Muscular Contractions with Coach Laurie King Performing a Leg Extension.

Why Does Shortened Or Lengthened Overload Matter?

A Quick Recap

Before we start talking about maximizing shortened and lengthened overload, let’s recall the difference between lengthened and short movements in muscular contraction.

Lengthened Movements = Extremely demanding (very often compound movements, though not always)
– Back Squat, Deadlift, Good Morning, Overhead Tricep Extension

Short Movements = Much less demanding (very often single joint isolation movements, though not always)
– Leg Extension, Lateral Raise, Any Type of Row

To read more about the differences between these movements and why they matter, check out this blog post:
Shortened vs. Lengthened Movements

Two Key Factors

  1. The short overload movements in muscular contraction are just not all that stimulative. There seems to be only a small portion of the range of motion that has any significant tension (muscle-building effect).

    Throughout this discussion, we will uncover some ways in which we can get more out of these types of exercises.

  2. We need to control the fatigue accumulation of compound movements.

    We will almost never go to complete failure for one of these lengthened compound movements. The injury risk and fatigue cost are just too high for the stimulus that you get.

Making Gains

Many studies have now shown that 1-3 reps from failure produce equivalent hypertrophy as going to failure. The caveat here is that the majority of these studies have been conducted on these demanding lengthened compound movements.

Studies have also shown that we may need to train closer to failure on the isolation movements to elicit similar gains.

Supporting Evidence

Over the last 3 years or so, studies have very convincingly shown that there are significantly more gains to be had by accentuating the lengthened position of reps.

Leg Extensions – Pedrosa and colleagues
Leg Curls – Maeo and colleagues
Tricep Extensions – Maeo and colleagues
Preacher Curls – Nunez and colleagues

Without thoroughly reading the studies above, just take a quick look at the movements that are studied. All of them are isolation “single joint” exercises.

All of these studies were conducted to delve into the idea of “biasing” the lengthened portion of movements that are inherently “short overloaded.” 

A Quick Example

Just to briefly discuss the most prominent finding, here’s what happened in the Leg Extension study.

This was a within-subject design, in which one leg performed a certain range of motion, while the other leg completed a different range of motion.

The three ranges of motion assessed:

1. Full Range of motion
2. Just the bottom of the rep (stopping about halfway up)
3. Just the top of the rep (avoid lowering all the way down)

The findings were that the bottom-only range of motion (essentially the “lengthened” portion of the rep) produced more muscle gain than both other groups.

The full ROM group was close to the bottom-only group, but the group that trained “only the top of the rep” was way behind.

This is quite a bit counterintuitive to the standard perception that the contraction is where all the good stuff is. It is an easy misconception because it really does feel like something is happening there.

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LCK and Bryan from Paragon Training Methods

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