When it comes to stretching for bodybuilders, we often find a big divide among people.
One camp says that stretching is an essential step towards having an impeccable body, while the other maintains that stretching is a waste of time and should be avoided completely.
In this article, we take a look at:
- How stretching boosts muscle growth.
- How stretching boosts muscle strength.
- How stretching reduces injury.
- AND some good stretches to try!
If you don’t have a lot of time to read, here’s what you need to know:
Do bodybuilders stretch? Yes! Bodybuilders stretch as it reduces injury and boosts muscle growth. Stretching is integral in the bodybuilding process.
This piece should shed light on any stretching doubts you may have! Let’s dive right into it.
How Our Muscles Are Built – The Basic Structure
When bodybuilders talk of muscles, what they are really talking about is the striated muscle tissue in the body.
The striated muscle is one of the three types of muscle tissue found in our bodies. It is the most abundant type of the three. Luckily, it is also the type that we can voluntarily control. It is also known as skeletal muscle – because it is connected to the skeleton and also striped muscle – because it has visible stripes of fat on it.
Think of muscles as composed of thread-like structures. Think of them as tiny fibers that are connected to each other. These fibers together form muscle mass. The functional unit of a muscle fiber is known as a sarcomere. Muscle cells are also called myofibers in some circles.
When we stretch and exercise, it is these myofibers that contract and relax. The regular contraction and retraction of these myofibers leads to microdamage.
Repair of such microdamage leads to an increase in fiber count, thereby resulting in thicker, and stronger muscles that are much better adapted to handling stress. This is how muscles grow via the process of muscular hypertrophy .
Fascia And The Room For Growth Of Muscles
Our myofibers aren’t exposed to the rest of the body directly. Instead, each muscle fiber in the body is enclosed in an envelope-like structure called fascia. While there exist different types of fascia such as superficial fascia and deep fascia, their basic function remains unchanged.
Fascia plays an extremely important role in our body. Their job is to keep the muscles in their proper place. They separate the other organs and the skin from the muscle fibers. We can extrapolate that fascia wraps around the muscle. Therefore, fascia sort of controls the amount of room that our muscles have to grow and develop.
Think about this, no matter how hard you train the muscles or how well you eat, your muscles will simply not grow until they have enough room to grow in.That room size is controlled by fascia. We can then begin to think about ways to increase fascia size.
As it happens, one of the best ways to increase fascia size is regular stretching.
How Stretching Increases Fascia Size
Studies have shown that regular stretching leads to an increase in fascia size.
An increased fascia volume allows the muscle microdamage to heal properly and which can lead to explosive muscle growth.
A limited fascia doesn’t allow muscles to expand. This is partly because muscle fibers are delicate at a molecular level and partly because of how hard fascia is. It simply doesn’t allow muscular growth.
According to studies, regular stretching exercises help in increasing the fascia size by considerable amounts. This allows space for the myofibers to grow well. Maximum benefit can be achieved by stretching at the right time. The best time to stretch is when the muscles are warmed up and the vessels are full of blood.
How Stretching Prevents Injury
We now understand how stretching is important to consistent muscle growth.
Our muscle fibers are wrapped inside packets called fascia. The fascia won’t let the muscles increase in size unless they themselves grow first. This is why stretching is important.
Stretching will allow the fascia to grow gradually. This means as the muscle fibers grow in size, they won’t be inhibited in their growth by lack of room in the fascia.
Effect of Stretching On Injury Rates
As we work out, the muscles go through different stages of releasing energy. At first, anaerobic methods are used, but when they are not enough, oxygen-induced aerobic methods have to be relied upon.
The end result of an intense workout session is stiff muscles. The stiffness may be because of healing micro damages in the muscle fibers or because of lactic acid build up.
In either of the two cases, stretching can help decrease muscle tension and stiffness. This helps in preventing injuries.
Stretching adds flexibility to the muscles. Studies have shown that bodybuilders who practice stretching regularly see a drastic improvement in overall flexibility.
This means that including stretching before or after your workout can help improve flexibility consistently. Increased flexibility means that sudden movements or events that put sudden strains on the muscle fibers are handled better. The fibers don’t get damaged, preventing the injury.
Aches and pains are a common dealing for bodybuilders. When one practices bodybuilding regularly, they have to deal with a lot of aches post workout.
While there is not a hundred percent relief from those, “no pains, no gains” after all, stretching does help relieve a lot of that pain.
Post workout exercises that target specific muscle groups help release relaxing chemicals. The chemicals bind with nerve receptors and help in easing pain. Regularly engaging in stretching exercises can significantly decrease aches.
Muscular tension is another leading cause of injury in a workout. Short stretching exercises in between intense exercises help relieve muscular tension.
When we are working out, our muscles are at their maximum. The heart pumps at its maximum and the fibers are full of blood, pumping with oxygen.
If the muscles get too tense, they can cut off their own blood circulation and literally starve to death without energy. This can cause long-term damage. This is the reason why stretching should include long and intense workout sessions.
Pre and Post Workout Stretching
It is important to highlight that not all stretching is the same. Not only do the exercises differ, but the purpose of post and pre workout stretching also differ.
- Read: C4 Pre Workout Review
Pre workout stretching is designed to help the muscles loosen up and expand the fascia so muscles can work at their maximum. Such stretching helps increase flexibility and prevents injury during the workout. Generally this stretching is kept immediately after the main workout.
Post workout stretching is designed for relaxing the muscles after tense sessions. They help ease the aches and pains and deal with microdamage better at the molecular level.
Should Bodybuilders Stretch?
Stretching, as we have explained earlier, helps in overall muscle development. Without stretching the muscles remain locked inside the fascia without any development or improvement.
However, regular stretching helps in pushing the fascia walls outwards. Stretching tends to be most beneficial when done post workout or as part of warm up. In both cases, the vessels are full of blood to help with maximum benefit.
Stretching ‘Unlocks’ Muscles You’ve Never Used Before, Boosting Strength
People that are monsters at the squat machine typically have a huge warm-up stretch routine.
And there’s good reason for that.
When you don’t stretch, you use the same muscles you normally will to squat. Which is alright, you will see big muscle growth in your quads, hamstrings, et cetera.
BUT, if you want to workout those tiny muscles and seriously make your legs look sculpted, you’ll have to do some complicated stretches.
If you’re finding that you’ve plateaued on the squat at 300 lbs or so, you probably need to be stretching as you likely aren’t activating the proper muscles to squat.
Deload, follow this book “How to Become a Supple Leopard”, and watch your squat skyrocket.
This also applies to the Bench Press, rows, overhead press, et cetera.
Stretching Exercises For Muscle Boost
There are plenty of great stretching exercises available. Here we look at some of the basic ones that help bodybuilders get started with stretching:
- Rear foot elevated quad stretch: This is one of the most simple and basic stretching exercises. Place one of the feet on an elevated platform or bench. With this position, dip into a forward lunge. This stretches out the feet fascia very well and helps in building strong leg and thigh muscles.
- Supine thoracic rotation: This is one of the finest upper body stretches. It is most suitable after a workout session. Lay down completely with your back completely relaxed. The stretching requires one of the knees resting on an elevation to one side. With the knee resting on an elevation, bring one of the arms to meet the other on the knee side. Repeat the process for a constant stretching motion.
- Supine Figure Hip stretch: This one is another awesome, post-workout stretch that helps increase fascia room for the lower body. The process is simple enough to follow. In a supine position, bring one of your ankles to the top of the other knee. Join hands under the raised thigh and stretch back to repeatedly pull the thigh. The exercise puts a lot of effort on the fascia and helps in rapid development.
Stretching is definitely an essential activity for the bodybuilder. It helps the muscle fibers get room to properly grow and develop- plus it massively reduces the risk of injury.
No amount of eating proteins or working out helps muscles grow after a point. It is like stuffing a lot of air in a small balloon. After a point, the balloon is bound to break and more air simply won’t go in.
Instead, what stretching does is that it moves the air into a new, bigger balloon. Suddenly, there is a lot more room for the air to inflate. Similarly, stretching can help increase the size of skeletal muscle mass.