Tip: Big ROM, Bigger Gains

Here's why range of motion is so important for gaining muscle mass. Do your favorite exercises pass the test?

"What's the best exercise for _______?"

Common question. If you're trying to choose between a couple of different exercises for a muscle group, keep this guideline in mind: The best exercises permit a large range of motion.

Growing muscle requires that you perform work, which is technically defined as displacing a mass over a specific distance. So when comparing two similar movement options, the one that involves more ROM will be superior to the smaller ROM option.

For muscle-building and calorie burning purposes, a deep squat or leg press will build more muscle than a shallow version of the exercise. A conventional barbell bench press will be more effective than a board press. A deficit deadlift (see video) will be a better choice than a block pull.

Needless to say, static exercises that involve literally no ROM – such as planks and wall sits – are the worst possible choices for better body comp.

Now I already know what you're thinking: "But Charles, when I shorten the ROM I can use more weight, so doesn't that offset the disadvantages of using less ROM?"

And the answer is, "Yes... sort of." While the ability to use more weight does partially justify the use of reduced ROM, there are still at least two problems with the idea:

  1. More weight = more orthopedic wear and tear. If you can get better results with less weight, why not take that option?
  2. Much of the muscle-building effects of a specific exercise arise from stretch tension that occurs when you do your exercise with full ROM. That's why Romanian deadlifts (below) are such an effective hamstring drill.

On the other hand, when you do board presses, your pecs never reach a stretched position, which means they won't experience much hypertrophy stimulus.

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook