How Stretching Can Explode Your Muscle Growth
Not only is stretching important for flexibility, it is critical for massive, rapid muscle growth.
When you think about gaining muscle, stretching is probably not the first thing that pops into your head. But did you know that stretching plays a critical role in building muscle?
What is the fascia?
Every muscle in your body is enclosed in a bag of tough connective tissue known as fascia. Fascia is important for holding your muscles in their proper place in your body. But your fascia may also be holding back your muscle growth. Think for a moment about your muscles. You train them and feed them properly. They want to grow and will grow but something is holding them back. They have no room to grow!
Because fascia is so tough, it doesn’t allow the muscle room to expand. It is like stuffing a large pillow into a small pillowcase. The size of the muscle won’t change regardless of how hard you train or how well you eat because the connective tissue around your muscles is constricting the muscles within.
The best example of this is the calf muscle. The lower leg is riddled with fascia because of its tremendous weight-bearing duties in the body. It is because of this fascia that many trainers have great difficulty developing their calves.
The solution: Stretching
Using the pillowcase example from above, imagine you can expand the size of the pillowcase by stretching it. Suddenly, the pillow within has more room and will expand to fill that new space.
By stretching your muscles under specific conditions, you can actually stretch your fascia and give your muscles more room to grow.
The key to effective fascial stretching is the pump. The best time to stretch to expand the bags that are holding in your muscles is when your muscles are pumped up full of blood.
When your muscles are fully pumped up, they are pressing against the fascia. By stretching hard at that time, you increase that pressure on the fascia greatly, which can lead to expansion of the fascia.
One of the major reasons Arnold Schwarzenegger had such incredible chest development was that he finished his chest workouts with dumbbell flyes, an exercise that emphasizes the stretched position of the pectoral muscles. He would pump his chest up full of blood during the workout then do flyes, holding the stretch at the bottom of the flye. This gave his chest room to grow to amazing proportions.
Stretching Human Muscles Makes Them Stronger
Research on residual force enhancement and muscle stretching and contraction observed under physiological conditions.
By Dilson E. Rassier – Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, McGill University | First Published in the Journal of Applied Physiology 102: 5-6, 2007
Outline of the Study
This review article explores changes in muscle fiber, specifically examining a phenomenon known as residual force enhancement. The primary focus is on a study conducted by Pinniger and Cresswell, which sought to explore the relationship between laboratory research on residual force enhancement and muscle stretching and contraction observed under physiological conditions.
The object of study for the authors is the large leg muscles of healthy subjects. Specifically, joint torque around the ankle, indicative of muscular force, was measured. The results were compared with residual force enhancement generated via electrical stimulation during plantar flexion. Residual force enhancement was shown in physiological conditions to be a fundamental characteristic of contracting skeletal muscle. While residual force enhancement following electrical stimulation appears to produce similar results to those obtained in isolated preparations, the relation of this effect to that produced by voluntary activation requires further study.
What the Study Was Trying to Prove
Steady-state isometric force after active stretching of a muscle has been frequently shown to be greater than the steady-state isometric force resulting from purely isometric contraction at the same length. This property of skeletal muscle is referred to as residual force enhancement, though the precise mechanisms responsible have remained a topic of debate. Residual force enhancement is a feature observed following active stretching of both skeletal muscles and single fibers. The study has attempted to link existing findings, such as those derived from myofibrils, single fibers, and isolated muscles with the voluntarily muscle contraction occurring in everyday situations. The article stresses the challenges inherent in such studies, one of which is the variance of voluntary muscle activation among different individuals.
Summary of Results
Measurements of residual force enhancement were made with the large leg muscles of healthy individuals. Sub-maximal plantar flexion and dorsiflexion was maintained by allowing the study subjects to view their electromyography signals monitored from the soleus or tibialis anterior muscles. Muscle stretching was achieved by changing the angle of the ankle within a normal range of motion. Force enhancements of 7% and 12% were observed for plantar flexion and dorsifelxion, respectively. Residual force enhancement produced by electrical stimulation was comparable, increasing by 13%. The mechanism of residual force enhancement, the authors believe, involves an increased stiffness in titin molecules, rather than the formation of cross-bridges or unstable sarcomeres, as often proposed elsewhere.
Pinniger and Cresswell’s results suggest that residual force enhancement may influence muscular system performance during everyday activities. Such enhancement appears to be a fundamental characteristic of human skeletal muscles contracting in physiological situations. Fiber type may well play a role in the observed phenomena, given that greater residual force enhancement was seen in the tibialis anterior compared with the soleus muscle. These results open the pathway for additional studies aimed at exploiting force enhancement in functional tasks. The effects of physical training, fatigue, muscle atrophy, and muscular disease on force enhancement are cited as profitable areas for future research. Pinniger and Cresswell’s work represents the first clinical approximation of regular muscle activity during residual force enhancement.
A few precautions
Fascial stretching is more rigorous than regular stretching but the results can be amazing. When you stretch hard enough to cause the fascia to expand, you will really feel it! When you are stretching the fascia, you should feel a powerful pulling sensation and pressure as the muscle works against the fascia to expand it.
Be sure you do not stretch so hard that you cause the muscle to tear or cause injury to yourself. You will rapidly learn to distinguish the difference between a good stretch and a bad stretch. You should not feel any sharp pain, just a steady pull.
Hold each stretch for at least 20 to 30 seconds as you must give your fascia time to be affected by the stretch. Stretch hard like this only when you have a fully pumped muscle as you must give your fascia a reason to expand. If your muscles aren’t pumped, just stretch normally.
One set of hard stretching after each set you do for a muscle group, besides the obvious benefits of increased flexibility, can have an incredible effect on the size of your muscles and their further ability to grow.
Looking for stretches to improve your muscle growth?
While the recommendations on this page are a good starting point, you'll get a lot more benefit when you add the right stretches to your training program. With the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility (Handbook, DVD & CD-ROM) you'll...
You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretches for every major muscle groups in your body. Plus, the DVD includes 3 customized sets of stretches (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. And the Handbook will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly and safely. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly.
If you want to improve your flexibility so you can to train harder, race faster, recover quicker and move better, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.
Research and References
- Abbot BC, Aubert X. (1952) The force exerted by active striated muscle during and after change of length. Journal of Physiology 117: 77-86, 1952.
- Edman KA, Elzinga G, Noble MI. (1982) Residual force enhancement after stretch of contracting frog single muscle fibers. Journal of General Physiology 80: 769-784.
- Herzog W, Lee EJ, Rassier DE. Residual force enhancement in skeletal muscle. Journal of Physiology 574: 635-642, 2006.
- Lee HD, Herzog W. Force enhancement following muscle stretch of electrically stimulated and voluntarily activated human adductor pollicis. Journal of Physiology 545: 321-330, 2002.
- Morgan DL. An explanation for residual increased tension in striated muscle after stretch during contraction. Experimental Physiol 79: 831-838, 1994.
- Oskouei AE, Herzog W. Force enhancement at different levels of voluntary contraction in human adductor pollicis. European Journal of Applied Physiology 97: 280-287, 2006.
- Pinniger GJ, Cresswell AG. Residual force enhancement after lengthening is present during submaximal plantar flexion and dorsiflexion actions in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology 102: 18-25, 2007.
- Pinniger GJ, Ranatunga KW, Offer GW. Crossbridge and non-crossbridge contributions to tension in lengthening rat muscle: force-induced reversal of the power stroke. Journal of Physiology 573: 627-643, 2006.
- Rassier DE, Herzog W. Active force inhibition and stretch-induced force enhancement in frog muscle treated with BDM. Journal of Applied Physiology 97: 1395-1400, 2004.
- Ruiter CJ, Didden WJ, Jones DA, Haan AD. The force-velocity relationship of human adductor pollicis muscle during stretch and the effects of fatigue. Journal of Physiology 5263: 671-681, 2000.
- Telley IA, Stehle R, Ranatunga KW, Pfitzer G, Stussi E, Denoth J. Dynamic behaviour of half-sarcomeres during and after stretch in activated rabbit psoas myofibrils: sarcomere asymmetry but no sarcomere popping. Journal of Physiology 573: 173-185, 2006.