When you first start training consistently getting results comes effortlessly. Each workout you can either add weight to the bar or increase the number of reps you perform, and, as a result, you make physically noticeable improvements in muscle and strength.
However, as you become more and more experienced with working out, the magnitude of progress and the frequency with which you can make progress start to dwindle.
This is when seasoned gym rats turn to advanced training techniques like supersets, drop sets, rest-pause training, etc.
Today, we discuss another advanced training technique to help you seek out more muscle growth and see greater results from your workouts -- stretching.
Can Stretching Help Build Muscle?
You may have heard over the years that performing too much static stretching before your workout can hinder performance. And, there is some research to indicate that static stretching (holding stretches for over 60 seconds) before training can reduce speed, strength, jump height, and power output.[1,2,3,4]
Researchers have yet to fully understand why prolong stretching impairs performance, but two possibilities are:
- Stretched muscles can’t contract with as much force
- stretching interferes with neurological signals that instruct muscles to contract
It is worth noting, though, that holding stretches for less than 60 seconds prior to exercise may not be as detrimental to performance. However, the evidence is mixed with some research indicating it may impair performance while other studies suggest it does not affect athletic performance.[2,7]
So, if prolonged stretching isn’t the best for performance, is it wise to implement it into your training when muscle growth is the desired outcome?
A recent 2019 study compared two groups of men who performed the same full-body workout twice per week.
Each training session consisted of 6 exercises performed for 4 sets at 8-12RM with 90 seconds rest between sets.
One of the groups performed a 30-second static stretch during their rest periods while the control group did not stretch during the rest period.
After following the training protocol for 8 weeks, both groups experienced similar gains in strength.
However, the group of men who performed inter-set stretching gained more muscle than the group who did not stretch between sets.
Now, you might be wondering how stretching may enhance muscle growth.
Well, the reason for this is that stretching places a lengthened muscle under tension. Loaded stretching has been shown to activate mTOR -- the biological pathway that triggers muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth).
Additionally, provided that the stretch is intense enough and held for a sufficient length of time, waste metabolites start to accumulate in the muscle tissue. This metabolic stress has been identified as one of the three mechanisms of hypertrophy (muscle growth). Other drivers of muscle group include mechanical tension (load on the bar) and muscle damage.
So, by performing inter-set stretching you’re essentially performing a super-set where by you’re fatiguing a muscle with heavy weight (mechanical tension), then after coming close to failure, you place that same muscle in a fully lengthened, stretched position which creates more time under tension and the accumulation of metabolic stress.
The end result being greater muscle growth.
If you’re looking for new ways to increase your results from training, you might want to try adding some stretching to your workouts.
Loaded stretching can work with just about any exercise in which the target muscle can achieve a fully stretched position.
Good options for this include cable flies, push ups (on rings or blocks), overhead triceps extensions (with cable or DB), deficit split squats, or chin ups.
Slowly lower down into the stretch position and hold for as long as possible.
Again, if you’re looking to maximize performance or power output, stretching is not recommended (as it will hinder performance), but if your main goal is to build more muscle, stretching is worth a shot.
- Winchester, J. B., Nelson, A. G., Landin, D., Young, M. A., & Schexnayder, I. C. (2008). Static stretching impairs sprint performance in collegiate track and field athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(1), 13–19. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31815ef202
- Kay, A. D., & Blazevich, A. J. (2012). Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: a systematic review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 44(1), 154–164. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e318225cb27
- Fowles, J. R., Sale, D. G., & MacDougall, J. D. (2000). Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexors. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 89(3), 1179–1188. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.2000.89.3.1179
- La Torre, A., Castagna, C., Gervasoni, E., Ce, E., Rampichini, S., Ferrarin, M., & Merati, G. (2010). Acute effects of static stretching on squat jump performance at different knee starting angles. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(3), 687–694. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c7b443
- Warren Young & Simon Elliott (2001) Acute Effects of Static Stretching, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching, and Maximum Voluntary Contractions on Explosive Force Production and Jumping Performance, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport,72:3, 273-279, DOI: 10.1080/02701367.2001.10608960
- Evangelista, A. L., De Souza, E. O., Moreira, D. C. B., Alonso, A. C., Teixeira, C. V. L. S., Wadhi, T., Greve, J. M. D. (2019). Interset Stretching vs. Traditional Strength Training: Effects on Muscle Strength and Size in Untrained Individuals. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33.
- Lin, S.-S., & Liu, Y.-W. (2019). Mechanical Stretch Induces mTOR Recruitment and Activation at the Phosphatidic Acid-Enriched Macropinosome in Muscle Cell. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology