Whether you’re training to build your muscle strength, your resistance, or to lose weight, going through the full range of motion of your exercises is fundamental if you want your workouts to be 100% effective. Your range of motion and your overall flexibility go hand in hand, and it’s something that you might need to improve when working towards a fitness goal since you want to make sure you’re hitting your muscles correctly. If your range of motion is too constricted, you won’t give the target muscles the burn that they need, and you can accidentally recruit other muscles instead to do the work. Fortunately, this is something that can be improved over time to get closer to your goals, and we’ll show you exactly how you can do it. But first, let’s talk a little bit more about the importance of having a good range of motion...
Why range of motion is important
Range of motion (ROM) refers to how far your joints and muscles can move around and stretch without feeling discomfort or pain. This looks different for everyone, for example, a dancer will normally have a greater range of motion to perform their movements than someone who only does light exercise such as jogging. Some people are naturally more flexible than others, but that doesn’t mean that those with less flexibility can’t improve their active range of motion. It doesn’t matter what kind of lifestyle you have, increasing your ROM and overall flexibility can benefit you in many ways, especially if you exercise regularly!
Going through the full range of motion is an important exercise technique and it’s what helps you give your muscles that burn that makes them grow bigger and stronger. Increasing your range of motion will help you perform your exercises effectively while also decreasing the pain and discomfort that your joints and muscles feel when moving around and stretching your body. This is particularly common among beginners since they’re usually not flexible enough to go through the full range of motion of a lot of exercises, breaking form and sometimes even hurting themselves in the process, which is why working on improving your range of motion is so important when leading an active lifestyle. It also helps improve your balance and posture, since you’re more comfortable getting into the correct positions for your exercises, thus improving your overall form. And it’s also great for your daily life! Increasing your ROM helps you feel more active and healthy, and it allows you to do simple tasks more easily, such as picking up stuff from the floor without struggling or even buttoning up your dress from the back without any help.
Whether your range of motion is limited due to lack of exercise, past or recent injuries, or even aging, there are many ways to help you improve it. Even if you’re already a flexible person, you can always go beyond your current limit! So keep reading to learn a few ways in which you can increase your range of motion for better fitness performance and overall wellness.
Ways to increase range of motion
Range of motion is not necessarily limited to the activities that you do daily. You can be an advanced lifter looking to increase your ROM for better and more effective workout performance, or someone with a light workout schedule that wants to avoid discomfort when working out - both can benefit from improved flexibility! The key is knowing what to do and how to do it correctly, so here are a few of the most effective ways to improve range of motion for your goals:
This is probably the biggest technique for improving range of motion and overall flexibility. Stretching should be part of anyone’s routine, whether it’s before or after working out, but if you’re serious about improving your range of motion, try doing a 10-minute stretching session every day! This will help release the constant tension and stress that your muscles are put through every day, not only through exercise but daily activities too. Stretching helps lengthen and loosen your muscles and joints, allowing for greater flexibility and an increased range of motion for your workouts! The key is doing a variety of stretches that hit every muscle group without neglecting anything so that you can achieve full-body flexibility instead of it being localized because you want to be able to go through the full range of motion of your exercises, not only the part that involves your preferred muscle group.
Aside from trying a variety of different stretches, learning about the different types of stretching will help you pick the right stretches for a particular workout or activity. These are the three most effective types of stretching for improving your range of motion:
- Static stretches: This is the most popular type in which you stretch a muscle near its limit and then hold it for a moment while feeling the stretch, usually around 30 seconds. The only movement that this stretch involves is reaching for the muscle that you want to target and holding it. This is the perfect post-workout stretch to release muscle tension and avoid being stiff after your workout.
- Dynamic stretches: With this type of stretch you perform active movements while going through the full range of motion, reaching your limit, then going back and repeating. This helps loosen up your muscles and lubricate your joints as a way to prepare for an activity such as your workout, so it’s a great stretching to do before exercising.
- Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: Also known as PNF, this is a method used to improve muscle elasticity by using your body’s neurologic stretch receptors. The most popular approach to PNF stretching is the hold-relax, in which you stretch the muscle at a mild discomfort range for about 10 seconds, and then push the stretch to the range limit for about 30-60 seconds before relaxing the stretch again. This type of stretching works directly to increase your range of motion, so it’s a great technique to include in your daily stretching.
Stretching not only helps with flexibility and range of motion improvement, but it also can fix balance issues and help with upper back and lower back pain as well as joint discomfort, so it’s definitely something that you want to try regardless of your current range of motion!
Warm up and cool down properly
Now that you know that stretching is highly beneficial for increasing your range of motion, let’s talk about warming up and cooling down specifically. Your muscles are usually in a constant state of rest, even if you move a lot, they’re only slightly activated to help you get through the day. This is very different from when you’re working out because you put your muscles under a lot of stress and tension to make them grow and get stronger. Warming up before and cooling down after a workout is essential, not only to avoid injury but to be able to go above and beyond your current range of motion and increase your flexibility.
Dynamic stretching, just like we previously said, works best as a muscle warm-up. Instead of doing random dynamic movements, think about the exercises that you’ll be doing during your workout and mimic those movements when stretching. This will help you prepare for your workout by loosening up your muscles the moving in the same way that you’ll be doing later but with less added stress. Focus on going through the whole range of movement, really stretching those muscles and joints so you can perform more effectively later.
After you’re done with your workout, you need to cool down properly too. Your body needs to go back to its usual resting state and your muscles need to relax, so static stretching is the best way to help this happen. This is particularly important if you work out regularly, because you need your muscles to perform at their max level and be able to go through the whole range of movement next time you exercise, and you can’t do this if they’re stiff and tired. Do some light static stretching to release tension and help your muscles recover for your next workout if you want to improve your flexibility and reach new limits! You can also try a method called myofascial release in which you use foam rolling after your workout to release stress and tension from your muscles and improve your recovery time.
Working on your breath discipline is key when working out! Your muscles need regular oxygen to perform correctly, so you need to be able to control your breathing throughout your workout. Inhaling and exhaling too quickly can cause dizziness and muscle cramps, which interfere with your workout and don’t let you perform with good form, negatively impacting your range of motion and limiting your movements. This can also happen if you hold your breath during your workout, and it’s particularly damaging when strength training since your muscles are under a lot of stress and need oxygen to flow. Breathing correctly not only allows you to reach a greater range of motion during each exercise, but also helps you make better gains and avoid injury.
During strength training, make sure you exhale when exerting force to either lift yourself or lift your weights to help you perform the movement correctly and with power. Inhale on the way back, when your muscles are relaxing for a moment before doing another rep. For cardio, you’ll want to focus on keeping your breathing consistent but not too rushed so that the air can flow properly through your lungs. Try inhaling for two or three counts and then exhaling for the same amount of time, keeping a good rhythm!
If you want to lose weight or get bigger muscles you need to constantly work for it, right? Well, the same goes for your range of motion and flexibility. You can’t get anywhere if you don’t put in the work, so be consistent with your workouts if you want to be able to do that split squat that you’ve been finding so impossible! Exercising constantly and trying a variety of exercises will help you practice your flexibility and allow your muscles and joints to reach greater ranges of motion when working out. Change doesn’t happen in a day, so don’t get discouraged if you still find it difficult to get to the deeper parts of an exercise after just a few days of trying. Just like your muscles need time and repetition to get used to new movements, they need to get used to going a little bit further too. Make sure to include both isolated and compound exercises in your routine, and try different modifications of your favorite exercises so that your body moves in a variety of planes and angles, allowing your muscles to stretch in every way possible.
Water is important in every aspect of your life, especially if you lead an active lifestyle, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it made the list! The reason why water is so important to increase your range of movement is that muscles are made up of no less than 75% water. If you stay hydrated, you’ll keep your muscles, joints, and other soft tissues flexible, which is what’s going to help you extend and contract them more easily and allow you to reach a greater range of motion when working out. Additionally, dehydration may cause muscle cramping and increase the risk of injury, keeping you from correctly performing your exercises and maintaining proper form. So make sure to stay hydrated to avoid muscle stiffness!
Don't neglect any muscle groups
Every muscle group is important, and just like you shouldn’t neglect any muscles when working out if you want to make them all stronger, you shouldn’t neglect them if you want to get more flexible either! This goes for your workouts, but for stretching exercises as well since you want to make sure you’re testing the limits of your whole body and trying to reach beyond your current range to actually improve it. If you find yourself struggling to perform a tricep curl because you can’t reach the back of your head comfortably, work on it instead of just moving onto some bicep curls instead. No one can perform every exercise perfectly at first, so take your time to work your way up to certain exercises that might be harder for you than others. A great way to do this is by doing some dynamic stretches before your workout that mimic the exercises that you struggle the most with. Taking the tricep curl as an example, you can practice stretching your shoulder and triceps by trying to reach the back of your head and going back again repeatedly until you start getting the hang of it. You can also add these movements to your daily stretching routine, and slowly but steadily you’ll start making progress toward a greater range of motion.
And there you have it! Improving your range of motion is one of the fundamental fitness aspects that you need to pay attention to if you’re serious about achieving your goals, so now you can start working on it to fully perform your favorite exercises without any discomfort. Always remember to make progress gradually instead of trying to push your muscles to the absolute limit on the first try because you can risk tearing them and causing injuries that will set you back in your fitness journey. And if you have a medical condition or an injury, ask your physical therapist for medical advice before trying any of these methods. Your body comes first, so take care of it and you’ll start seeing the results that you’ve worked so hard for!