In general physical preparation, few discussions have sparked the minds of athletes and coaches like the one between the methods of performing exercises aimed at muscle strengthening: partial range of motion or full range of motion?
This topic has touched and continues to affect all those disciplines which, with a view to general physical preparation, make use of exercises with dumbbells and barbells to strengthen all those neuromuscular abilities involved in the discipline of reference.
As always happens, and this case is no exception, each side brings more or less valid reasons to support its thesis: the supporter of partial movements often focuses on the hyper-specificity of the movement, so whatever is done outside of the specific sport of reference, must have a motor overlap with the gesture. Consequently, we have those who praise the execution of complete movements (and often also accessory exercises that calling “exotic” is a euphemism) convinced that anything that allows neuromuscular adaptation other than the technical gesture of one’s sport is an added value regardless.
As we described in the article The 3 types of strength in armwrestling we summarize the reason why an athlete must make use of non-specific strengthening exercises (General Strength) in order to improve in their discipline:
– Improved intra and inter muscular coordination, which translated means a better capacity for muscular contraction and a better ability to move under load.
– Better motor “intelligence”. A certain degree of versatility with respect to one’s discipline, remaining in the field of common sense, allows one to reflexively improve in one’s sport.
– Reduction of muscular imbalances, which often contribute to greater exposure to injuries.
– More efficient muscle recovery.
– Improved muscle recruitment capacity.
Let’s first look at the various motivations for both one (partial movements) and the other approach (complete movements), because if it is true that the truth lies in the middle, it is also true that managing these aspects in a balanced way within the preparation does not it’s always easy.
Let’s see some PROs that we will have in using partial movements within our preparation, both for General Strength and Direct Strength:
– They allow a greater external load, which translated means to load more! (raise your hand if you don’t enjoy seeing dumbbells and barbells full of discs!).
– They are more similar to the movement required in Specific Strength.
– They apparently allow you to do more volume thanks to a smaller range of movement and consequently to a shorter time under tension.
– The greater load used consequently improves muscle/tendon/joint conditioning.
on the other hand, however, we would have just as many disadvantages in focusing too much on this type of approach, including:
– Lower average muscle stimulation, caused precisely by less time under tension.
– Reduced motor ability due to a simpler and neuromuscularly “poorer” movement
– Greater exposure to injuries and inflammation, potentially caused by the use of workloads that are not always able to be managed correctly (often over maximal compared to the series/repetitions range used).
– Greater tendency towards cheating as the partial movement tends to have fewer motor references and makes us concentrate too much on the external load compared to the movement.
I therefore come to the opposite approach, that of the complete range of movement, let’s see some of the PROS we have in pursuing this path:
– Generally less exposure to injuries as the execution technique is often perceived as more important than the external load.
– Better muscular coordination as the complete rom, working at “open angles” allows greater global muscular involvement.
– Lower neuromuscular stress given above all by the lower external load and therefore a lower depletion of nervous energies, thus preserving them for the very important table practice.
– More balanced muscle development, resulting in protection from injuries
– For the same volume, greater muscle training stimulus thanks to greater time under tension
Also in this case, like every pro there is at least one CON, which we will list below:
– Less joint and tendon conditioning caused mainly by lower external loads
– On average, more time is required to learn the gesture due to its greater complexity
– Lower specificity than Armwrestling gestures
As is evident, it is not all black or white, but knowing how to take the good that exists from each approach is certainly the best way to progress in a sustainable and above all long-lasting way.
An idea we suggest is to evaluate the duration of your preparation and manage both approaches throughout the period preceding and approaching the competition.
Concretely this can translate into an initial period in which we will focus more on General and Direct Strength exercises with full ROM as we will have the opportunity to maximize the gains from this approach therefore keeping stressors low (preparation has just begun ) manage the loads in order to promote muscle recovery and general conditioning (the initial phases of preparation begin at the end of a competition, a period in which one must regain shape, reduce inflammation and pain and regain the feeling with the less specific exercises which were obviously set aside in the final phases of preparation in order to be able to concentrate more on specific exercises) and also to have on average a larger work buffer that can be exploited in the subsequent phases when the work intensity increases.
In the subsequent phases, however, when the form has returned, pain and inflammation have returned to the physiological ranges and the feeling under load is good, you will be able to concentrate again on progressions of intensity, therefore working sporadically even on partial movements so as to seek that intensity furthermore it allows us to positively condition the nervous system and muscle and joint stimulation.
As you can see, there is no totally positive or totally negative approach.
The wise management of training stimuli, the structured organization of training sessions, their phases and cycles allows us to make sensible use of both approaches.
In the next article, we will make some real example on how to structurate a preparation in order to maximize the gains and minimize the cons for each approach.