If you’re new to the gym, listen up, what I’m about to share could save you a lot of pain. If you’re a more experienced person then pay attention also … you might learn something new.

No doubt training in the gym can be hard on your body. Particularly if you’ve never lifted weights, or pushed yourself to your limits.

Figuring out how your body moves, what your capabilities and limitations are requires a certain level of trial and error.

Essentially, your body becomes your own little private science experiment.

Unfortunately, your investigations can often come at a cost. Best case, a little discomfort. Worst case, more painful issues or injury.

To help people avoid the later, one of the things I teach my clients very early on is the concept of Active Range Of Motion (AROM).

For those of you who are new here, range of motion (ROM) refers to the distance that your joints travel throughout a movement. Theoretically, from joint lock-out to joint lock-out (usually not possible tho).

Let’s take a look at an example using your knee joint  …

A healthy (mobile and flexible) knee will be able to travel from a locked position (standing straight) to a bent position where your hamstrings and calves touch, (hamstrings contracted, quads stretched) then back to lock-out position again (quads contracted, hamstrings stretched).

In which case you’d say full range of motion was achieved in the knee joint.

But it’s never quite that simple.

And this is where people run into problems causing injury.

There are a few things that can have a big impact on your ROM.

First, it’s rare that only one joint is involved in a movement.

Let’s consider the squat as an obvious example.

Squatting involves movement in the ankle, knee and hip joints simultaneously. Limitation in any of the muscles controlling these 3 joints will impact your squat ROM.

Therefore, all joints in a movement should be considered, and need to function optimally for optimal ROM.

In addition, the sheer amount of muscle, (or fat) that you have will impact your range of motion.

This is usually referred to as hypertrophic restriction. Meaning just that … the muscle (or fat) cells are too big (hypertrophied) to allow full, or optimal range of motion.

Finally, and most obviously, the length and flexibility of the muscles surrounding the joint and the mobility of the joint itself (bone structure, muscles/tendons and nervous system) plays a major role in your ROM.

If you haven’t trained the joint in extreme ranges, your nervous system simply won’t allow it. And you’ll hit a point where your muscles will stop stretching, or tear apart, or off the bone.

Now you see why it’s worth paying attention.

Here’s the really important part …

All of these points contribute to what we call Active Range Of Motion.

More precisely, active range of motion refers to the available range of motion based on your personal limitations.

AROM is naturally different for everyone.

It may even vary from one day to the next because you might be suffering DOMS or muscle stiffness from an earlier workout.

Even the ambient temperature can affect your AROM. Seriously … training whilst you’re cold, as opposed to warm, will impact your muscles and joints … and therefore affect your AROM.

So the next time you join a group class, or walk onto the weights floor in your gym … by all means look to learn from the people around you … but be very careful if you’re trying to mimic their movement exactly.

Because there’s a high probability that it’s not actually possible!

Trying to push past your AROM will almost certainly result in joint compensation. Meaning, other joints not meant to be involved in the movement will compensate.

Most commonly your spine.

Usually the most obvious joint compensation will appear as a loss of posture.

Look at the two squat examples below … in the first image Unity Gym trainer Richard has great squat form and is demonstrating full ROM. We refer to this as an arse-to-grass squat.

In the next image … his spine is compensating for mobility issues in his calves and hamstrings. You’ll notice a clear loss of the nice spinal posture from the top image.

If you look closely, you’ll also notice that the barbell has travelled forwards beyond his fore-foot. This not only screws his back from a postural standpoint, but the barbell travelling forwards increases the load on his lumbar spine.

You get the point right? This is NOT the way to squat … and doing so will almost certainly lead to an injury.

Now I’m not going to go into the fine points of analysing a squat profile here. That’s not my point today (I’m happy to save that for another article …).

The key to avoiding bad injury is to stick within your limitations using AROM as a guide. Of course you should work on improving it … but don’t try to squat like Richard. As you can see … he’s got very well developed mobility.

Always remember that everyone’s on their own journey.

Every individual has a slightly different active range of motion. They may be more flexible, more mobile, stronger or even have a slightly differing bone structure to you.

Different people will ALWAYS have differing training and injury history.

The long and the short of it is that no one in your gym will be a perfect mover.

In my opinion perfection in movement is a myth.

It doesn’t exist!

Who’s to say who’s perfect? Their movement might be perfect for their body … but it may not suit yours.

Remember this, when you embark on a body transformation, you’re on a quest to achieve your own version of perfect.

Learn to assess your active range of motion day-to-day based on your warm ups and how your body feels.

As your skill and mobility progresses, so to will your AROM.

Here’s to enjoying the journey!

Your journey …