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Training to Win

Training to Win is written by INBA World Vice President Wayne McDonald BSc. and Mr Australia, Richard Hargreaves, provides some of the secrets to winning for bodybuilders. Other articles include Eating to Win and Thinking to win.

Muscle size success secret - make this your secret weapon

Now I know this might not sound exciting at first. But believe me, reading will be worth it because the effects can be quite impressive and fast. So, if you have reached a plateau in your results and do not seem to be getting any bigger, perhaps it is time to focus a bit more on the science of stretching.

Stretching properly can facilitate easy growth

There is no definitive methodology covering stretching before weight training. Exercise scientists can list "common-sense" reasons why we should stretch to avoid injury, yet there is no proven evidence. Indeed, humans are amongst the few creatures that stretch before activity. Therefore, the IAPC cannot recommend a specific procedure other than to advise bodybuilders to apply the "art of active rest" to explain further and utilise what they feel is best for them. However, I will make one crucial statement about stretching. This advice is based on my observation over my 25 years in the bodybuilding industry. I have observed bodybuilders with that remarkable muscle quality, plump muscles that looked too good. They all stretched between sets. They fill their resting time between sets or while their partner performs their set by stretching the trained muscle group. For example, Tom Platz was so flexible that he could do the total splits even with such incredible muscle size on his legs. I believe stretching between sets is a bodybuilding success secret, and I advise everyone to utilize this habit between sets.

Richard Hargreaves, co-founder of the IAPC has this to say about stretching

I have read and experimented extensively with various training systems and methods. One method (It is not a secret, but it may be because so few people are aware of it, understand it, or take advantage of it) is stretching! I watched specific individuals who regularly stretched make phenomenal gains, but I did not realize it was stretching that had a significant impact on their results for too long. However, a couple of things forced me to rethink my position on stretching. Scientific research demonstrated muscles become more sensitive or receptive to IGF-1 if they are stretched. The other was the "Balloon" or "Bag" Theory of muscle growth which expounds your muscles literally like water-filled balloons or bags, and like you can blow up a balloon, you can blow up a muscle. By stretching the muscle, you could stretch or enlarge the muscle's outer membrane allowing the muscle to grow further.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was also a great believer in stretching, especially his upper back, biceps and chest (when performing a set of flat flys for the chest, he could almost touch the dumbbells on the floor). These were also his best body parts and distinctly better than any of his contemporary bodybuilders of the time. Since Arnold's time, scientific research has revealed that stretching increases muscle cell sensitivity to the potent muscle-building hormone IGF-1. IGF-1 is short for Insulin-like Growth Factor. It is a powerful anabolic hormone naturally produced in the body when HGH (Human Growth Hormone or Somatomedin) is metabolised in the liver.

Some athletes take synthetic IGF-1 (banned substance) in an injectable form to make gains in muscular size. However, a natural bodybuilder can utilies this potent muscle-building hormone by stretching. Stretching muscles make the cells more sensitive to this valuable growth factor and amplify muscle building.

Muscle growth's "bag theory" expounds on the "pump" value for building muscle. This theory was developed by a researcher named D.J. Millward, a well-known scientist who extensively studied the muscle-building process. The idea makes a lot of sense when you look at the physical structure of a muscle. A muscle is surrounded by a tight fibro collagenous sheath called fascia, which holds the bundles of muscle fibres (actin and myosin) firmly together. The theory follows that stretching the fascia allows the muscle more room to expand or grow rather than 'forcing' growth within a solid barrier.

Millward states, "...a key feature of skeletal muscle growth appears to be limited by connective-tissue growth, which controls myofibre diameter and length."

Scientifically, it has been measured that muscle growth is greatest by stretching the muscle. This was discovered by comparing muscle growth in chicken wings. One group of chickens had a weight tied to their wing. The weight was light enough to contract their wing and perform concentric contractions. A second group had a weight tied to their wing that was so heavy that they could not move the weight and the wing muscle stayed in a static stretched position. The muscle gain in the chicken group with their wings stretched was ten times higher than the group who could contract (perform repetitions) with their wings. This technique cannot be applied to humans because of the pain involved. (Poor chickens).

The Art of Active Rest

Utilising what is termed "active rest". Instead of only resting, every set of an exercise productively stretches the muscle you are training. When stretching, take the muscle first to the point that you feel slight pain, and relax the stretch momentarily, so the pain disappears. Repeat the "full" stretch on the muscle - and hold. On the second attempt at full stretch to tightness, you should be able to stretch further than your first stretch to the point of pain. This is due to "gates" at the end of muscle cells that lock to prevent injury are unlocked. Never hold a stretch at the point where you feel excessive pain - slight discomfort. That pain is the muscle contracting against the stretch (to avoid injury). If the muscle is contracting, it is not stretching. Relax the muscle as it is being stretched by consciously putting your attention on it. At the same time, take deep, slow breaths into your midsection (diaphragmatic breathing.) If you seek an improvement in your ability to stretch, be patient. Changes usually take six weeks before they can be measured.

The only tension should be in the agonist, not the antagonist's muscle and this tension should be "relaxed tension". To explain agonist and antagonist, here is an example. If you perform bicep curls, the agonist is your bicep, and the antagonist (opposing muscle) is your triceps. If you were doing triceps pushdowns, the agonist would be your triceps, and the antagonist would be your biceps. Stretching between sets does not add extra time to your workouts, yet training is more effective and productive. As a final word, if you have been training for a few years and never have taken advantage of the stretching stimulus, be prepared for some spectacular results after utilising this "secret weapon".

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Page Reference

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  • MACKENZIE, B. (2008) Training to Win [WWW] Available from: [Accessed