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Whenever I try to explain the benefits of full Range Of Motion training I tell the story of how I outbenched a guy who had previously dwarfed my bench by about 70lbs, but never let the bar touch his chest. But now I want to tell you why it’s good to restrict ROM in order to lift heavier and faster, and more important, train muscle groups and strength ranges at higher intensities. Sometimes partial ROM is a tough sell, since people tend to think more is better. But compound lifts don’t have a flat power output throughout the movement, which means you can only lift an amount equal what you can handle at your weakest point. In other words, if you have weak triceps, your bench will be strongest at the bottom and weakest at the top. When you max out, your chest will only get trained to the extent that your triceps can handle it. Training full ROM will destroy your weak points, but leave your strongest points barely bruised.
Restricting ROM is nothing new, in fact it’s a cornerstone of powerlifting. Board and pin presses, box squats, rack deads, bench lockouts; all are a variation on a compound lift aiming to isolate and challenge your strong points. Training each component of the lift separately can provide great benefit overall. Let’s take the deadlift for example. If your body can support 400lbs but your grip can only handle 300, guess what, that’s what you’re going to lift. Now get a pair of straps, and you can start training with 400lbs.
Another aspect of lifting which beginners seldom take into consideration is leverage. For example, I see a lot of people come into the gym and do pull downs, bringing the pulldown-bar all the way down to the tops of their knees. Understand first that once you get below the chin, not only is your leverage is terrible but you are recruiting less muscle. And most important, in order to manage the bar between chin and knees, you would have to reduce the weight to the point where you are no longer effectively training your lats in the first part of the lift. This is why lat pull and tricep push down are performed separately! Obviously this is an exaggerated example but it illustrates a point. There are parts of a lift where you are really strong and where maximum power and leverage can be applied and others where it simply isn’t so.
Now to the juicy part where you can add some new exercises to your training sessions and beat some old PRs. Realize that these movements are a supplement to your main movements. Somedays you can focus on one of them but the majority of your training should still be full ROM. Also, make sure to train your weak spots, since partial ROM will get you stronger overall but it won’t train your weakest points.
The bench press, for many, is an untamable beast: a movement where positioning means the difference between ending up as another gym death statistic and scoring a PR. Its form is one of the hardest to master. And you aren’t dealing with the behemoth muscles that the deadlift or squat utilizes, so failure comes on faster. Well, I got the silver bullet for you, well silver plated, and you still need to get the gun yourself; this is where partial ROM training comes in. All the concerns above are put to rest so that you can get to work mastering this lift.
This is a favorite of mine because of its simplicity and effectiveness. It’s like “the deadlift of bench.” With pin press, you start at the negative, that is, with the bar resting on the safeties, an inch or so above your chest. This alone makes it harder, but the obvious advantage is that you can work on your positive form.
To get started, you must understand a bit about positioning, because that is what really makes or breaks the lift. Get your bench centered into a power rack with adjustable safeties. Set the safeties at about 2-3 inches above your chest while lying flat, it should be even less after you get your arch on. Set up the bar on the safeties, lie down on the bench and slide the bar into position. Move your feet back until the weight is on the front of your foot, heels elevated. You should feel tightness in the quads. Now grab the rack and pull yourself under, keeping your feet in the same position. This will make your legs even tighter and form a strong arch in the back. Pinch your shoulder blades together and you’re ready. This description is probably very confusing , so do watch this video [link!11]. It will take dozens of attempts to get good at bench positioning, so don’t be afraid to make several attempts before taking the weight.
Once you’ve got your position set up, play around with the bar and see where you have the most power. I recommend starting with the bar approximately above the sternum. Begin by exploding upwards. Make sure to use leg drive, by pressing with your feet until your hips come up. The pin press is very much a mental movement. Having the bar resting in front of you, it’s easy to half ass it and think it’s too heavy, but here is where you really need to harden the fuck up and explode.
The rack press is similar to the pin press in setup except that you begin from the positive. Unrack the bar just as in the regular bench, bring the bar down to the safeties, and press up. You can choose whether to deload or pause at the bottom or not, either way is good. To take full advantage of the movement, put the safeties at your sticking point and pause one second at the bottom.
Board press is almost identical to rack press except that instead of using safeties to cut ROM, you rest 2x4s on your chest. Because of this, you need two lifting partners, someone to spot the bar and someone to hold the boards. Boards simulate the role of the body in regular bench, by acting like an extension of the torso and allowing a small amount of bounce. This is a really solid movement that mimics the bench very well but lets you train different sticking points and ranges. If you don’t have any 2x4s you can use the smallest bumper plates (10lbs for example) and stack them on your chest.
Squats are tricky when it comes to cutting ROM, since most people squat too shallow anyway, but these variations should definitely be part of your swole arsenal. The easiest way to vary ROM is with box squats. First they are a great way to get perfect depth everytime. Alternately you can pick a box a bit above parallel to try and move more weight. If you have never done box squats before make sure to take the time to learn the movement, as it can be different than a regular squat. You won’t be able to cheat the reps away and half ass it since you have to touch down at a certain depth every rep. You can deload at the bottom or just touch and go. If you deload and your form sucks, you will quickly find yourself sitting with a couple hundred pounds on your back that won’t budge. So the first couple of times, make sure to get a spotter in case things go sour, otherwise just dump the bar. Most important thing here is to keep your shins pretty straight, and to have the bar be in a straight line with your heels, aka good squat form.
Same deal as rack bench, set up safeties at different heights and squat. The added benefit here is obviously safety; you don’t have to worry about failing and you can put all your focus on form and power. You can start from the safeties, as in pin press, or by unracking from the top. Make sure to maintain and practice form and explosiveness. A lot of people try to go slow and steady in an attempt to ‘work’ the muscle, but trust me, the best way to shock your muscles is by exploding with tons of weight.
The death-lift is where partial ROM is most commonly used. This is done by lifting the bar from the safeties instead of the floor. Make sure to look at our Deadlift page for technique and tips. Set up the safeties at a height ranging from a few inches off the floor to around knee height. While standing, come as close to the bar as you can. Grip the bar and squat back, striving to keep the shin perpendicular to the ground. Pull with your shoulders behind the bar, as if pulling backwards. You should adjust the safeties and train rack pulls from different heights. For lockouts, start with the safeties above the knee. A good way to incorporate this into your routine and increase your deadlift is to start with the safeties an inch below the knee and each workout move down one notch. Lift heavy with reps in the 1-5 range. At the end of the cycle, max out from the floor.
Equipment can also be used to emphasize specific ranges of motion, but since it is relatively rare outside of a powerlifting gym, we will touch on it only briefly here. Chains can be hung from the sides of the barbell to add weight progressively as you lift the bar. This is mostly used to train speed. Bands can be used in the same function, either tied around the barbell at the bottom or tied to the top of the rack. In both cases the effect is to make the lift easiest at the start and progressively harder as you continue. If you have questions on gear you can ask our resident gear freak ’185 bench’ in the forums.
I hope you found some new exercises to add to your training, but before you go balls to the walls make sure to warm up properly with full ROM movements and progressively ramp up the weight. Although it might seem like a good idea to start with your max weight on rack bench, it’s not. So I don’t sound like a broken record, read this paragraph on warming up if you haven’t already.