laird hamilton slow-down-get-strongWritten By Laird Hamilton for

Credit: Photograph by Peter Bohler

It’s tempting to focus on numbers when you work out. How many consecutive pushups did you do? How much weight was on that bar? But simply upping the numbers won’t get you stronger if you don’t pay attention to something a bit harder to quantify: range of motion. Did your chest hit the ground on those pushups? How low did you go in that squat? I think a single rep of any exercise completed through full range is worth three cranked out half-assed. Yet I see people cheat the most basic exercises, trading quality for quantity. Here is how to maximize range in the moves we short-change the most. Do these right, and you’ll see far faster gains in strength.

1. Negative Pullups
You’ve probably seen guys do pullups keeping their elbows bent and bringing only their eyes above the bar. Those aren’t pullups. Proper ones start in a dead hang with elbows locked, and end with the neck even to the bar. To get the strength for that, try negatives. From the top of a pullup, slowly lower yourself down; take 10 seconds to do it. This keeps your lats, traps, and rhomboids under tension longer, and strengthens them faster.

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2. Stretches for Squats
A squat ends with your butt at your heels. If you’re not dropping lower than your knees, you’re doing half a squat. Because of tightness in our hip flexors, quads, and ankles, many of us can’t hit full the range of motion. If you’re stuck halfway, loosen those muscles with ankle circles, pigeon pose, and quad stretches for five minutes daily.

3. Pushup Ladders
If you’re banging out 20 pushups at a time, you’re either a pro athlete or you’re doing them wrong. On each rep, your chest should hit the floor while your back stays straight and your hips lifted, and your elbows should lock out at the top. The best way to enhance your ability to hit full range for multiple reps is to practice shorter ranges in a ladder progression. Start at the top of the pushup, go a quarter of the way down, come back up. Repeat, this time going halfway down. Then do a full-range pushup, another half, and another quarter. Try five of these at a time, and you’ll improve your range of motion while also increasing the volume of work you do — two automatic ways to boost your strength.