Rein in Your Range…

…and Ramp Up Your Strength Classes

by Pamela Light, MA


Completing too large of a range of motion (ROM) is a common misstep in strength training classes. On several common moves, the target muscle is completely turned off for up to half of the full range of motion. By coaching our classes to make their movements more precise, we can keep the muscles in a working zone for the full eccentric and concentric phases of the contraction. 
With the muscle continuously turned on, participants will reach overload in fewer repetitions. They may mention that the burning sensation builds after fewer reps, but you can assure them they are now working out smarter, rather than harder. The results will speak for themselves.
Perfect your form on these common strength training moves to hugely impact the results. 

Triceps Extension

Triceps extensions, or triceps kickbacks, are the biggest culprit of having too large a ROM. Often we instructors are so busy trying to get people to keep their elbows up and relax their shoulders, who has time to worry about wild dumbbell swinging? Your class will feel the change after a few reps of reining in this ROM. 

1. In a lunge with supporting core, start with elbow lifted until the upper arm is parallel to the floor and dumbbell directly below elbow, forming a 90° angle at the joint. 
2. Straighten your arm, keeping wrist in neutral.
3. Control the return to the starting position, no farther. Repeat.

Beginning of range correct

End of range correct


End of range incorrect


Lateral Raise
The lateral raise only has a small “off” phase. Once the dumbbells move medially off the hip bones in front of the body, the deltoids are no longer engaged. By reining in that part of the movement, participants will eliminate any momentum and be able to keep straighter posture as they move.
1. Standing with soft knees and engaged core, start dumbbells parallel to one another in front of hip bones. 
2. With mostly straight, but slightly bent “active” arms, lift laterally to shoulder height, leading with the back of the hand.
3. Control as dumbbells return to hip-width, no closer. Repeat.

Beginning of range correct


End of range incorrect


End of range incorrect


Reverse Fly

Similar to the lateral raise, the reverse fly engages the posterior deltoid only until it returns directly below the shoulder, outside of the hip. The move lends itself to swinging, especially as participants fatigue, so help your class be extra vigilant at the end of ROM. This exercise is most effective when done with one arm at a time, rather than both arms simultaneously. 

1. In a lunge with supporting core (spine forward to 45°), start with dumbbell directly below shoulder, in line with hip bone. 
2. With mostly straight, but slightly bent active arm, lift laterally to shoulder height, leading with the back of the hand.
3. Control as dumbbell returns, stopping directly below the shoulder, no closer. Repeat.

Beginning of range correct


End of Range correct


End of range incorrect


Table Top / Leg Extension

For abdominal work, holding table top with the option of adding a leg extension is a great way to strengthen core muscles. Our cues on this move have to focus on activating abdominal muscles to maintain neutral spine and prevent the lower back from arching and becoming injured. Keeping the knees over the hips is just as important. As soon as our knees move in toward the body, the abdominals switch right off. 

1. Set up supine, with arms to the side, knees lifted over hips, and lower legs parallel to the floor. In this position, the femur should be completely perpendicular to the floor. Abdominals will need to be engaged just to hold this position steady. Beginners can opt to hold this position, while more advanced participants add the leg extension. 
2. Extend one leg, sliding the foot out on a plane parallel to the floor at the level of the knee, flexing abdominals tight to keep the back from lifting away from the floor. Is the “resting” knee still over the hip? Make sure it has not crept toward the torso.
3. Slide leg back to starting position, making sure both knees are still holding strong over the hip. Repeat, alternating legs.

Starting position correct


Starting position incorrect


End position correct


End position incorrect



For engaging the abdominals, nothing works better than either a full straight-armed plank or the good old “elbows ’n’ toes” position. In one of these your arms are straight, in the other you are supported by your elbows—but both can go wrong in the same way. The goal here is to statically contract abdominals. However, the second shoulders shift back or tailbones lift up, muscles go on vacation. 

1. Set up with hands or elbows directly under shoulders, feet hip-width apart. With straight legs, hold hips at the level of the shoulders. There should be a straight line that connects from the heels to the hips to the shoulders, and through the back of the head. 
2. Resist the urge to push back through hands or elbows and round the upper back. Instead pull the base of the shoulder blades back and down toward back pockets, creating space around the collarbone and keeping shoulders well away from ears. 
3. Resist the urge to lift the tailbone. Instead, flex through the front of the thigh, as if knee caps could pull into hips. 

full view plank correct


full view plank incorrect


plank shoulder position correct


plank shoulder incorrect


Plank Hips Correct


Plank Hips Incorrect


Implementing Form in Class

Walking around class and giving feedback on form will be key to success as you whip your class into shape. Hold your hand where you expect participants to end their range, allowing them to touch your hand with the weight but go no farther. Ask them if they feel the difference and be prepared to hear moaning!
Make sure to tell participants that it is better to take a break than get sloppy with form. Sitting out a few beats and then rejoining with perfect form is better than knocking out dozens of half-hearted attempts. Remind them that our time in the gym should count. Each repetition is wear and tear on the body. Done right, the body responds by becoming stronger. Done wrong, the body responds with injury. AF
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