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I'm curious about the affects of "range of motion" when doing push-ups.

What are the pros/cons to doing push-ups using high reps, small range of motion vs low reps, full range of motion?

Here is how I define the differences between range of motion:

Full range - arms extended straight at the top, at the bottom the nose is touching the ground with hands near ears, push-up bars giving more range.

Small range - arms still slightly bent at the top, arms more bent at bottom, but nose not touching the floor.

My assumption: I've always thought doing push-ups with the full range of motion, even though you can't do as many reps, was better for strength.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

For strength training, you should always do full-range of motion (ROM) push-ups. Partial ROM exercises are appropriate only for intermediate or advanced lifters who need to fix a problem area in a weighted exercise where recovering from doing the full ROM would be problematic. (For instance, deadlifting an enormous amount of weight can take a week to recover from, so an elite deadlifter might do rack pulls one day and halting deadlifts another.) Since push-ups are not a weighted exercise, the recovery is not going to be an issue, and so there's no reason not to train the full ROM. If one is so weak as to be unable to do a single push-up, bench pressing a broomstick or light bar across the whole range of motion would be superior to doing partial ROM push-ups, since the muscle will then get stronger across the full ROM. Training the partial ROM will not get one strong enough to do the full ROM.

There may be other reasons to train partial-ROM push-ups, such as mass/hypertrophy or conditioning. It seems that for both of these goals there are superior methods: running, a Prowler or boxer's speed bag for endurance, and various presses for hypertrophy. It does not seem that partial-ROM push-ups are particularly useful except when one does not have access to more suitable equipment.

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enter image description here I couldn't find any direct information about what the difference between short/full motion pushups, but what I did find ( ties directly with what you state, the shorter the range, the more you can do, OR, to give the major difference, the short the motion the more you NEED to do to achieve the same affect.

In doing short-top (just the finishing top portion), short-bottom and full range myself, I found that the top-finishing motion utilizes more of the delts and chest muscles, the short-starting (bottom) utilizes the tricep and lats, by doing short range top motion alone seems to reduce which muscle groups are being worked.

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Doing more partial ROM exercises is not the same, qualitatively, as doing less (or any number) of full-ROM exercises. If you limit yourself to half the range of motion, you will not get stronger across the entire range of motion, and you risk decreasing your mobility across the range of motion. Doing more half-pushups might be useful for hypertrophy or endurance (though I contest whether it's ideal or efficient for either purpose), but it can never contend with full ROM exercises for strength. – Dave Liepmann Aug 21 '11 at 16:55
@Dave - I agree that full ROM is the ideal, but there are reasons for doing partials. For example, my bench is weakest at the bottom - push off from the chest - so, if I focus on that (being more explosive) then I can increase my overall performance by focusing a bit more on the weak spot. – Meade Rubenstein Aug 22 '11 at 0:16
If your bench press is weakest at the bottom, then it's possible that partial-ROM bench presses could be useful. (But that could only be the case for intermediate or advanced lifters.) But for a pushup, this doesn't make any sense: it's not a loaded exercise. If you're having trouble with it, you still need to do the full exercise. Strength training is about moving a joint through its whole range of motion. Unless you're targeting specific muscles for bodybuilding (in which case pushups seem inefficient), partial-ROM pushups are simply building less strength across less ROM. – Dave Liepmann Aug 22 '11 at 0:48

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