Selective Muscular Stretching
Brad Walker explains the benefits of selective muscular stretching when weight training.
During a weight-training session, what do you do in between your sets? If you are like most people, you relax or talk to your friends. While these activities might help to bide the time, they do little to improve your physique. Your time in the gym is precious. If you want to maximize your genetic potential, your energies must be dedicated to making optimal use of every training moment. Ultimately, wasted time amounts to lost opportunity.
One of the best ways to make productive use of your rest intervals is to utilize a technique called selective muscular stretching. Although many people regard stretching only as a means to increase flexibility, it can provide a multitude of muscular benefits when incorporated into your routine. Stretching a "pumped" muscle can enhance the quality of your workouts and even help to promote muscular growth. Let us take a look at the benefits afforded by this practical technique.
Reduced Lactic Acid Build-up
Nothing sabotages a workout more than the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles. Lactic acid is a waste by-product of ATP-the primary source of energy used to fuel your muscles during anaerobic exercise. It is responsible for the burning sensation that accompanies intense training and eventually impedes your ability to achieve a muscular contraction. Once it builds up, you cannot continue to train. Selective muscular stretching helps to neutralize the effects of lactic acid by restoring blood flow to your working muscles. It affords an outlet to flush metabolic waste from your body, providing rapid regeneration of your muscular capacity.
Better Muscular Recovery
Contrary to popular belief, muscle tissue is broken down-not built up-during anaerobic exercise. When a muscle is subjected to intense stress, tiny micro-tears develop in its fibres. This contributes to the presence of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that often accompanies a grueling workout. By expediting nutrient delivery to your musculoskeletal system, selective stretching helps to repair muscle tissue and accelerate the healing process. There is less post-exercise fatigue and diminishes muscular soreness. This results in better recuperation between workouts, allowing you to come back strong for your next training session.
Increased Range of Motion
During weight training, concentric repetitions cause your muscles to shorten in length. Over time, your muscles can adapt to this shortened position, restricting their range of motion. Ultimately, this decreases the amount of force that you can generate in your contractions, thereby compromising muscular gains. Selective muscular stretching helps to counteract these adverse effects, elongating your muscles to pre-exercise levels. You maintain better elasticity in your joints and connective tissue, facilitating your ability to work through a full range of motion. Moreover, since your body is more limber, you are not as likely to exceed your body's stress threshold, reducing the potential of a training-related injury.
Elevated IGF-1 Levels
In conjunction with growth hormone, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) plays a central role in promoting muscular development. Amongst its many functions, IGF-1 helps to increase thermogenesis and expedite amino acid uptake-factors that combine to reduce excess body fat while fostering gains in lean muscle tissue. Studies have shown that repeated stretching substantially raises circulating levels of IGF-11 2. These levels can remain elevated for up to several hours after stretching, providing a large window for muscular growth. Ultimately, this helps to enhance your anabolic function and create an environment that is conducive to packing on fat-free mass.
Enhanced Growth Potential
Your muscles are encapsulated in a dense, fibrous sheath called fascial tissue. Since its primary function is to protect your muscles (and other internal structures) from injury, fascia is extremely strong. So strong that its resiliency has been equated to solid steel! While the strength of this tissue is necessary as a safeguard against injury, it also constricts the ability of your muscles to hypertrophy past a certain point. The use of selective muscular stretching can help to make the fascia more pliable, loosening its "hold" on a muscle. Theoretically, this allows the underlying fibres additional room for growth, expanding your genetic potential.
For best results, selective muscular stretching should be implemented into your workout regimen regularly. As soon as a set is completed, immediately stretch the muscle being trained to utilize the movements discussed below. Try to hold each stretch throughout the entire rest interval and then proceed directly to your next set.
As a rule, stretching should be static, where you slowly work into each stretch in a controlled fashion. Static stretching is the most effective way to achieve optimal benefits without potential damage to your musculature. It allows for a gradual elongation of muscle tissue, permitting you to stretch your body to its utmost degree safely. While there are those on the fringe, who advocate using jerky, bouncing manoeuvers, this dangerous form of stretching should be summarily avoided. These movements (called ballistic stretching) can easily overload soft tissue structures beyond their normal elasticity, causing potential harm to your muscles, joints, and connective tissue.
When you stretch, go only to the point where you feel the tension in the muscle-not to where you experience unbearable pain. If you stretch too far, your body sends a neural impulse to the overstretched muscle (called the stretch reflex), causing it to contract. This reflex tightens the muscle, creating the opposite effect of what you are trying to accomplish. By stretching slowly, you can ease into a comfortable zone, taking your body to the edge without going over. Finally, make sure to keep yourself loose and relaxed, breathing in a slow, rhythmic fashion.
From a standing position, grasp any stationary object such as a pole or exercise machine with your right hand. Your arm should be straight and roughly parallel with the ground. Slowly turn your body away from the object, allowing your arm to go as far behind your body as comfortably possible. Hold this position for the desired amount of time and repeat this process on the left.
From a standing position, grasp your right wrist with your left hand. Without turning your body, slowly pull your right arm across your torso as far as comfortably possible. Hold this position for the desired amount of time and repeat the process on the left.
From a standing position, grasp any stationary object such as a pole or exercise machine with both hands. Bend your knees and sit back so that your arms are fully extended and supporting your weight. Shift your weight to the right to isolate the right portion of your lat. Hold this position for the desired amount of time and then shift your weight to the left.
From a standing position, raise your right arm over your head. Bend your elbow so that your right hand is behind your head. With your left hand, grasp your right wrist and pull it back as far as comfortably possible, allowing your elbow to point toward the ceiling. Hold this position for the desired amount of time and repeat this process on the left.
From a standing position, extend your right arm forward with your palm facing up. Place your left palm underneath your right elbow. Slowly straighten your right arm as much as comfortably possible, pressing your elbow down into your left hand. Hold this position for the desired amount of time and repeat this process on the left.
From a standing position, grasp a stationary object such as a pole or exercise machine with your left hand. Bend your right knee and bring your right foot toward your butt. Grasp your right ankle with your right hand and slowly pull your foot upward as high as comfortably possible. Repeat this process on the left.
From a standing position, straighten your legs and slowly bend forward at the waist. Allow your hands to travel downward along the line of your body as far as comfortably possible. At the point where you feel an intense stretch in your hamstrings, grab onto your legs and hold this position for the desired amount of time.
Stand on a raised block of wood and grasp a stationary object for balance. Take your left foot off of the block so that you are standing on your right leg. Slowly allow your right heel to travel downward as far as comfortably possible. Hold this position for the desired amount of time and repeat the process on the left.
NOTE: Since there is only one major artery that feeds each of the calf muscles (the sural artery feeds the gastrocnemius, and the posterior tibial artery feeds the soleus), blood flow tends to be reduced to this area during training. This causes lactic acid to accrue fairly rapidly and substantially increases the potential for muscular cramping. Hence, selective stretching is especially crucial in calves.
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About the Author
Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years' experience in the health and fitness industry. Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming, and triathlon coaching. He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention.