Are you training in full range?

I will make an attempt to write this article in English due to different requests. I hope to shed light on the subject of full range and high qualitative resistance in gym exercise. The article also makes the assumption how (most) people today look upon this subject; what full range is and how it’s performed; and is trying to address some of the notions in hope to look at the issue in different ways. Troughout the article I will address important components and explain my professional view. Please have in mind that when this article was written the world of exercise emphasized the use of “functional exercises” as well as a “functional approach” to the general public. This was also the case in health care. Why this is important to state is that no matter which concept or type of exercise one uses, the “one size fits all” approach is always questionable but maybe not the attempt to get people to move.

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Figure 1. The squat. Source: bodybuilding.com

When full range functional exercise is brought up many think of squatting (figure 1),  dips or chin ups/pull ups maybe even the bicep curl. All of these exercises involve multiple joints which all provides movements that are combined. The nature of the combined movement is the involvement of specific joints in specific  regions of their range of movement (ROM) working together. This involvement will differ tremendously within the exercise and of course in comparison to other ones.

Regardless of the reason for doing any of the exercises mentioned above, the movements are more or less not executed in their full ROM of the joints involved. That can only be achieved with specific exercises for each individual joint (singel joint exercises).  Often it is said that full range is to strive for in exercise in order go get full benefits from strength, flexibility and injury prevention just to name a few. One can agree on that a loss will certainly occur if an exercise is perform partially in its ROM (as long as the joints are healthy). If these losses are in a functional, structural anatomical way or even both is not an issue lifted in this article. One can assume that loss of some sort will occur, not said to what extent.

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Figure 2. Chin up. 118 degrees is less than half of the full range of movement for the targeted muscle latissimus dorsi. Source: NSMII

In figure 2 and 3 it’s clear that the ROM is being perform partially for the latissimus dorsi muscle (LDM). On the other hand the biceps of the upperarms is indeed working near its full ROM. Using this exercise in an attempt to work the LDM near its full ROM or for a maximal muscle activation, it’s a poor way of doing it. The biceps will in this combined movement be the weak link in the chain and become exhausted long before the LDM.

This issue rises two distinct questions; how to work the specific targeted muscle in relation to its ROM and when or why a certain resistance being used. By working the targeted muscles of the back (mainly LDM) the restricted ROM in a pull up och chin up is not near the full ROM of the LD (figure 2, 3). This can be achieved in a machine (figure 4) or by modifying the exercise equipment that is being used. Often this is done by letting the bodyposition shift while the resistance is placed in a fixed position (e. g. sternum chins, racing dive lat pull).

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Figure 3. The behind-the-neck pull up. Provides approximately 60 degrees of movement. If wider grip is used the range of movement is even less. Source: NSMII

The quality of the applied resistance is an issue not often discussed but none the less important. For example, the bicep curl with a barbell may look full range with a qualitative resistance through its ROM. To some extent it is; the elbow joint is working throughout its full ROM capacity in flexion and extension. But the resistance applied by a barbell are in many ways different in comparison to the biceps and its strength curve. The beginning and the end of the movement will differ due to leverage for example and not provide full resistance as desired (figure 5). The same thing will occur with a squat, deadlift or any exercise using a barbell in the conventional way.

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Figure 4. The example of the full ROM for the shoulder joint in a fixed position. Here performed in a Nautilus pullover machine. Source: NSMII

 

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Figure 5. Barbells provides straight line resistance. Source: NSMII

The first solid proof of variable resistance in modern time came in the shape of old photographs. Pictures long forgotten and hidden upon the attic of the library at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH) in Stockholm. These pictures show patients being treated for all kinds of musculoskeletal disorders or problems with assisted movements and resistance (figure 6). It’s an important part of the history of exercise in Sweden. This also show us the use of variable resistance applied by the Physiotherapist (as seen in figure 6). One can assume that the resistance what not equal throughout the ROM for the muscle of the back of the thigh and therefor vary.

 

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Figure 6. Assisted legcurl. Full range, variable resistance in a fixed position. Source: National Archives, Sweden

Manufacturers of gym machines sometimes use a different shape of the cam (figure 7) to get variable resistance (figure 8), just like the Swedish Physiotherapists. By doing this the resistance can increase and decrease in accordance to the strength curve of the muscle. The machine is as described above in a way superior in the aspect of providing accurate, repetitive resistance with a high quality. The machine will do this in a fixed position using the cam as the regulator of resistance (if the machine is using that kind of engineering). But that is also one of its shortcomings. By using a fixed position that position must first be perfect. Second, the body must not be able to change that position in accordance with the movement.

 

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Figure 8. The nautilus shaped cam that provides variable resistance. Source: http://www.ifr.net

The machine is as described above in a way superior in the aspect of providing accurate, repetitive resistance with a high quality. The machine will do this in a fixed position using the cam as the regulator of resistance (if the machine is using that kind of engineering). But that is also one of its shortcomings. By using a fixed position that position must first be perfect. Second, the body must not be able to change that position in accordance with the movement.

This is truly very hard to manage in a controlled way with that machine, but even harder when not using a machine. But one can try to bring this knowledge into the use of conventional exercises using barbells, dumbells and pulleys. Of course there in no perfect way, but by involving this into “straight line resistance” i. e. barbell/dumbell/pulley exercises not in a fixed position is very effective. It takes some skills, and may seem a little tricky, but indeed a very smart way when implement into the translation of the exercise and its effect to the muscular system of the body. Resistance should, as far as it is possible, be applied right-angled (90 degrees to the working plane) and this done by the use of gravitation and the body as a counterweight. This effect is just like the machine and its cam as it changes the resistance and can be done anywhere in the ROM.

An example of the implementation of this technique can be seen in the figure 9 below in the exercise called “the perfect curl”. Note the position of the elbow (marked in yellow) and even the weight itself. It stays in a more fixed position in relation to the upper body which works as a counterweight. As mentioned this is one example to increase load without changing the weight on the bar but still add resistance in the ROM for the bicep muscle. This can be done to any exercise or muscle and the variations are endless.

 

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Figure 9. The Perfect curl sometimes referred to as the Pro curl. often used by the late great Vince Gironda.  Source: darylconant.com

Finally, this is not an article of what is right or wrong, it’s an article about avoiding ignorance and to understand the importance of all kinds of resistance; the difference and how to use it. If you are working with athletes, in health care with patients or in any other way responsible for the use of an exercise program it is your responsibility to understand the difference. In that regard, there is no excuse for not knowing.

As the late great Mike Mentzer once said about this topic; “Exercise is about movement. The greater the range of the movement the greater the exercise”. I guess one can add to that statement the encouragement to use high quality resistance in gym exercises as well.

 

Written by Henrik Crantz, Registered Physical Therapist (RPT), BSc PT, MSc PT, Certified Specialist Orthopaedic Manipulative Physical Therapy

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