Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is stretching really good for your workout and muscle growth? by Jerry Brainum

   Some form of flexibility training is considered an essential part of any bodybuilding program. Bodybuilders stretch for various reasons, but most think that maintaining flexibility decreases the chance of injury. A simple definition of flexibility is the ability to move a joint through a complete range of motion. That implies that a lack of flexibility equals a decreased range of motion. A shortened range of motion, in turn, limits muscle size and strength gains, as well as increasing the chance of injury.

   Some bodybuilders stretch just prior to training, after training any particular muscle group or following a workout. Some even suggest stretching between sets of an exercise, with the notion that it helps the muscle recover faster. Recent research, however, shows that many of those ideas are simply false.

   According to the research, the effects of stretching differ when it’s performed regularly as opposed to acutely, or just before exercise. Most of the benefits of stretching come from everyday stretching activity. The belief that stretching before lifting weights is an effective warmup is mistaken. The most effective warmup features activity that increases the internal temperature of muscle, which decreases muscle viscosity and increases energy reactions and power. In practice, that means starting with a light set of the exercise you plan to do, using higher reps.

   Stretching the muscle you plan to train, however, leads to a loss of strength, averaging 2 to 5 percent. It results from a decrease in connective tissue stiffness—in other words, the stiffness actually adds to muscle strength. While tissue laxity induced by stretching would appear to lower the risk of injury incurred during heavy training, studies say it doesn’t.

   Regular stretching routines, or stretching at times besides just before or during training, do lead to performance improvement. The evidence of the literature is that regular stretching leads to increases in force and power, most likely due to an increased range of motion. Those improvements amount to an average increase of 2 to 5 percent—the same rate of strength lost when you stretch just before training.

   Whether you should stretch before training is your call. The small amount of strength loss may be offset by an increased range of motion and more efficient exercise. Trainees with a history of injury often feel that stretching a muscle before training helps them train that muscle harder. Since most of the benefits come from regular stretching as opposed to stretching just before or during training, it’s probably a good idea to consider stretching as a whole other workout.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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