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Stretching before and after a workout can help to warm up a muscle before a tough set and improve circulation for better recovery afterward, but we bet you knew this. What you may not know, however, is that stretching mid-set may be as, if not more, effective for getting bigger and stronger.
Think about it for a second: “Feel the stretch” is a phrase you hear often when it comes to lifting weights. Every time you do a skullcrusher, you want to feel the stretch at the bottom of the lift. Or, think about how Arnold used to let his body come forward a bit when doing cable rows — he was stretching out his lats. The idea is that you increase blood flow to the area, which means it receives more nutrient-rich blood to aid in recovery. A greater stretch also leads to more time under tension, which is what causes our muscles to breakdown so they can repair themselves and get bigger.
With all that in mind, stretching mid-workout may not sound as odd now. What we suggest is to perform an exercise like the dumbbell flye, for example, and then hold the bottom portion of it for a minute at most (using lighter weights). You should feel the muscle strain but in a safe way. This technique, done over time, can lead to more mass and stronger lifts. Here’s what you need to know.
Stretching a cold muscle can cause injuries that can range from minor strains to actual tears. Research shows that stretching the muscle you’re about to train can cause a significant loss of strength during your lifts. In other words, you may cause yourself to utilize less weight than you are capable of simply because you stretched the muscle beforehand. The same goes for stretching during the workout. Yes, it may feel good and help to increase blood flow a bit, but you would be better off giving the muscle you are training a light massage between sets instead.
Stretching correctly however during training could actually increase strength and improve recovery between sets. What you want to do while training is stretch the antagonistic muscle to the one you are working. In others words, stretch the hamstrings after some leg presses, or the lats after each set of bench presses.
Stretch the antagonistic muscle group during training can be beneficial, but for optimal results consider the following technique.
One of the best and under utilized secrets in the world of bodybuilding is the use of intense stretching of the trained muscle immediately after completing your workout for it. Intense stretching means that it should hurt (although you must know your body well enough to realize if you are going too far), with each extreme stretch lasting for 30-60 seconds before slowly being released.
Some examples of intense stretching would be holding the bottom of a chest flye with moderately heavy dumbbells in your hands, hanging with a close grip from a chinning bar while having your partner pull down on your waist, or sitting in the deepest position of a sissy squat. In other words, you have to go beyond the light stretching you normally perform to make this effective. And what is the benefit of this?
Research has demonstrated that this form of stretching can actually increase the rate of hypertrophy through the increased activation of satellite cells and the enhanced release of growth factors (hepatocyte growth factor, myogenin, IGF-1) within muscle tissue! Talk about an anabolic activator! Yeah, its painful, but it works!
So, to summarize…don’t stretch a cold muscle before training, and don’t stretch the muscle you are in the middle of training. However, DO stretch the antagonistic muscle to the one you are training during your workout, and once the session for the body part is complete, finish it off with two or three intense 30-60 second deep stretches. Train hard…train smart…train to grow!