Training Weak Points and End Range Strength

By on September 1, 2020

In the last post, I talked about how you could become stronger by becoming more efficient; by learning to engage more muscle fiber in any given muscle, but also by learning to use muscles in conjunction – particularly from a standing position. This is actually what translates to real, usable strength.

I gave the example of trying to push a wall with one hand while standing in front of it. You can only push as hard as the weakest link allows. No matter how strong your pecs are, if pushing the wall is going to bend you backward, then you won’t be able to use all of that power. Thus, pushing someone in real life, blocking a strike, or even opening a heavy door becomes a full-body movement that is as much about core stability as it is the primary working muscle.

Strength at end range

But there’s another aspect to this. And that’s building up strength by targeting those points in the range of motion where we are weakest – particularly “end range strength.” This refers to the amount of strength you’re able to call upon when you’re at or near the eROM: End Range of Motion. This is a way to tap into huge reserves of potential strength, overcome sticking points in your lifts, AND to drastically increase mobility.

What is End Range of Motion?

If you raise your leg directly in front of you right now as high as you can, you will reach a point where no amount of effort is going to raise that foot any higher. This is your “end range of motion.” It is literally the point where your active mobility ends. You may be able to get your leg higher by swinging it (dynamic flexibility) or by pushing it against a railing (passive flexibility) but you can’t get there off your own steam.

eROM - End Range of Motion

This is partly due to tightness in the antagonist muscle that causes you to seize up as you try to go further. But it also comes down to a lack of strength in the working muscle at that range of motion.

This comes from the fact that you simply don’t spend much time there, and you certainly don’t spend much time exerting force in that position. Moreover, the muscle is naturally at its weakest in both its most elongated state, and its shortest state. This is why most muscles group maintain a little bit of tension – called tonus – even when they aren’t under any load. This keeps them in a stronger position ready to “fire off” at a moment’s notice. It’s also why dropping too low into a countermovement jump could actually be counterproductive. A counterproductive jump then.

Take your hand now and place it on your raised leg. Try to push your hand up in the air. You’ll find you’re exerting barely any strength. This is partly why you can’t kick higher or perform certain yoga movements, and it certainly robs some of the strength from your kicks.

End range strength training

This is why training “end range strength” is a big focus when it comes to mobility and certain calisthenics moves. Instead of passively forcing yourself into positions, you should work on exerting strength in those end ranges in order to control them and eventually be able to move further.

This may also prevent injury as you strengthen yourself in the positions where you are normally most vulnerable. This becomes especially important if you plan on adding extra flexibility.

And to me, this is just a really cool thing to work on. I love seeing people exert strength in unexpected ways and positions. The reason that something like the LaLanne push up is so impressive is not only because it lengthens the levers, but also because it requires strength in a heavily stretched out position.

How to Improve eROM Strength?

So, how do you increase your end-range strength?

One simple option is to increase the range of motion on your lifts. That means reaching a full dead hang in pull ups, and it means going ass-to-grass in squats if your personal proportions allow it without too much butt-wink or rounding of the back.

Another option is to use isometric exercises at the end range. So to return to that example of raising the leg, you might try pushing against your hand once you’re as far as you can go to build more strength here. You develop more strength and that gives you the ability to raise the leg further. And thereby to develop yet more strength!

Overcoming Isometrics At End Range

Here’s another one to try for shoulder mobility: stand by a wall with your arms stretched overhead. Now try to move your arms backward to push the backs of your hands into that wall as much as possible. You can also try lifting (very light) weights using this range of motion while lying on the ground face-down.

This is similar to the “Passive End Range Holds” which involve going from a passive stretch to an active hold: you move yourself into a stretched position and then let go, then try to keep yourself in that position or as close as possible using active strength.

Lift-offs are similar, and involve getting yourself into a stretched position with assistance and then trying to “lift off” to achieve that last bit of ROM through your own effort. I believe these concepts come from the Functional Range Conditioning system.

Shoulder mobility is something I’m working on right now as, as many of you have correctly pointed out, a lacking shoulder mobility is actually holding me back in my handstand progressions as of right now.

Resistance Band Training

Another option is of course to add in resistance bands. Positioned correctly, these will actually add increasing resistance as you reach the greater ranges of motion. You could call this “unaccommodating resistance.” Cables are useful as they provide equal resistance throughout the movement.

Or try leaning into the doorframe with an overhead grip then raising just one hand more and moving it around to develop that “end range control.”

Grant made a video recently on how to improve kicks which discusses this in more depth featuring a guest spot from Andre Victorian from Flextheory. In short: mobility is about strength and control as much as it is flexibility. I also recommend watching Tom Merrick’s video titled “Overhead Shoulder Mobility Routine (BETTER HANDSTANDS).”

It also means incorporating more exercises that include a slight stretch. A good example is the Cossack squat, which has you drop into a deep side lunge with a weight that will help get you even further.

Generally, all this means that you’re going to be working with lighter weights while slowing the movements right down. And this will help you to address additional weak points too…

Why Range of Motion Matters

When you move a weight during any given exercise, you will move through a particular range of motion. During a bicep curl for example, you will move from perhaps a 170 degree joint angle at the bicep to maybe 30 degrees.

(In a multi-joint movement, multiple joints will move through a variety of angles throughout the movement.)

But while you might have a range of motion of around 156 degrees in a curl, that doesn’t mean you are necessarily working equally throughout that movement. This is where the “strength curve” comes in.

At the bottom of the bicep curl, you’ll need to pull against the weight, to move it upward but there’s not much of an isometric contraction as the arm is now freely hanging. As you move it upward, the angle of resistance changes slightly as the bicep shortens. At the apex of the movement, the bicep gets to rest somewhat as the elbow joint is able to support some of that weight.

Bicep curl range of motion

What’s more, is that the momentum will further help with this movement such that your initial contraction will help to “carry” the weight some of the way. There are portions even mid-way through the movement that don’t work that hard. This is particularly true in the squat, for example.

What does this mean? It means that you aren’t challenging the muscle equally through the entire range of motion. With time, this can result in weaknesses.

Light Weights and Quasi-Isometrics to the Rescue!

These issues are significantly compounded when we use heavy weights. In order to move a weight that is too heavy for us, we will often cheat by providing extra momentum. The exercise becomes almost plyometric in nature as we heave the weight to propel it and then simply guide the weight through the movement.

Slow eccentrics can help to combat this. But in order to gain maximum control through the movement, we should also practice slow concentric. This will increase fine control over the muscle, as well as giving us more strength in those awkward sticking points.

To do this, we need to use lighter weights. This is where extremely slow movements using light weights can provide tremendous benefit, especially if we spend time hanging out right where we feel weakest.

I’m not saying that there aren’t benefits to using heavy weights with explosive movements, there absolutely are. But to get the best results, we need both. That means we need to drop the ego and be happy to curl

Intermuscular Coordination

Finally, consider simply training movements where you are naturally weak instead of focussing just on the biggest and most impressive movements. That means your lateral raises but also things like side lying dumbbell external rotation that work the external rotators of the elbows. This is strength a lot of people just don’t have, but it’s useful when blocking a punch or pulling anything across your body.

Likewise, make sure you’re training things like your scapula strength and control. At the point where the arms lock out in a pressing movement, you pass the batton to the scapula protractors to continue that movement. Don’t drop the ball!

Your new mantra: no weak muscles!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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