This article was written by Leigh Remedios, who is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Traditional Ju Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do. Leigh is a prolific competitor and has competed internationally in martial arts, including the UFC and Polaris. He has won several prestigious competitions, including the NAGA United Kingdom Grappling Championship belt and European IBJJF no-gi gold medals. Leigh runs a Jiu Jitsu and MMA Academy in Wiltshire, UK.
About a year ago, I wrote an article about strength development. The key points were:
- Strength is a factor of the cross-sectional area of a muscle and a neural component.
- The neural component is built by playing your sport, so strength workouts should focus on hypertrophy.
- Prilepin’s Chart shows that we don’t have to train to failure.
- I recommend a selection of compound movements, controlling the weight down and accelerating up.
I have followed these principles for over a decade and had very good results. However, I recently read a couple of studies, including this one, that suggested that hypertrophy can be increased by increasing your range of motion (ROM) throughout an exercise. I decided to try this out, and the results have been pretty interesting.
For the past nine months, I have performed the following exercises once per week, all for five sets of five repetitions:
- Bodyweight squats
- Front levers
- Overhead press with 11kg dumbbell
I have made a short video outlining each of these exercises in detail that you can watch here:
I have performed triple bodyweight squats and deadlifts, double bodyweight bench press, a one-armed pull-up, a human flag and clean and pressed significantly more than my bodyweight. I don’t mention this to brag (although it is pretty cool) but to give some context to the workout.
So, what results have I noticed? The main one you’re interested in is muscle growth, and I’m happy to report that the results here have been fantastic. I’m probably more muscular than I’ve ever been in my life, which is quite remarkable for a guy who is nearly fifty and powerlifted four times a week in his twenties. I’m very strong on the mat, and my training partners are more manageable and have noted that I feel stronger.
However, there have been additional results that were quite interesting. My mobility (another word for flexibility) has improved. For the past ten years, I’ve had tight shoulders and hanging from a bar has been uncomfortable. That’s completely gone, and I can do monkey bars with my kids again without wincing. My hips are also more mobile, which has taken some stress off my lower back, which I injured many years ago. By building strength at the end of my ROM, I’ve become more comfortable being there.
The workout is very easy on my body, and I don’t feel drained for jiu jitsu, which is a big win for me. I can do some of the exercises during the day if time is tight and the whole workout takes me about 30 minutes. The amount of equipment I need has been reduced, and in particular, the bodyweight squats have made leg work much simpler.
It hasn’t all been positive, though. Over the years, I have found that switching from weight training to callisthenics can lead to injuries, as the exercises for a light, strong person start to get creative and put additional stress on tendons and ligaments. Muscle-ups and one-armed pull-ups were terrible for my shoulders as I had the strength to do them but didn’t take the time to condition the rest of my body for the stress. With this increased ROM workout, I tried to increase my ROM with push-ups by doing them over a bathtub (don’t laugh), and even my body weight was too heavy for my shoulders to handle, and I strained my shoulder. I backed off and settled for regular push-ups on the floor, and I’ve had great results since.
In conclusion, increasing my ROM and reducing my weights has been very positive for me, whilst noting that care should be taken not to push too hard in a vulnerable position. I’ve improved muscle growth (and therefore strength), mobility and recovery. The principles I discussed in my previous article are all applicable but are enhanced by increasing the ROM. I will continue to train like this and continue to read more literature to improve my training through science.