Every joint in your body has an ideal range of motion. While we are all unique individuals, with specific limitations, when considering the body in general, there are ranges of motion necessary to fully benefit from movement patterns. Therefore, this week we will concentrate on the elbow joint, biceps and triceps as the opposing muscle groups and the biceps curl/triceps kickbacks as the movement patterns. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
Many clients may possess a basic understanding of curling the forearm toward the upper arm and recognize this movement pattern as a biceps curl. However, what often occurs is that the client performs an acceptable curling action and then fails to complete the range of motion by not fully extending the arm at the elbow joint on the down phase of the exercise. They will often stop several degrees short of elbow extension not allowing the biceps muscle group to train through the complete range of motion (i.e. 0-150 degrees of elbow flexion).
The biceps cross the elbow joint anteriorly which is what enables this muscle group to create movement anteriorly at the elbow joint, consequently, it is important for the biceps to move the forearm from zero to 150 degrees range of motion when the palms are facing forward (i.e. in anatomical position). While there may be times when a shortened range of motion is appropriate for a specific training protocol, in general, it is most beneficial to train the biceps across the elbow joint fully.
When considering the triceps kickback exercise, the same range of motion rule applies. With the torso in a forward flexed position, hinged from the hip joint, spine fully extended, the working side upper arm parallel to the ground, arm pit closed and the shoulder fixed, the triceps engage posteriorly to extend the forearm fully at the elbow joint and then to return the forearm to the elbow flexed position (i.e. approximately 90 degrees of elbow flexion). Often, clients will perform the extension phase of the exercise without fully extending the elbow joint which prohibits the triceps muscle group from completing the intended range of motion as these muscles posteriorly cross the elbow joint.
While we must consider possible elbow limitations, if there are no limitations that require modifications to these exercises, then we would encourage the client to perform both biceps curls and triceps kickbacks, with a full and complete range of motion about the elbow joints. Because the biceps and triceps cross the elbow joint inserting via tendon to the forearm bones, it is imperative that these muscles are encouraged to train through full ranges of motion. This will strengthen the muscles as well as the entire elbow joint.
Consequently, when training, keep in mind that you need to be aware of the ideal range of motion about each joint, throughout the body, so that your program design emphasizes full, complete ranges of motion where most beneficial. It is important to also note that taking the joint outside of the ideal range of motion (i.e. locking the joint) may be detrimental to the joint. So, strive for control of the correct range of motion choosing the correct external resistance avoiding momentum use and breaking form.