What is Range of Motion and How Does it Improve Your Workouts?

woman using mobility stick for shoulders

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Range of motion (ROM), in technical terms, is the measurement of the movement around a joint or body part. So when you are stretching or moving a body part, such as a muscle or joint, your range of motion is how far you can move it. These measurements will differ for each person, but there are ideal ranges of motion you should be able to obtain for optimal functioning, especially during your workouts.

If you have a limited range of motion, that means you cannot move a specific body part or a joint through its normal range. There are many reasons why this can occur, including issues with your joints, swelling around the joints, stiffness, and pain. These symptoms can be due to injuries, infections, or certain conditions such as arthritis or brain, nerve, or muscle disorders.

However, for many people, a mild to moderate reduction of range of motion can be due to a sedentary lifestyle or a lack of proper mobility work.

Exercising within your full range of motion can improve your results and increase your ability to perform an activity to your best ability. Specifically for many resistance training exercises, completing the lift with the proper and full range of motion is essential for lifting safely and effectively.

Passive vs. Active Range of Motion

Passive ROM happens around a joint that you are not moving. It is moved by something or someone else. Active ROM occurs when you are moving your body part yourself. This article addresses active range of motion.

Importance of Improving Range of Motion

Improving your range of motion can improve your performance during workouts and sports but can also increase your ability to function during daily living.

"Improving range of motion allows for the muscles in question to work at longer lengths, which in turn allows you to build better strength and likely result in feelings of less tension. By having a stronger muscle that is capable of contracting efficiently through larger ranges of motion, you may be prone to less injury," says physical therapist Dr. Laeda Malek.

Improving Range of Motion for Workouts

Range of motion limitations can inhibit your ability to perform many strength training exercises properly and can inhibit your performance as well. For instance, not being able to get below parallel during a squat or lift a barbell over your head with your shoulders fully protracted can not only interfere with your ability to gain strength or muscle but can also lead to injuries.

There are over 250 joints in your body that move from extension to flexion and are responsible for all of your body's movements. These include your ankles, hips, elbows, knees, and shoulders. Tightness in your hips and ankles can decrease your range of motion during a squat, which will then limit your ability to fully work the muscles involved.

Both your form and your strength potential will be limited and suffer due to an inadequate range of motion. When your form suffers, pain and injures can result. Increasing range of motion can be done through mobility work. Mobility exercises go beyond simple stretching to increase the safe ranges your body can move.

Improving Range of Motion for Daily Living

Whatever type of training you are doing, whether it is cardiovascular, strength, or mobility work, you are actively increasing your ability to also perform well and feel good during your daily activities. Much of what determines independent aging and optimal functioning depends on physical ability.

Decreased range of motion and poor mobility can hinder everything from lifting groceries or your suitcase to shoveling the driveway or raking leaves. With an increasingly limited range of motion, you may experience pain or tightness when reaching down to tie your shoes or lifting your shirt over your head.

Making sure to maintain a healthy range of motion in your joints can improve your quality of life and your ability to care for yourself and others throughout your life.

Mobility Work for Better Range of Motion

Mobility refers to a joint’s ability to move through its range of motion. If mobility is good, moving through the range of motion happens with ease and without pain. On the other hand, poor mobility can cause you to experience tightness or pain when trying to go through the joint’s range of motion.

A lack of movement or repetitive movement in a less-than-ideal way can negatively impact your mobility. However, improving your range of motion to have good mobility is trainable. In other words, practicing mobility exercises consistently can increase your range of motion and the ease with which you can perform these movements.

Working on your mobility in a targeted way, right before a workout, can improve your ability to function during that particular training session. Synovial fluid, or the fluid around your joints, can increase with direct mobility work, providing additional lubrication and ease of movement for your joints, reducing friction and the chances of pain or stiffness.

For instance, if you've been sitting all day, your hips, ankles, and shoulders are likely stiff and tight. Spending some time before your session working on your mobility can increase your range of motion and ease of movement to enable better performance and decreased risk of injury.

Full Body Mobility Exercises

There are several dozen mobility exercises that can improve the range of motion for different joints. Provided here are some of the best mobility exercises that address each area of the body. Try the ones that you need the most help with or, perform them all as part of a warm-up before your workout. You can use bodyweight or light weight for some exercises.

Safety and Precautions

Never push past discomfort into pain when working on your range of motion with mobility work. As well, be sure to properly warm up your body with some light cardiovascular work for 5 to 10 minutes before performing mobility work. This helps with the circulation of nutrients and oxygen in your blood to nourish your muscles and increases synovial fluid in the joints for better movement.

If you are experiencing pain or pinching, snapping, or other discomforts during your daily life, workouts, or mobility sessions, it's important to seek the care of a physiotherapist or other medical professional.

"Anytime you feel your ROM is limited by pain, excessive or sudden soreness, or if you feel like there is any clicking, catching, or locking in the joint that hinders its range (i.e., knees), it would be a good idea to check in with a physical therapist. Additionally, any sudden losses or ROM with no real mechanism are also a cause to check in with someone. On the flip side, if you notice sudden, new/uncomfortable gains in range of motion or feelings of episodes of a joint feeling unstable, it would also be good to see someone," says Malek. 

A Word From Verywell

Specifically addressing your range of motion can be accomplished through mobility work and will make a significant impact on your training and daily functioning. Being able to move through broader ranges of motion without pain or limitations can lead to greater muscle recruitment and better results from your workouts. It's also vital for preventing injuries and increased dysfunction.

Practice mobility training each week consistently for the best results and if you have any pain or limitations that interfere with your ability to train or function normally, be sure to see a physical therapist for help.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.