How to Increase Range of Motion

by Evelyn Valdez

If you want to reap the most out of strength training exercises, having a good range of motion (ROM) is a must! Range of motion refers to the measurement of movement around a joint or muscle. Basically, your range of motion is how far you can move a muscle or joint when stretching or moving.

But why is it so important in strength training?

Having a limited range of motion means that you're unable to move a specific muscle or joint through its normal range. This reduces your ability to perform an exercise which can lead to ineffective results. On the other hand, moving through the full range of motion will help you lift effectively, activate more muscle fibers, and lead to better muscle-building results!

So, start improving your training performance by working on increasing your range of motion! Keep on reading to learn more about how to increase your range of motion, plus get a list of mobility exercises that will help you improve it.

Ways to increase range of motion

Important compound exercises, for example, squats and deadlifts, require a good range of motion in order to reap the benefits. Neglecting to go deeper on your squats will only hold you back from maximizing your lower body gains. But not to worry, follow our tips below so you can start improving on your ROM!

Don't overdo it

When it comes to doing anything, you always want to start slow. Let's say you're already performing barbell back squats with decent form, but you want to work on going deeper. Take a step back and start by doing deep bodyweight squats or dumbbell squats. Don't jump in and try to deep squat with the weight you're already squatting with, you'll possibly injure yourself!

Always take it slow, so if you're already lifting heavy, but you want to work on your ROM – take a step back and lighten the load. Increasing ROM and improving flexibility takes time, rushing will only increase your risk of an injury.

Don't forget to cool down

Everyone knows how important warming up is and takes the time to do it, but warming up won't necessarily make you more flexible... it'll simply prepare you for exercise. To truly improve your flexibility and range of motion, take the time to stretch after your workout.

Implementing static stretches after your workout will help your body go back to its usual resting state and release the tension in your muscles so they can recover. Foam rolling is also another great way to release stress and tension from your muscles.

Another great time to stretch is before bed! Stretching helps increase muscular length, so doing it before bed will be the last thing your nervous system remembers before going to bed. Sleep is also when your body is in repair mode, meaning your muscles and tissues are healing in an elongated position.

Stretch every major muscle group and joint

This one is similar to the tip above and should already be a given – but remember to stretch! Stretching at least 10 minutes a day will help lengthen and loosen your muscles and joints which promotes greater flexibility and an increased range of motion.

To ensure you're stretching properly make sure you're hitting every major muscle group and joint. For your warm-ups focus on the body part you'll be working on, but after your workouts stretch your entire body so that you achieve full-body flexibility. And make sure to incorporate a wide range of stretches and mobility exercises, both are the key to increasing your range of motion!

There are two main types of stretches – static and dynamic. Static stretching is the one most are familiar with, it involves stretching a muscle near its limit and holding it for 30 seconds or more. This helps release muscle tension to avoid stiffness post-workout. Examples of static stretches are the standing hamstring stretch, triceps stretch, pigeon pose, etc. Dynamic stretching involves performing active movements that make you move through the full range of motion. This type of stretching is better before a workout because it helps loosen up the muscles and joints to prepare them for movement. Examples of dynamic stretches are deep bodyweight squats, leg swings, bodyweight glute bridges, etc.

Be consistent

Just like with working out, be consistent! Not only with your stretches, but be consistent when practicing your range of motion on exercises. For example, if you're working on going deeper on your squats, consistently practice squatting lower and lower as the weeks go by. Being consistent with the exercises you're working on and stretching will help your muscles and joints reach greater ranges of motion as time goes by. Aside from that, try different modifications and variations of the exercises you're working on improving to help your muscles move and stretch in a variety of planes and angles.

Learn how to breathe correctly

Many may not think this is important when it comes to range of motion, but it is. Maintaining control of your breath is important when performing an exercise because inhaling and exhaling too quickly can cause dizziness and even muscle cramps. This will interfere with your form, limit your movements, and negatively impact your range of motion. The same can happen when you hold your breath!

To breathe correctly while lifting weights, make sure you're exhaling when exerting force while lifting the weight then inhale on the way back as you're preparing for your next rep. This will help ensure that you're performing the movement correctly, with power, and to the best of your abilities.

Mobility exercises to help increase range of motion

Follow our tips above, implement the right stretches and exercises, and you'll be on the right path to increasing your range of motion!

As we mentioned earlier, static and dynamic stretches will help improve ROM but take it a step further by including a few mobility exercises. Mobility exercises are similar to dynamic stretches in that they involve moving the joint through its entire range of motion, this, in turn, will help increase ROM and flexibility.

Here is a list of the best range of motion exercises that you can do on an active recovery day or rest day!

Banded ankle distraction

The ankles play a big role in squats and any exercise that involves a hip hinge or bend at the knee, so improving its mobility is a must. Fortunately, this exercise is the best for ankle dorsiflexion mobility – all you need is a long resistance band!

How to do it: 

  1. Tie one end of the long resistance band to a pole or the bottom of a power rack (or anything sturdy) so that the band stays in place.
  2. Position one foot inside the band so that it goes around your ankle joint, resting on top of your foot. Place your banded foot at a comfortable distance so that the band has enough tension and step the foot up a box or a bench.
  3. Begin the movement by bringing your knee as forward as you can without raising your heel, hold for a few seconds, then go back and repeat.
  4. Switch legs and do it again with the other foot.

Hip activation

Your hips are used in a lot of lower body exercises, so having tight hips is not ideal on leg day (or any day)! To keep your hips active and moving through their full range of motion try this hip activation exercise before your lower body workout – it will also improve muscle activation in your glutes!

How to do it:

  1. Start in a tabletop position so that you're on all fours with your knees below your hips and hands below your shoulders.
  2. Flex your hip forward so that it brings your knee forward, then slowly rotate it out to the side. Lastly, extend it backward before returning to the starting position.
  3. Do 5 controlled reps in one direction, then 5 reps moving backward to forward.
  4. Switch legs and repeat on the opposite hip.

Shoulder pass-through

The shoulders are used in almost every important lift making it crucial to improve the joint's ROM. This shoulder exercise will help warm up your joint before the workout to help improve your form. You will be needing a long resistance band for this exercise, or you can use a broomstick or PVC pipe as well.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and hold a long band parallels to the floor using a wide overhand grip.
  2. Maintaining your arms straight, begin to slowly raise the band above your head, making sure to keep your core tight.
  3. Bring the band behind your head as far as you're able to. Hold for a moment, and return to the starting position.

Spine circle

This mobility exercise is very similar to the cat-cow yoga pose, except it moves your spine through its entire range of motion while also activating the muscles that support spinal function.

How to do it:

  1. Start in a table-top position with your knees below your hips and hands below your shoulders.
  2. Arch your back as much as possible and hold this position while you bend to one side as if you're bringing your shoulder toward your hip. Pause to feel the stretch.
  3. Begin to round your back like a cat, then arch and bend toward the other side. Pause again to feel the stretch.
  4. Return to the starting position. That is one rep. Do 5 controlled reps in each direction.

Standing spine rotation

This is another great exercise for your spine, except it focuses on spinal rotation. This is important because most don't get enough rotational movement in their workouts or day-to-day lives.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lean forward, pushing your hips back. Make sure that your back is flat and your spine is neutral.
  2. Lift both of your arms out to the sides, engage your core, and then rotate your entire spine in one direction as far as possible. Hold that for five seconds.
  3. Begin to rotate your entire spine in the opposite direction and hold for five seconds.

Reverse snow angel

As mentioned earlier, the shoulder is a delicate joint, especially the rotator cuff muscles. This range of motion exercise activates and stretches not only your shoulder blades but also your rotator cuff muscles!

How to do it:

  1. Lie facing down with your legs close together and hands by your sides with palms facing up.
  2. Keeping your elbows straight, begin to extend your shoulders up as high as possible.
  3. Bring them back down and bend both of your elbows, then try to touch your opposite shoulder blades.
  4. Straighten your elbows while keeping the shoulders extended upward, and rotate your palms down to the ground then slowly move your arms out to the sides and overhead. This should look like a snow angel motion.
  5. Reverse the movement by slowly moving your arms back to your sides and rotating your palms upward.

Start improving your exercise performance by increasing your range of motion

All of this will help you on your journey to increasing your range of motion, improving your ability to perform important exercises, and most importantly, achieving the muscle and strength-building results you deserve!

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