Can Stretching Actually Lead to Better Gains?
Static stretching, or stretching without movement, has long been a staple of fitness routines. It helps improve flexibility and increases range of motion, which can help reduce the risk of injury in the gym. However, in the last decade many individuals have forgone static stretching. Many have the understanding that dynamic stretching (stretching through movement) is more efficient for warming-up and injury prevention, while improving range of motion can be achieved through weightlifting alone. But what if stretching actually lead to increases in muscle mass?
Recent research has shown that static stretching may also help to increase lower body muscle hypertrophy, or the growth of muscle tissue. Participants who stretched 6 days a week with an 8/10 intensity or discomfort level displayed hypertrophy in the trained muscle, without any actual strength training. This reinforces the idea that mechanical tension is a primary mechanism of hypertrophy and can be acheieved through various means including stretch.
The findings suggest that static stretching may be an effective supplement to a weight training routine, aiding muscle growth by providing mechanical tension and increasing the amount of muscle fibers recruited as a result of cell swelling. This is beneficial to those engaged in bodybuilding-type workouts, as both mechanical tension and muscle cell swelling are core to greater gains in muscle size.
Additionally, alternate forms of high intensity stretching protocols, such as PNF stretching, may also be effective in aiding muscle growth. This technique involves performing a contract-relax sequence, where the muscle is flexed then stretched to its full capacity at a high intensity. Research indicates that this method can provide higher levels of stretch and can increase muscle fiber recruitment and force production during resistance and plyometric exercises. By doing so, it may therefore lead to greater gains in muscle hypertrophy.
In summary, high intensity stretching protocols that provide a source of mechanical tension may prove to be more useful then previously thought at providing an adaptive hypertrophy response. These concepts still require more investigation but it may not hurt to start adding stretching back into your program.