Monday, November 30, 2015

Stretching For Bigger Muscles

Can stretching really lead to bigger muscles? Yes it can! Stretching can be used to maximize muscle recovery and performance when used to compliment a good strength training routine. Today we look at how stretching can help you on your journey to bigger arms and massive legs.

One of my favorite reasons why stretching helps muscle growth is because it elongates the muscle. By elongating the muscle, there is more space for the muscle to grow. This makes the muscle look bigger and more aesthetic. It won’t look shortened or too small for the area it is supposed to cover anymore. Think of biceps that have a little lump in the middle. By stretching the biceps, they can lengthen to appear larger.

Static and dynamic stretching for muscle

Static stretching

Static stretching is the kind of stretch where you hold a certain muscle for a few seconds before releasing (like toe touches). Research has shown that static stretching before exercise (hamstring stretch before running, for example) does not actually decrease the risk of injury. Research has also shown that static stretches do not improve muscle performance either, but can actually decrease muscle output. For example, stretching biceps in a static fashion before doing bicep curls will decrease their maximum output before failure. This effect lasts for over an hour following a good, thorough static stretch. The reason appears to be because static stretching relaxes the muscle fibers, sensitizing them to tension.

Does this mean that there is no place for static stretches in the world of muscle growth? Not at all! Static stretches aren’t very effective as a warm-up for before exercise, but they do offer benefits like increasing range of motion, releasing tension and correcting postural imbalances. All of these effects will decrease overall risk of injury in the long-term and help with optimized muscle gain, if used at the right times. By increasing the range of motion, you are able to get the best out of every rep. For example, people who have a problem with their heels lifting off the floor during the squat (bad form) because of tight calve muscles and tendons can do static calf stretches for a few days to loosen them - so that heels are flexible enough to stay on the ground and stabilize the entire squat movement (this is the right way to do them).

Lifting weights can tighten muscle fibers over time - which leads to them losing their overall range of motion. For example, people who have built up their upper bodies but have not stretched regularly can often feel uncomfortable when resting with their hands folded behind the back of their head.  This tightness is not because the muscles gets too big, but because the muscle has grown tighter over time and is not as elastic - as a result of all the tension. Static stretching can both prevent and undo this.

As discussed above, static stretching won't help much if done before exercise. Static stretching can, however, be done after exercise to cool down. This works very well because when the muscles are warm, they are more flexible and will therefore respond well to stretching. This will increase how much they can stretch, and by extending them further, you can increase your range of motion even more.

Even better: static stretching is great to do on rest days to maximize recovery and growth for a variety of reasons. Firstly, not much energy is required to stretch and this means that you are still not burning too much energy on your off days (which should be directed towards muscle growth). Secondly, static stretching will release built up tension. It also helps relaxes the muscles. This helps them to recover faster and grow more. Static stretching also helps to improve blood flow, which helps the muscles disperse lactic acid and get the nutrients needed for recovery.

Pro tip: stretching in the steam room will increase flexibility, release tension, improve circulation (and nutrient delivery), and increase recovery even more.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching is the type of stretching that has movement throughout the stretch. For example, swinging the arms in front of the chest and behind the back to stretch out the upper body (chest, back, biceps and triceps) is a dynamic stretch. Dynamic stretching, in contrary to static stretching, is well suited as a warm-up before exercise because it increases blood flow to the muscles and ‘wakes them up’ before exertion. Studies have shown that the dynamic stretching of a certain muscle before weight training increases its power and strength output immediately afterwards. For example, swinging the arms in front of the chest and behind the back could increase the amount of reps performed on the bench press. Besides increasing short-term power, dynamic stretching also elongates the muscles and increases overall range of motion.

Stretching helps to make sure that the muscles stay supple and flexible. Having big muscles won’t cost you your mobility - if you stretch them regularly. For bodybuilders, stretching does not need to be done daily, but a good stretch once or twice a week could really give you an extra edge. As small as the impact that stretching has on muscle growth seems to be, the difference adds up over time and makes a significant contribution.

Personally, I do a static stretch routine on my active rest days. STAY STRONG!

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