Stretching for muscle gain
Stretching for muscle?
Really? What would you say to somebody if they told you this? You would probably think they were mad!
As we age our muscles become tighter, thus restricting our range of motion and with it some mobility. Stretching is one important factor if your desire is for a lean, sexy and muscular body. I am pretty sure everyone hates stretching and I am no different. As much as I hate to do it, try and blame it on lack of time, etc.. I have had to build it to my daily routine.
If you haven’t had an injury so far well good on you, as the saying goes “prevention is better than a cure”.
When your muscles are tight, they will not travel through their full range of motion. Your central nervous system just won’t allow that, it will shut off the muscle(s) involved as it will sense danger. If the muscles are not taken through their full range of motion you won’t be activating or working all the potential muscle fibres that are there!
Let me give you an example. When you do a squat one of the muscles that you are working is the gluteal muscles. They comprise of the gluteus minimus and maximus. These are your buttocks.
When you are in a deep position the gluteal muscles fire to fight gravity and allow you to climb up without falling down.
If the hip muscles (the antagonists) (perform opposite action) such as Psoas and or hip flexors are tight or if your pelvis isn’t aligned properly it will in turn prevent you from going the full range of motion in the squat because the gluteal muscles will be inhibited from firing.
This is what they call reciprocal inhibition. The central nervous system will shut down the muscles as it senses danger to prevent any damage from arising. In exercises such as the squat some muscles will co-contract to generate the force needed to lift the weight.
Examples of reciprocal inhibition include bicep curls, triceps have to relax in order for the biceps to contract. Leg extensions, hamstrings have to relax to enable the quads to contract.
So when should you stretch? Is it before or after exercise? I would recommend both and here is why.
Stretching before exercise is NOT the same as stretching AFTER exercise.
We stretch before exercise to prevent injuries, and we stretch after exercise to lengthen the muscles after they’ve been shortened by exercise.
Always stretch after you warm up so do 5-10 minutes of warming up to prepare your body for exercise, and then you can do 5-10 minutes of stretches afterwards. This can be on the treadmill, bike, doing some bodyweight exercises such as press-ups, squats or it can be as simple as rotating a weight disk around.
What types of stretches are there?
Static – Meaning stretching without movement. In other words, holding the stretch position for a predetermined period of time, say 30 seconds without movement.
Passive – Similar to static, but with another person or an apparatus helping to further stretch the muscles.
PNF – For the more advanced guys and girls out there, involves contracting the muscles and stretching them at the same time. It is really good for flexibility and targeting specific muscle groups as well as improving muscular strength.
Isometric – similar to PNF but the contractions are held for longer.
Dynamic – is done by using a controlled, soft bounce or swinging motion to move a particular body part to the limit of its range of motion.
Active – involves contracting the antagonist (opposite) muscle which forces the stretched muscle group to relax.
Other types of stretches that you can do are resistance stretches, and loaded stretching. They are a form of dynamic stretching that both contract and lengthen the target muscle at the same time. They work by taking the muscle through its entire range of motion.
How long should you hold a stretch for?
Speaking from personal experience I like hold my stretches for at least 30 seconds on each side. On some body parts that are always tight such as hips and hamstrings I hold the stretch for at least 1 to two minutes. Again this is only a guide, what I would say is try it for yourself and you will soon start to know how long you need to hold each stretch for. Your muscles will tell you when they are relaxed.
Benefits of stretching
Increased Range of Motion – We talked about it earlier, your body does not like the muscles to be short and will not fire the muscle if it senses danger to that area.
Increases flow of nutrients and circulation – If your muscles are tight then it is likely they will have knots around them.
Think of a balloon, when it is stretched the volume of water that it can hold nearly doubles! So by stretching the muscles you are allowing a greater amount of nutrients to flow into those areas that are knot free, this leads to faster recovery times as more nutrients and more blood flow to those areas. What this all means is more muscle!!
Better Posture – Nobody looks good when their shoulders are slumped and hunched forward. This happens if you have tight pecs or back muscles.
Reduces Stress – Our muscles get tight or tense, which makes us miserable. By stretching the muscles you are able to relax more.
Reduces DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is the pain we feel after exercise especially if you have done a hard workout or one that your body is unaccustomed to.
So there you go, take away point utalise your stretching for more muscle!