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For most guys, stretching is a mere afterthought in their training program. Well, that’s a mistake. It turns out that neglecting this part of your routine means that you could be missing out on some significant gains, as intermittent and post-set stretching can increase the blood flow to a muscle and keep the fibers under tension for longer.
But first, let’s talk about muscle growth: Muscle grows in two ways—by making muscle fibers bigger, or by adding more muscle fibers. For the sake of this article, the second method is what we’ll be focusing on. There are two ways to spark hypertrophy (muscle growth): the fiber can split and, in response get larger, or your body can release a special type of cell called satellite cells and these form to create new muscle fibers. To spark a reaction, your body must be put under extreme stretches, like the ones outlined here.
And there are two types of stretching: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretches utilize movement. Examples include high kicks and trunk twists. These can increase your mobility in exercises, and they should be done as a warmup or between sets and won’t do much for you in the muscle department. In contrast, static stretches are motionless. Once you’ve positioned yourself properly, you remain locked in place. These stretches should be performed when your tendons and muscles are most pliable. Do them after weight training, not before.
Now let’s get to the gains: Researchers from the University of Tampa concluded that stretching a muscle for 30 seconds with weight, immediately after reaching failure on the same exercise, doubled the muscle gain in the non-control group over the course of five weeks. Additionally, stretching an isolated muscle like the chest or biceps can increase blood flow, which means more muscle-building nutrients will be delivered to that area.
To help you get there, we provide key points and tips along with stretches for major body parts, so that you can begin to incorporate this basic, but effective, method for newfound size.
You can stretch your lats simply by hanging from a pullup bar. With either a wide or shoulder-width grip, hang from a pullup bar. Take a deep breath and then exhale, allowing your body to relax to help increase the stretch. Use additional weight if necessary. You can also accomplish something similar by gripping a vertical bar with your hands, standing close to that bar, and then leaning backward so you’re supporting your bodyweight with your lats maximally stretched. Experiment with a low or high grip on the bar to target different areas of your lats.
Hold a vertical bar with one hand. Keep your arm straight and rotate your shoulder away until you feel the maximum pressure on your biceps. Repeat for the other arm. Another great biceps stretch is done by holding a stationary horizontal bar, such as a Smith machine’s, behind your lower back and keeping your arms straight. Then lower yourself, as if squatting, to feel your biceps tauten.
Stand with your toes on a riser, either at a standing calf machine or a stair, and lower yourself as far down as you can go. Hold this position. At the end of your set, lower your heels toward the floor until you feel your calf muscles stretch out.
Grab two dumbbells that are slightly heavier than those you would use for a set of flyes. Then lie on an incline bench and lower the dumbbells, as if doing flyes, as low as you can go and hold that position, keeping your hands wider than your elbows. As you lower the dumbbells, keep a slight bend in your elbows to avoid shoulder strain. Another chest stretch is done by pressing one forearm against a vertical bar and twisting your body to maximally tauten the pec. Repeat on other side.
Nothing beats the hurdler’s stretch for hams, but you need to up the intensity. Set a bar in a squat rack or Smith machine at least hip-high. Set one ankle on the horizontal bar, and keeping that leg straight, press down until you reach the point of maximum tension and then hold.
Standing in front of the decline bench, rest the top of an ankle on the ankle supports, tucked behind you with your knee bent and your other foot on the floor. Bring your hips back and your forward knee down to maximally stretch the quads of the tucked leg. Repeat for the other side.
Grab the ankle supports on a decline bench with your feet in front of you and your knees bent as if you’re sitting on air. Bend your arms. Then roll your shoulders forward and down until you feel the maximum stretch. Hold this position.
Grab a dumbbell with both hands and lower it behind your head, as if to do a triceps extension. Go as low as you can go, and hold that position. Another excellent triceps stretch can be done with dipping bars. Drop into the lowest dip position while keeping your torso perpendicular to the floor. Hold that stretch and embrace the pain.