Stretching & Muscle: Stretching Increase or Decrease Muscle Power?

Stretching and Muscles

Proper Muscle Stretching is Key for Success

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A recent article that said stretching can decrease power and another that said it can increase it. Which is right? One study suggests that if you stretch right before an all-out attempt on an exercise, you increase the length of the tendon and muscle, and the elongation can cause a delay in contraction reaction time (The American Journal of Sports Medicine 18(3):300-309. 1990.) In other words, immediately after you stretch, the muscle and its support structures are in a loose state that's not conducive to contraction and you can get a decrease in strength. Doing light specific warmup sets on your first exercise after you stretch, however, should retighten the target muscles and support structures through contraction, to prevent a decrease in performance.

So that means you shouldn't stretch between your warmup sets and your work sets and you definitely shouldn't stretch between your work sets, right? Wrong, according to earlier Soviet research.

A Soviet study done in 1977 found strength increases of up to 9.4 percent in weightlifters who stretched between work sets, according to Pavel Tsatsoullne, Soviet Master of Sport (John Parrillo's Performance Press, November 1998.). The technique is called Loaded Passive Stretching, and it's done with a relatively light weight-30 to 50 percent of your 1RM-holding the stretch for five to 20 seconds. Tsatsouline says that you shouldn't flex or relax the stretched muscles, as it's a passive stretch, He recommends two stretches for each bodybuilding set, one a minute before and the other immediately after-and the stretch after is the most important because "it could make a 50 percent difference in muscle size gains."

Stretching without weights, as in the first study, relaxes the muscle so it can elongate. That's not good for your all-out performance because it can decrease contractile ability. With the Loaded Passive Stretching, however, you use weights. That's the key. Resistance in the stretch position prevents the muscle from relaxing and also sends a signals to your brain to prepare to trigger emergency fiber recruitment, hence more power. That's one reason Hyper contraction Training is so effective. You put a stretch-position exercise first in your bodypart routine to flip on the emergency fiber- recruitment switch before you move into the big midrange exercise. it helps rather than hinders your performance because it warms up I the target muscle flips on the emergency switch and doesn't significantly loosen the target muscles and their tendons. An example of Hyper contraction training is doing a few sets of medium-intensity incline curls prior to beginning your barbell curls, which should include a few warmup sets. After barbell curls you do concentrations curls, and you've successfully trained the biceps three positions of flexion while incorporating Hyper contraction.

Another way to use stretch-position movements for better gains is to put them at the end of your bodypart routines and hold every rep in the stretch position for five seconds, doing about six of these Stretch-Pause reps per set. Ending your bodypart routines with a set or two of Stretch-Pause can loosen the fasciai sheath that covers the muscle fibers so you lessen constriction and create more room for fiber growth. It's also believed to increase IGF-1 receptors on the target muscles and possibly induce hyperplasia, or fiber splitting. The fiber splitting that has been demonstrated in the lab with animals occurred after stretch overload. If hyperplasia is possible in humans, it's a good bet that stretch overload is what causes it, and the more fibers you have, the more size potential.

To get the most bodybuilding benefits from stretching, I suggest using Hyper contraction training for a five-week high-intensity phase-stretch-position movements at the beginning of your bodypart routines with no pause in the stretch position. Shift to a medium-intensity phase for a week, then move into another five-week high-intensity phase with Stretch-Pause training-stretch-position exercises at the end of your bodypart routines with five-second holds at the stretch point of each rep. Both Hyper contraction and Stretch-Pause will allow you to get all the size and strength benefits from stretching without any of the negative effects that can be caused by loose muscles and tendons.

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