Maximizing Muscle with Stretch-Induced Hypertrophy

If I’ve ever trained you, chances are at some point I’ve said something about stretching in some capacity… whether it’s ‘stretch position movements’, ‘stretch-and-squeeze reps’, ‘don’t forget to stretch’…etc, it’s something I’ll continue harping on clients about – and here’s ‘why’ – put simply in my get-to-the-point type of posts 😉

Muscles are wrapped in an interconnected network of fibrous tissue known as fascia. This fascia provides support for muscles and is critical for survival, however for the bodybuilder, it can potentially limit some growth when it becomes so tight that it restricts the natural expansion / hypertrophy of the muscle tissue. Keep the fascia loose and you leave more room for muscles to expand.

Stretch-induced hypertrophy is well documented in animal studies.  Most of these studies used resistance as a percentage of the animal’s bodyweight to produce a stretch-overload on the muscle…since it might be difficult to get a bird to voluntarily agree to a good old deep pec stretch. The findings of studies like this showed remarkable and significant increases in hypertrophy (over 300% to be exact!)

Stretching can cause gene expression changes such as increases in one of the most anabolic musclebuilding hormones  – IGF-1. Increased nitrogen retention, protein synthesis and hyperplasia are just a few of the attractive benefits of having a boost in IGF-1. And you can still call yourself #natty!

Repeated bouts of stretching can lead to an internal remodelling of the muscle that contribute to increases in strength and hypertrophy. Although the exact mechanism isn’t 100% clear at this time, many researchers believe this is due in part to the muscle creating additional sarcomeres in an attempt to protect itself from being overstretched. (A sarcomere is a unit of skeletal muscle tissue comprised of actin and myosin filaments)

Stretching in combination with a workout can help add to the total time under tension and metabolic stress on the muscle tissue – thereby contributing to an enhanced anabolic signal for recovery.

The way that I like to incorporate stretching in a client’s program is as follows:

  • Stretch-position movements with every workout. Certain exercises tend to engage the stretch position of the range. I find these exercises and insert them into client’s programs after the muscle is pumped.
  • Daily stretching – post-workout and post-cardio to keep connective tissue in an optimal tensile strength.
  • Deep stretching with FST and massage therapy bi-weekly or weekly.

Moral of the story : It’s time we start treating stretching with some respect and recognize it’s supportive role in the process.

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