Ditch Full Range Of Motion And Constant Tension. Get The Best Of Both Worlds With Full Range Of Tension
Full range of tension isn't a term you will have heard before. But it could revolutionise your training and help you build more muscle. So for that reason alone, it's worth listening to what I've got to say.
In this article you'll discover the theory behind the full range of tension concept. More importantly, by the end of the article you'll know whether or not it's an approach to training worth considering.
So, if you're interested in building more muscle in the most efficient way possible, read on.
And if you'd prefer to listen to the audio version of "Full Range Of Tension: Is This The Optimal Way To Build Muscle?", click the play button below.
Full Range Of Motion And Constant Tension: The Current Debate
Debates continue in gyms all over the world about the best way to build muscle.
Whether it's related to exercise selection, training splits, rep ranges, or set volume, there's bound to be contention and confusion.
One such debate is 'Full Range Of Motion' vs 'Constant Tension'.
The Argument For Range Of Motion
The former being that training a muscle through the greatest range of motion possible, leads to more muscle. And this theory isn't made up BS. For example, a 2014 study showed that full ROM out performs shorter ROM for building muscle.
"The practical implications for this body of work follow that LR should be observed in RT where increased muscle strength and size are the objective, because we demonstrate here that ROM should not be compromised for greater external loading." McMahon et al, 2014
So range of motion IS important for hypertrophy.
But so is tension...
The Argument For Constant Tension
Muscles adapt and grow based on the training stimulus provided. The more tension applied over time, the bigger and stronger a muscle will become (this is a very simplified overview). Essentially, Progressive Overload is the primary aim, if building muscle is the goal.
This is what leads some people to believe that reducing the range of motion and performing partial reps, leads to more hypertrophy, due to the increased time under tension. In fact, a study in 2017 looking at tricep development, concluded that partial ranges of motion may be more effective for building muscle. However, this was mainly driven by the exercise selected, rather than a range vs tension equation. This is something we'll cover later.
And so ensues the epic battle of who's right and who's wrong.
But maybe they're BOTH wrong. If you think these are the ONLY ways to build muscle, I'm here to tell you (in my best Yoda voice)... "No! There is another."
What Does 'Full Range Of Tension' Mean?
And so enters the notion of Full Range Of Tension.
Based on the fact that hypertrophy is broadly a result of tension and range of motion, you might be inclined to marry the two together. And this would be a logical and worthwhile approach. But it's not without its flaws. Which is why the concept of a Full Range Of Tension could be the perfect training combination.
Here's how it works.
Not all exercises are created equally when it comes to combining ROM and tension.
Due to a number of variables, it's difficult to make the assertion that a certain exercise is best for everyone. However, there are instances where movements are not optimal for everyone. At least on paper.
For example, let's look at the Dumbbell Fly. An exercise designed to primarily train the pec. With your arms outstretched, you load the pec in the lengthened position (see pic below) and create tension on the target muscle.
However, if you move the dumbbell through a full ROM, this tension is lost at the top of the movement (see pic below).
Arguably, adopting a full range of motion for this exercise creates less stimulus than if you were to use a partial range of motion.
Likewise, complete lockout of a squat or a leg press momentarily reduces tension on the target muscle(s). Therefore, finishing the rep a fraction short of knee extension would maintain tension and increase the challenge placed on the muscle during a set. Obviously, this doesn't mean you should start performing ridiculous quarter reps. Because, not only will you miss out on gains, you'll also look a bit of a dick in the gym.
The aim is to balance ROM and tension. And that means using the fullest range of motion possible that maintains tension on the target muscle. Or to put it more succinctly, use a full range of tension.
For many exercises a full ROM does not compromise tension. And IS the most effective way to train. For example, the leg extension provides constant tension on the quad. And, if the machine is good, will adjust the challenge to the muscle, relative to its capability.
Here, a full ROM is undoubtedly the most preferential way to train for hypertrophy.
So a full range of tension is not about sacrificing range in search for tension, or losing tension to utilise a full range of motion. It's about understanding the exercise you are about to perform. And how might it need to be modified, or paired with another exercise, in order to be most effective for building muscle.
Exercise Modifications To Achieve Full Range Of Tension
Ultimately, your goal with any workout and/or training programme is to work the muscles you're targeting through a full range of motion. And to apply appropriate load and tension throughout that range of motion.
As per the earlier examples, this is not always achievable with one exercise. Therefore, knowing how to modify and pair exercises appropriately helps make your workouts more effective.
The Dumbbell Chest Fly
Let's go back to the DB Fly as an example.
To modify this exercise to be more effective for hypertrophy, you could utilise a partial range of motion (see video below).
However, this means you would need to pair the exercises with one that challenges the pec in the shortened position. Because if you don't, you haven't trained the muscle through a full contractile range.
But this all starts to get complicated. And let's be honest, you don't want to feel like you need a physics degree in order to get jacked, right?
So exercise selection becomes important. Ditching the DB Fly for a cable version will mean a full range of motion will also equal a full range of tension. Arguably making this a much more time-efficient way to train.
The Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Whether male or female, chances are you want to build better side delts. And that means a fuck-ton of side rises, right? Maybe...
You see, most people perform a standing side raise using a full range of motion (see video below). However, with the dumbbells at your side, or even in front of your body, tension on the side delt has been lost.
Therefore, a small modification of the exercise to focus on a full range of tension, helps increase training stimulus (see video below). Simply by shortening the range at the bottom of the rep (as per the video below), you've made this exercise better from a hypertrophy perspective. Again, this is not a huge shortening of the range and it's not even close to a partial rep.
But it IS more effective.
And, you could make the challenge on your side delt even more optimal by using a different exercise, such as a Lying Lateral Raise (shown below in a video from the Lean Life Uni).
Other Exercise Modifications To Achieve Full Range Of Tension
To write a list of exercise modifications and pairings would take far too long. And I doubt you'd read it. But here are some other considerations for popular exercises.
The bench press, leg press, and hack squat are all exercises that could be modified to improve full range tension in two ways:
- Stopping just shy of full lockout (that doesn't mean a partial rep).
- Using resistance bands to increase the challenge on the target muscle(s) at the appropriate point, ie at the top of the rep, near lockout.
These modifications potentially make the exercises better for hypertrophy. But that doesn't mean you need to band EVERYTHING and turn your gym into a sex dungeon. As mentioned previously, you can pair exercises together to ensure muscles are trained through a full range. Here's a few pairing examples to help you on your way.
- Squats and Leg Extensions.
- Leg extensions provide a greater challenge in the fully shortened position.
- Romanian Deadlift and Seated Leg Curls.
- Leg curls provide a greater challenge in the fully shortened position.
- Bench Press and Machine Pec Fly.
- Machine Pec Fly provides a greater challenge in the fully shortened position.
The Bottom Line On Using A Full Range Of Tension
Shifting your mindset to consider a Full Range Of Tension will help you build more muscle. By creating maximum tension on the target muscle(s) while working in the greatest range possible for a given exercise, you get the maximise training stimulus for hypertrophy.
The goal with any hypertrophy training programme is to make the muscle(s) work as hard as possible through their full contractile range.
Focusing solely on range of motion or tension is likely to limit results to some degree. Instead, take the best of both worlds and apply logic to the exercises you've selected. Assess and adopt a full range of tension for each exercise. And, where range of motion is limited, compliment it with an appropriate exercise. Alternatively, switch the exercise altogether.
Because remember, you may be able to move through a full range of motion, but if there's no tension, it's meaningless.
Here's What To Do Next If You Want More Help To Achieve Your Fitness Goals
After reading this article, you might be looking for help in transforming your physique.
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