When it comes to working out, making the most of the gym is key. But, knowing how to make each exercise count is just as important. It all comes down to knowing your angles. Reaching a full range of motion on every exercise you perform helps ensure that you’re targeting the correct muscles, and helps prevent unnecessary strain and injury. If you’re looking to gain strength, hitting a full range and really working those angles are key.
A study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that after 12 weeks of training, people who trained with a greater range of motion—in this case, going deeper on squats and other leg exercises—improved muscle size and strength more than those who didn’t. Lean into your fitness routine with these training tips to reach a full range of motion and get the most out of every movement while staying safe.
Targets: chest, shoulders
Push-ups are one of the most effective upper-body strength training exercises that Tom Holland, CSCS, exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym, says is often done incorrectly. “When it comes to angles, one major mistake people make is not fully extending their arms at the top of the movement, making it more of a ‘pulse’ than a true push-up,” he says. “These ‘half-reps’ are oftentimes the result of a focus on quantity, rather than quality.”
The next time you go to do this bodyweight movement, bend your elbows and lower your torso. Make sure that it’s no more than one inch off the ground before pressing back up.
Targets: biceps, deltoids
Curls train mirror muscles, but building true biceps strength is dependent on reaching full extension, not just getting a pump. “While full extension at the bottom of the repetition is not necessary, oftentimes biceps curls are performed through a limited range of motion,” Holland says. “The major muscle damage (a good thing) occurs during the eccentric or lowering phase of the repetition. Thus by going lower, you’ll reap greater rewards.”
Targets: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes
“Similar to the push-up, step-ups are often stopped before the full extension of the leg, decreasing the muscle activation and effectiveness,” Holland says. Make sure to stand up tall, with your feet together, at the top of the movement. Don’t rush through the motion and, if you’re using weights, make sure that they’re not a limiting factor.
Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows
Targets: back, shoulders, traps, biceps
When it comes to bent-over dumbbell rows, the angle is key to targeting the correct muscle groups. “This exercise is one where the muscles in the back (the lats) aren’t recruited fully due to the weight not being raised high enough towards the body,” Holland says. “Rounding your back or using weights that are too heavy can turn this into more of an arm exercise instead of one that targets the back.”
When it comes to form, keep a slight bend in your knees and hinge at the waist. Make sure that your back is straight throughout the movement, and squeeze your lats at the top of each rep.
Targets: obliques, core
Going a little further on an oblique twist can make a real difference when it comes to carving your core. Instead of stopping the movement with a tiny twist, aim to bring your elbow outside of your knee on every rep. “Extending your range of motion on the twist allows you to squeeze through the side obliques, as well as engaging upper and lower abs,” says Aaptiv Trainer Ceasar Barajas. “Just remember to do this movement slowly and controlled,” he adds. “Moving too quickly can tweak the back in an uncomfortable way.”
Targets: chest, shoulders, back
When it comes to the bench press, lower isn’t always better. “Whether you’re using a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebell, try to avoid bending your arms past 90 degrees when lowering the weights to your chest,” Barajas says. “Keep your elbows pointed down and at about a 45-degree angle from your ribcage. This will help to prevent undue stress to the shoulders, especially as you progress to heavier weight.”
Angle is everything when it comes to these moves. As you work through your next strength training routine, pay attention to your form and your range of motion. Don’t sell your workout short by not fully leaning into any of your movements.