Bodybuilding- Is performing strict reps through full range of motion best for size?

I’ve been working out with weights for almost a couple of decades now and I’ve always followed the standard advice of using strict form and full range of motion (except maybe cheating on the last rep or two on some sets) for getting the best results and of course for keeping injuries at bay.

Is this really best for maximum size gains, though? I realize of course partial reps have there place, but I’m wondering if maybe using a little more momentum and not going through the full range of motion would be best for gains on a regular basis.

The reason I ask, is that I’ve watched several workout videos by pro level bodybuilders and they almost never workout in the strict form that the magazines that they’re regularly featured in recommend month after month, year after year.

It also makes sense that during certain exercises you don’t wear out body parts that you’re not focused on. For instance, on seated pulley rows and pulldowns, I do feel like I’m hitting my arms more than my lats if I work out relatively strict (not too strict or slow).

Here are some examples of Ronnie Coleman working out using partial reps, un-strict form and using momentum to help him get through every rep. It’s not just him; I have videos (not on YouTube) of many other pro level bodybuilders working out pretty much the same way.
back exercises- 0:35 - 0:55
shoulders- 1:22 - 1:44
pulldowns- 2:45 - 2:50

There’s two types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic.

Aerobic exercise’s goal is to maintain an increased heart rate for a relatively long period of time (20-30 minutes) several times a week (usually 3-5). This results in cardiovascular fitness, and all the good stuff associated with general exercise.

Anaerobic exercise’s goal is to trigger muscle failure. When you achieve muscle failure, your body automatically increases size and strength in anticipation that you will need the extra muscle to do whatever it is you’re doing. Usually, heart rate is low, and exercise is once per week. Rest is a key component to building bulk. When bodybuilders exercise, they aren’t doing the same exercises every day. They work different muscle groups, achieving muscle failure, but letting them rest. So, they work the arms/chest on Monday, the abdomen Wednesday, the legs Friday, and cardio on the off days.

The biggest mistake people make when trying to build bulk is that they don’t maintain consistent muscle failure. If you are getting it after X reps with Y weight, the next week you have to do X-1 reps with Y+1 weight. If you don’t, then your anaerobic program turns into an aerobic program, and you stop building bulk.

My friend (a former physical trainer) adds that you have two types of muscles in your body: large and small. If you only focus on the large, you won’t add strength. You have to train the small muscles along with the big muscles, otherwise, the big muscles will plateau without support from the small muscles.

Superhal, did you see that my OP was about bodybuilding so you just decided to post random bodybuilding information, or did you misunderstand what I’m asking?

I don’t know much about body building, but I know a little bit about muscles. The muscle I believe has different levels of strain on different parts of the muscle depending on what kind of rep you are doing. So I am not sure that there would be an obvious answer to your question as you can sculpt a muscle by focusing in certain ways. So I think if you are at this point of body-building you want to look into the sculpting techniques rather than just focus on size. That I really know nothing about. I am just offering a guess. Take it for what it’s worth, if anything.

This is not an issue of aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise, and I can only assume Superhal didn’t actually read the OP’s post.

What the OP wants is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (wikipedia). Muscles are extraordinarily complex and there’s tons of stuff to read about these subjects, but the short and simple answer is to work out in the 8-12 rep range with enough weight to approach failure towards the last rep. Using more weight and being unable to proceed past approximately 5 reps causes more myofibrillated hypertrophy which essentially increases strength more than it does size, which is not what most bodybuilders are necessarily shooting for.

However, what you asked about specifically is range of motion and strict reps. I am not a certified expert on this, nor am I anywhere near approaching Ronnie’s level of training, but: Full range of motion causes more muscle groups to be stimulated, which leads to more overall growth. This is generally good and recommended for the average person who just wants to improve their overall appearance, however stage bodybuilders compete on very demanding criteria and are instead trying to achieve a specific shape. You can’t shape or sculpt an individual muscle, they simply get bigger or smaller, but you can focus your training more on specific muscles so that they grow to a greater degree than their neighbors, giving the overall appearance of the desired shape. For example, the biceps consist of two bundles of muscle, both of which typically get worked out in a full rep, but limiting the range of motion can allow you to target only one head.

As for “cheat” reps/non-strict form, I think this is counter-intuitive to the half rep. This causes much more of your body to be used to stabilize the muscle being worked out, which translates to more overall stress (good for increasing metabolism and overall growth), but it takes some of the work away from the muscle you’re actually trying to work out. Unless, of course, you’re only cheating during the initial part of a rep to get the body part into the right position to focus solely on a single muscle during the relevant portion of the repetition… sounds kind of complicated the more I think about it now.

Wow. I’ve been doing weight training for about 25 years and have had some personal training, including advice from a competitive amateur bodybuilder. I’m not an expert but when I see people at the gym using form like Coleman I think they don’t know what they’re doing. I suspect that he has very specific goals in mind and is getting excellent advice on using this form, and then people see it (and people like him) and imitate it, but they are not him and are probably not getting the results they could.

I have never understood how muscle strength and muscle size can be independent (in the same person). Any explanation for this?

Follow-up on [cc]'s quote about myofibrillated hypertrophy: is that at all good for the body, or is it to be avoided? I’m doing some workouts to burn fat and shape up some, but I wouldn’t mind aiming more for strength than a bodybuilding figure. Is MH something to work with or be avoided?

The problem here is that you are, in essence, comparing yourself (an average person) with the genetically super-elite. Ronnie Coleman [list=a][li]is very likely to be using anabolic steroids, and is going to grow almost no matter what he does, correct or otherwise.[/list][/li]As a general rule, the guy you want to ask for training advice is not the winner of the contest - it is the guy who does everything right and finshes fifth for three years straight. Especially if he used to finish tenth. That’s the guy who is most likely to know how to get the most from an average genetic endowment.

As to your specific question, there are two ways to increase the apparent size of a muscle. One is to increase the thickness of the muscle fibers, and the sarcoplasmic volume. For most people, this is best accomplished with strict form and 4-6 sets of 6-8 reps per set. The strict form is to focus the effort on the muscle being worked, not other muscles. Cheat barbell curls, for instance, move some of the stress of the exercise to the lower back. It is possible to cheat a little, and still focus on the muscle being worked, if you cheat the weight thru the sticking point only and/or do the negative part of the rep very slowly. Be aware that negative reps are much more prone to creating micro-trauma within the muscle, and therefore lead to over-training much more than standard reps.

The other way of increasing muscle size is pumping the muscle up. This increases the size of the capillaries and veins within the muscle, and thus making it look bigger. This kind of pumping has almost no effect on strength. These are the sort of sets you can do a less-than-full-range of movement, and go to failure. It takes only a relatively light weight, and cramping movements make it easier to overcome the circulatory capacity of a given muscle, which is what produces the pump.


[cc] You are saying you cannot sculpt within an individual muscle. This goes against what I was saying, but I am not attached to it, I was just speculating, I don’t mind being wrong. But what about muscles that have various actions and ranges and can be activated partially like upper trapezius, or Pec Major with its sternal and clavicular fibers?

So does doing multiple sets make sense, or should you just do 8-12 and boom you’re done?

Heavier weights with less repetition will increase strength, but not stamina. Studies have shown that two sets of 8-12 are better than one set, and three sets are better than two, but that two is optimal; viz., the third set is beneficial, but the benefits decline with sets after two.

One can become stronger without bulking up muscles by enabling the body to recruit more nerve fibers so that more muscles cells within a muscle become activated.

Full range of motion is necessary to avoid loss of flexibility.

To increase size you need to add heavier weights. You do this even at the expense of cheating on form. Once you get the size you then concentrate on lighter weights and more reps to “sculpt” the muscle to the form you want it.

In general it’s heavier weights, low reps to build size, THEN use high reps and lighter reps to sculpt. Also this is where free weights come in. To do serious sculpting you will eventually have to do freeweights. You can get buy and have nice muscles without them, I do and I don’t use them but for “perfection” you’ll need to use them

I think we have had this disagreement/discussion in the past.

It is not possible to change the shape of a muscle. You can make it larger, but nothing short of surgery will change the shape. IOW, if you want a peak on your biceps, all the preacher bench curls in the world will not bring it about unless your genotype says that this is how it is shaped. If you have lats that attach higher up on your back and give you that “short back” look, all the pull-downs and stretching in the world will not cause them to attach any lower.

[ul][li]You cannot shape a muscle.[]You cannot spot-reduce fat.[]High reps do not build definition. []You cannot create new muscle fibers - you are born with all that you will ever have.[]You cannot change your genes.[/ul][/li]Regards,

How would one workout to maximize this sort of functionality? I could care less about bulking up, but I wouldn’t mind having better strength and muscle control.

I’m sorry, but this is wrong in several ways. And I don’t mean to just pick on you, because there is a lot of bad, wrong information in this thread. You just happened to be the last commentator.

First, no such thing as “sculpting.” In fact, you can’t change the shape of the muscle at all other than making it bigger (or smaller through disuse).

Second, lower reps minimize size gains relative to higher reps (the exact opposite of what you said) because high reps maximize time under tension and thus also maximize non-functional hypertrophy (increases in the size of the muscle cell’s sarcoplasm rather than the actual contractile unit, the sarcomere).

OP, you’re concentrating on form and range of motion, but form and range of motion don’t matter at all when it comes to muscle growth. The focus on form is to keep beginners from injuring themselves. (Note that strict form and full range of motion increase the time under tension, and thus increase muscle gains relative to restricted range of motion; a similar time under tension with restricted range of motion will result in similar muscle growth).

High level bodybuilders cheat to get the weight up, which keeps the muscles under tension for longer than if they didn’t cheat. “Cheating” also allows the use of heavier weights, which increases muscle trauma (a good thing because the quantity of fibroblast growth factor released is proportional to the degree of muscle trauma)

This article addresses that exact question. To summarize, lots of sets with few reps of heavy weight per set.

Actually, if you want strength without size, just get involved in any powerlifting program. Not as much fun as olympic-style weightlifting (what I linked to), but easier to find gyms where you can train, and the exercises that don’t require nearly as much coaching.

Myofibrillated hypertrophy is basically “your muscles get bigger because you’re getting stronger.” If you want to get stronger, it’s one of only two ways you can go about it. (The other way is increased neural efficiency (essentially your body becomes more adept at performing a specific movement), but this is generally very movement-specific (e.g., it won’t increase your overall strength, just your ability to perform a specific motion))

To add a bit to what Evil Economist wrote: olympic lifting, gymnastics, and — oddly enough — yoga are great disciplines for muscular control and strength.

The body control you learn in gymnastics cross-applies to just about any sport, and gymnasts are weight-for-weight probably the strongest athletes in any discipline. I did gymnastics from the time I was 10 to about 13, with occasional training later. It was probably one of the best things my parents did for me. I was an unremarkable gymnast, but the proprioception focus of gymnastics work allowed me to later pick up just about any physical skill in a really short time relative to other people. I do not think I’m a particularly gifted athlete, but just about every coach or martial arts teacher I’ve worked with said that I learn more in a few sessions than most of the people they train can do with several weeks of work. I give full credit to the early gymnastics exposure.

Olympic lifters are also incredibly strong. You usually see the bulky heavyweights on TV because they put up the biggest weights, but if you look at the smaller, lighter guys, they are still putting massive amounts of weight overhead. Even the female lifters are unbelievably strong. There was a Japanese lifter who got some attention during the Olympics a couple of years back. She was in the 48 kg (105 lb.) weight class. Each of her lifts (snatch, and clean & jerk) was about double her body weight. Other than slightly larger than normal thighs, and some shoulder development, she looked small and trim.

Yoga, at least at lower levels, is more about flexibility than strength, but you have similar attention to form and body awareness that gymnasts do. The more advanced poses can be fairly strenuous as they’re essentially leveraging your body weight in a disadvantaged position. Those poses are (IMO) less practical than gymnastics movements, but have some similar benefits.

Given your user name, I’m surprised you didn’t suggest martial arts (are you a Steve Perry fan?). Something like judo would probably fit in the range between gymnastics and yoga.

I’m doing a 5X5 routine, and if I didn’t cheat a little on my barbell rows, I’d never be able to maintain steady gains. It’s just an awkward exercise for me.