
There is also the possible placebo effect and psychological aid of wearing CG and perceived recovery and performance improvements to be factored in, as anecdotally athletes often speak positively of their helpful effects. The magnitude of physiological recovery improvements observed in the literature are similar to what has been seen with cold-water therapies or light exercise.
While the research currently has shown some recovery benefits from wearing CG it should also be noted that a great deal of the research is of poor quality and clouded with inconsistencies.
It should be added that there is also the risk of bias due to
While there have been some benefits shown and no observed adverse effects on performance or recovery with their use, there is still also no reliable criteria for best practice.
It is therefore suggested that if CG are used they should be used as an adjunct to more proven and reliable recovery enhancing modalities such as enough quality food, good sleep hygiene, as well as fatigue and stress management strategies. Currently, the research is not strong enough to provide conclusive recommendations.
Following our introduction to recovery, we’re going to continue the series looking at some of the research around many popular recovery methods and offer some practical
First up on the list is sleep – one of the most important influences on recovery, one of the simplest to address and yet is often the most overlooked of all performance variables.
Sleep is a needed resource for psychological and physiological wellbeing, during which time many of the bodies more potent repair and recovery processes are kicked into overdrive. It is generally accepted that the primary purpose of sleep is restoration – To recover from previous wake-period operations and/or prepare for functioning in the subsequent wakefulness period.
An individual’s recent sleep history (consisting of both duration and quality) can have a dramatic influence on daytime functioning. Research has firmly established that sleeping less than 6 hours per night for four or more consecutive nights can:
1. Impair cognitive performance and mood
2. Heighten risk of illness and injury
3. Disturb metabolic health, appetite regulation and immune function
There are many reasons why sleep habits may be negatively affected, some of which include:
Stress, nervousness, thinking, worrying, planning.
Unsuitable diet/nutrient deficiency
Poor sleep habits and environment (eg noise, lighting, temperature, late television watching, late caffeine use, late activity).
In addition to the above, Erlacher et al. 2011 asked 632 german athletes from various sports about their sleep habits leading up to important events or competitions, with the results showing that:
Factors identified as reasons for poor sleep included:
The value of quality sleep is clear and it is easy to see how it can be impacted by many of the above variables which we all face from time to time. What isn’t so easy though, is how best to mitigate these factors to ensure that you get a good night sleep and subsequently prevent the associated performance decline from sleep loss.
Suggestions for improving sleep:
1. Develop a ‘POWER-OFF POLICY’ before bed
Switch off tv, computers, tablets, and smartphones 1-2 hours before sleep time. These will disturb the production of hormones that prepare you for sleep.
2. Develop a ‘Wind down’ routine before bed
Slow down and de-stress as much as possible before bed and try to establish consistent sleep and wake times. A shower before bedtime has been shown to improve sleep onset latency. Research has also shown that almost half of all insomnia cases are linked to stress or emotional upset. Avenues to reduce stress are highly individual and situation dependent, so finding ways to reduce stress are paramount to improving sleep, and long-term health and wellness. Some proven strategies include:
Habits and Environment
3. A quiet sleep space is a key
If noise can’t be avoided try using headphones with instrumental music at a low volume, or keep a fan on for an acutely distracting ‘white noise.’
4. Temperature, darkness, and clothing
Approximately 18 degrees Celsius is a cool room temperature that has been shown to help comfortable sleep occurrence. Thick bedding and clothing must also be avoided if it causes overheating. A dark environment with limited lighting can also help the body recognise that it’s night time and time to begin the process of preparing for sleep.
5. Coffee and heavy meals
Avoid caffeine, big meals and heavy amounts of liquid before bed.
6. Take Naps Where You Can & Need To
Naps can be beneficial to catch up on lost sleep, however, avoid them later into the afternoon if it might impact your regular sleep time. Blanchfield et al. 2018 recently showed that a short afternoon nap improves endurance performance in runners that obtain less than 7 hrs of nighttime sleep. Napping might be an important strategy to optimise endurance exercise in other athletic and occupational scenarios when sleep is compromised (eg long-haul, intensified training etc).
”Every training element has a point of diminishing returns. Our job (the coach’s job) is to find it shift emphasis and cycle back at the optimal point in time.” ~ Derek Hansen
When it comes to choosing which exercises to use in your strength training program, we encourage trainees to approach exercise selection with a balance of both pushing and pulling movements for the upper and lower body. This gives you a more complete development and greater overall balance and movement proficiency in a variety of different movement demands.
This usually involves targeting movements and body parts from multiple angles which, aside from symmetry also helps to:
1. Accumulate needed training volume, which is an important factor for building muscle size and strength.
2. Sculpt and shape the body towards ones desired proportions if training goals are more aesthetic driven.
3. Target unpractised or lagging movements and strengthen specific contributing muscles.
We’ll often have new clients show us the strength programs they’ve been using and have put together themselves to get some feedback. Often we’ll see included almost every known exercise variation for a body part that you can imagine in an attempt to cover all angles. This is a fine idea in theory, however, there are a few things to consider when trying to cover all possible angles and one of those considerations is something that I like to call variation preservation.
If you use all of the most productive or favourite exercises in your program, you will have too few exercise variations to choose from or to progress towards once you’ve reached training a plateau and are no longer making the kind of progress you used to on those exercises. The human body is an amazingly efficient and adaptive organism and certainly will, over a short period of time adapt to a given training plan, and this is where you’ll begin to see your progress slow and eventually stop altogether. When this happens, you will need some strategic deviation and a variant go-to exercise that still gives you similar qualities, while offering a fresh stimulus again, and all without losing any of the progress you have built up to this point.
Another more obvious problem with this ‘do everything’ approach is that you may end up doing way more than you need with potentially overlapping and redundant exercises, and subsequently using up more of your valuable recovery ability, that could go towards repair and building.
One of the possible solutions that I often suggest is to do fewer total exercises and more total sets of those exercises. Specifically, pick fewer exercises, but make sure that you use mostly your high return movements and keep a few of them in your back pocket for a later program. Doing more total sets of fewer exercises allows greater focus to be had, and for the beginner lifter in particular, more high-quality technique rehearsal.
You’ll notice that with option 2, you can manage the same total weekly training volume and focus it towards fewer exercises. Option B also offers a complete pressing program and leaves you with plenty of effective variations to utilise once progress begins to slow or stops.
It has been well documented that strength adaptations can drop off at around the 3-4 week mark using the same schedule. From here you may try changing the grip that you use, the set & rep scheme, the rep speed, and even the rest period between sets. Any of these as well an intermittent deload week can provide enough of a small change and a fresh stimulus, and still be fairly consistent enough to make continued improvement. After approximately 2-3 training cycles, however, it may then be a good idea to swap out those exercises and bring in the reserves.
In closing, try not to do every exercise possible – leave some high-return favourite exercises on the bench for variation preservation, to call in when you need fresh options to go to and for continued success in your training.
Do less and do it better.
If you like us to take a look at your training programming or would like some help with building one, reach out to one of our performance specialists and we’ll point you in the right direction.
To help you get started on the right track with your fitness endeavours, here is a quick list of 118 things that we know are good for us.
At Central Performance we pride ourselves on helping our clients not only recover from injury but reach new levels of physical performance. In an earlier post we discussed how we classify movements into 6 basic patterns: hip hinge, squat, push, pull, rotation and gait. One of the other key considerations when designing our clients training programs is what physical and athletic qualities we want to develop. The key physical qualities we look to develop in our clients are:
We find that in their own training clients have traditionally missed one or more of these categories. Classically it may be someone who loves jogging (endurance) and may occasionally do yoga (mobility) or lift weights (strength). However, they very rarely run fast or move explosively due to their focus on improving their endurance. This is unfortunate as power training, such as plyometrics, can have a positive effect of performance in endurance sports by improving movement efficiency. Conversely, we see some clients who love resistance training to develop strength, power and speed and also do yoga or some form of mobility training but avoid endurance training for fear it will reduce ‘gainz’. Similar to power training in endurance athletes endurance training in the right dose for people focused on strength and power development can have a significant positive impact by helping improve recovery and allowing more frequent or harder training.
Following the hierarchy of the Functional Movement System (FMS & SFMA) we look to clear mobility restrictions first in our clients. A restriction in mobility reduces the amount of proprioceptive feedback the Central Nervous System (CNS) receives from the mechanoreceptors (nerve endings that provide info on joint and body part positions) in the body. If the CNS is not receiving full proprioceptive feedback then it isn’t able use optimal muscle recruitment and movement patterns strategies, and this is when movement compensations occur. Optimising mobility also allows for greater strength development. A restriction in mobility limits the range of movement over which a muscle can develop force, ultimately robbing the muscle of force. This is one reason why training movements like the deadlift and squat result in greater strength gains than using partial ranges of movement.
The next quality we look to develop is strength. We consider strength to be the master quality as it has a direct influence on power, speed and endurance. Power and speed both rely on the rapid development and application of force while endurance is the ability to produce force over a prolonged period of time. By increasing strength it increases the ceiling on the amount of power, speed and endurance a person is capable of displaying. An example of this is a rugby player who needs to be powerful when going in to make a tackle. If you are able to increase their level of strength, even without making any changes to their rate of force development (RFD – how quickly force can be developed) you have made them more powerful because they can now produce more force quickly.
Another benefit of increasing strength in our clients is that it helps to build resilience and prevent injury. The literature on sports injuries shows a consistent theme that strength plays a protective role against injury. A prime example of this is the relationship between eccentric strength of the hamstrings and hamstring tears (eccentric strength is the ability of a muscle to produce force while it is being elongated or stretched). Most hamstring tears during sprinting occur at or just before ground contact while the knee and hip is rapidly extending and the hamstrings are having to produce force while rapidly being stretched. Increasing hamstring eccentric strength through exercises such as Nordic hamstring curls have been found to be protective against hamstring tears.
Power is the ability to quickly produce force and it is vital to improve performance in most sports. As mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to increase power is by increasing strength. Even without increasing RFD an increase in strength can cause a shift to the right (a positive thing) in the strength-speed curve.
Once a sufficient level of strength has been reached (1.5 x bodyweight squat is a good starting point for the lower body) more targeted power exercises can be very beneficial. The Olympic lifts and their derivatives, jumps, medicine ball work and kettlebell swings are some of the best and most popular power exercises. As mentioned above, power training can be very beneficial for athletes participating in endurance events, particularly running. By increasing power, especially RFD, running efficiency improves leading to improved running performance. By improving RFD a runner is able to have less ground contact time with each stride, meaning the muscles are working for shorter period of time and each stride becomes more energy efficient.
The big difference between power and speed is power is generally the application of force to an external implement (e.g. an opponent) while speed is how fast you can move your own body or limbs. For most people speed training will involve sprints or similar bodyweight only exercises and is the commonly missing element to our clients training programs. Seriously, when was the last time you sprinted flat out? Unless you are still actively involved in a sport chances are it was a long time ago that you last sprinted. However, speed is really important quality to maintain, especially as we age. Falls are one of the biggest health risks for people as they age, post-menopausal women in particular. One of the best falls prevention strategies is speed and power training. In a lot of falls the person trips or knows they are about to fall but are unable to move quickly enough to prevent falling. Maintaining speed training, especially as we age is extremely important. It is also a way to keep training enjoyable, running fast is fun.
The final athletic quality we want to develop is endurance. Endurance training is probably the easiest and most commonly used form of exercise. It costs nothing to go outside and go for a walk or run, or a swim in the ocean and it is widely known that endurance training has lots of cardiovascular health benefits. Another added bonus is the positive effect endurance training can have on stress and recovery. Steady state cardio is a fantastic way to facilitate recovery from a heavy session of strength, power or speed training. Steady state cardio helps us to come out of the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) which is utilised in high intensity training and takes us more towards the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response). By reducing our sympathetic drive and increasing our parasympathetic state we help recover from training and other daily stresses better.
Every person will require a different blend of the 5 athletic qualities. That blend will depend on their training history, their injury history and the requirements of the sport or day-to-day activities.
To design a suitable exercise program for our clients we start with a thorough movement screen and assessment as well as take an injury history and goal setting. From there we are able to build a program that addresses or clients weaknesses while also building on their strengths.