One of the most frustrating aspects of resistance training is reaching the dreaded plateau. Almost every man and woman who trains with dumbbells, barbells or body weight eventually encounters this “roadblock” in their training. You’re making gains consistently and suddenly they stop. Either you stop experiencing muscle growth or your strength plateaus and you’re unable to lift heavier. In other words, you’re stuck!
While it’s important to be consistent with your training, sometimes you have to change the way you train to kick-start muscle growth and continue getting the results you want. When you do the same movements over and over again, your body becomes more efficient at doing that activity. As a result, your muscles don’t have to work as hard or expend as much energy doing it.
Once your muscles adapt to a particular training approach, it’s time to switch things up. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do that. One way to increase the demand you place on your muscles is to focus on the mid-range of the exercises you do through mid-range training.
What is Mid-Range Training?
“Mid-range training,” sometimes referred to as constant tension training, increases the time a muscle spends under tension by keeping the muscle under constant tension during an exercise or lift. For most exercises, including squats, biceps curls, shoulder presses and chest presses, the force exerted on the working muscle is greatest in the middle of the range-of-motion, due to the relationship between muscle length and tension, and drops off during the portion when the muscle is completely elongated or fully shortened.
For example, when you do biceps curls, the tension placed on the biceps is greatest when your arms are at 90 degrees and drops to almost zero at the top and bottom of the movement when your elbows lock out. By avoiding the two extremes of fully contracted or fully shortened and working in between where the force is greatest, you keep the muscle under tension longer. This recruits more motor units, which can translate into greater muscle growth.
Eliminating the Rest
You also make it impossible for the muscle groups you’re working to rest during a set when you focus on the middle range of an exercise. With this approach, your muscles are constantly working against tension because you’re not giving them a chance to rest at the top and bottom of the movement.
Needless to say, with mid-range training, you’ll feel the burn and the fatigue rather quickly since you’re eliminating the “dead” portions of the exercise, the top, and bottom of the movement, where your muscle is not under tension. You’ll also have to use a lighter weight than you’re accustomed to since this type of training is more demanding.
Mid-range training reps are similar to partial reps, only you’re focusing exclusively on the middle of the movement without letting your arms lock out or go to full extension. Based on the length-tension curve, muscles generate the least force when they’re fully contracted or fully stretched and the most force generation lies between these two points. With mid-range training, the emphasis is on the part of the movement where force generation is the greatest and there’s no time wasted on “dead” portions of the exercise.
Are There Drawbacks to Mid-Range Training?
Although mid-range training reps have the benefit of keeping constant tension on the muscle you’re working, they shouldn’t make up the bulk of your workout. As with partial reps, you’re building strength within the range-of-motion you’re working, not throughout the full range-of-motion of the muscle. To maximize muscle development, you’ll need to build strength and mobility throughout the entire ROM. Therefore, mid-range reps are helpful for jumpstarting muscle growth when you’ve reached a plateau and as a technique to “mix things up” to help you avoid plateauing.
Full range-of-motion reps have the benefit of working your muscles through their full range-of-motion, which is important for functional fitness. Use mid-ranges as an additional way to challenge your muscles, not as the workhorse of your workout.
When placing emphasis on the mid-range, the number of reps you do is less important than using proper form. The key to maximizing muscle growth is to keep the tension high by using a challenging resistance and keep the tension high as long as possible. Therefore, staying in the mid-range and slowing the speed with which you do a rep accomplishes both.
Implementing Mid-Range Training
How do you do this? Taking biceps curls as an example, lift and lower the weight without letting your biceps rest at the top of the movement or elbows lock bottom of the movement. Avoiding the lockout also reduces tension on your joints – a positive for joint health. A good tempo would be three to four seconds for the concentric portion (moving the weight up) and two to three seconds for the eccentric (moving the weight down) with no rest at the top or bottom, although you can make it even more challenging by slowing the eccentric portion even more. Of course, you can apply the same principle to other upper and lower body exercises as well.
The Bottom Line
Mid-range training where your muscles stay under constant tension is another way to “change things up” and keep your training varied and interesting. Try mixing mid-range training in with traditional training to change your routine and keep your muscles guessing.
Brett Contreras C.S.C.S. “Training for Maximum Muscle Growth Explained”
J Physiol. 2012 Jan 15; 590(Pt 2): 351-362. Published online 2011 Nov 21. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.221200.
Related Articles By Cathe:
Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs: