Monday, September 21, 2009

Home, Home on the Range of Motion

Do you ever leave a meeting at work all proud of yourself for the great teamwork and problem solving that went on, only to sit down at your desk and realize...wait a sec...we didn't actually make anything better, we just moved some stuff around and checked it off a list.

If you work in an office, I am sure this happens to you daily. I, on the other hand, never have this problem. I immediately get to the root of all of my problems and solve them within 30 minutes, including time for a snack.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Well, okay, not really. I actually prefer to let ideas fester in a committee until no one can even remember who thought it was such a great idea in the first place and we chalk it up to coming down from some keynote-speaker-induced high at a leadership conference. In the gym, however, I don't like to waste time. That's why lately I have been happy to hear four little words from Awesome: range of motion training.

It all started with squats. I used to think that the way to become better at squats was to add weight and just do more squats. Ah, the innocence of ignorance. Then Captain Awesome introduced me to target range of motion training, which I immediately hated and loved at the same time - hated because I knew it was going to be hard, and loved because man, it was hard.

But it works.

As you probably know or can figure out, "range of motion" refers to the distance between the full extension and full contraction of a muscle. When doing something like a bicep curl, you want to make sure you go through the entire range of motion possible so you get the full benefit of the exercise. That means extending your hand all the way down so the bicep is completely extended, not stopping three-quarters of the way down and pulling it back up before it gets too hard.

Unless! Unless you are working in the target range of motion! Well, kind of. Allow me to explain.

When you get to that part where it is hard, that is the part you need to improve. Muscle growth is generated by targeting stress toward the muscle, and the more muscles grow the stronger they are. So, it stands to reason that the more targeted stress on a muscle, the stronger it becomes. By focusing your energy and calories at the range of motion that is more difficult - the smaller action of extending and then contracting the muscle rather than going through the full range of motion - you actually solve the problem instead of just moving things around and checking it off a list.

So back to the squats. I wanted more power in my quads to raise my body (and a whole lotta weight) upright from a squated position. So I went down, down, down, down, and then up a tiny bit. Then down, then up a tiny bit. Over and over until I thought I was going to throw up. After training this way for a while, I noticed an immediate improvement in my full range of motion squats. And I never did throw up.

Same with chest press, same with bicep curls...once I discovered the technique, I was a born-again target range of motion fanatic. Now I am turning to the holy grail of the weight room, for me anyway: pull ups. Soon I will have no need for legs, I will just pull myself from location to location with my freakishly strong monkey arms.

So anyway, don't check your workout off the list. When you find yourself doing the same things over and over and wondering why you aren't getting any stronger, more weight might not be the solution. Try working the target range of motion and solve the real issue. And let me know how it goes. :)

And now, back to work on the monkey arms. :)


Fran G. said...

Intriguing. I cannot do a pull-up yet, so this interests me. How do you use the range of motion technique to strengthen your arms to pull yourself up?

I really enjoy your blogs, Heather. You inspire, motivate, intimidate and frustrate. Keep it up!

The (not so) Reluctant Athlete said...

start on the assisted pull-up, and gradually decrease the amount of the assist (move the pin higher up on the rack towards the lower numbers). Work in the range of motion so your arms do not fully extend, just about half way, then pull up but not all the way. Work in that middle two-thirds, if that makes sense. Each time, work on decreasing the amount of the assist until you can do it without. Then move on to the free bar! :)

Fran said...

That makes sense. Thanks!
Maybe one day (soon?) I will be able to do a pull up without assistance.