How Important Is Your Range of Motion

How Important Is Your Range of Motion?

How important is it to move as widely as you can?  Meaning, does it help to lengthen your stride when you are walking?  It is a good idea to keep reaching for something even if it gets a bit uncomfortable?  How about when you are doing a bicep curl?  Is it OK to stay in the comfort zone or better to make sure you are moving the weight as far as you can? 

Bulging Muscles   

Consider this:  As you may have noticed, many muscles bulge in the middle.  All you have to do is flex your bicep, and the middle will pop up.  Popeye had an exaggerated version of this (as long as spinach was involved). 

That is actually true for many of the muscles that help us move around.  These would be muscles of the arms and legs, which do a great job of getting many things done for us.  The other muscles, the ones that hold us up and/or keep our joints from slipping abound, may not be as bulgy or obvious unless you are a body builder. 

Back to the bulge in the middle of a muscle.  Bulging in the middle means that muscles thin out as they get closer to where they attach to your bone.  This gives bodies some ease of movement.  Too much muscle all over the place would get in the way.

As a result, when you go to the end of a movement, you will not be able to generate as much strength. 

You may find that, if you are at the gym doing some strength training, it is tempting to stick with the middle section of the movement because it is more comfortable.  You can also lift more weight doing that.  If you are super focused, you may notice this happening in your day-to-day life when you do things.  Lifting groceries comes to mind. 

Tips regarding range of motion

As you might expect, exercise scientists have studied this kind of thing endlessly.  The result? 

  • You can still get a lot of benefit from strength training (or using) the middle of a range of motion.  
  • Even so, it is a great idea to do your strength training in the fullest range possible.  You can also focus on this in an exercise class, or doing things during the day.  Otherwise, you can start to get chronically shortened muscles that can affect your posture and what you can do in general. 
  • Since you can lift less weight at the end of your range of motion, you need to adjust for that so that you don’t hurt yourself. 
  • If the end of your range is painful, or kind of uncomfortable, you need to back off.  You can approach it later more gently. 
  • Stretching is a fantastic way to keep your range of motion up to speed.  Sometimes stretching is overlooked because it seems tedious, time consuming, or even boring.  Holding a stretch for the recommended 20-30 seconds can seem like a drag, especially if you want to move on to other things. BUT you could think of it as a time to relax and do something good for your muscles.  You will also find out what’s stiff and needs a bit more TLC.  More TLC means stretching more often, warming up with easy, wide movements, or even using a foam roller. It also means getting up and about more often if you tend to sit a lot.    
  • One last thing.  You do not need to lengthen your stride artificially when walking or running.  This can cause injury to your knees, shins, hamstrings or calf muscles.  Just walking or running consistently will help you improve.  As mentioned above, so will stretching, using large movements to warm up, and using a foam roller.    

So is it “go big or go home?” Not necessarily.  You can get a lot of benefit from moving around and/or doing some strength training in a range of motion that is comfortable for you.  Having said that, it is also beneficial to keep your muscles strong and long.  Doing so can keep you moving better, in better posture, and help to stave off injury if you take a sudden move that lengthens your muscle beyond what it is used to.     


© 2024 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Ljupco | iStock

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