Stretching for Strength Training


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Bodybuilding Stretching Exercises for Strength Training

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Most people imagine strength trainers to be muscle-bound, lacking in mobility and grace­ful posture. Indeed, many strength trainers who neglect to stretch do fit that image. Stretching is highly beneficial for anyone involved in strength training. Not only does it provide numerous health benefits but it can also enhance your muscle size and shape. This chapter gives you a thorough checklist on safe and effective stretching and explains exactly what happens in your muscles when you stretch. Finally, it gives you a step-by-step guide to the essential stretches that will benefit your workouts.

Why stretch?

The benefits of a good stretching programme include:

  • Reduced risk of muscle strain, joint injuries and back problems.
  • Reduced post-exercise muscle soreness.
  • Speedier recovery.
  • Increased range of motion and co-ordination.
  • Greater strength gains due to greater range of motion. improved body awareness.
  • Better physical and mental relaxation.

How can stretching help enhance muscle size and shape?

Incorporating key stretches into your strength­training programme will result in greater muscle growth and the enhancement of muscle shape. Failing to stretch will not only, limit your range of motion but also your growth rate.

Stretching elongates the fascia, a strong protective sheath of connective tissue covering all muscles and their cells, allowing the muscle underneath room in which to grow. Fascia tissue can become thick and tough if the muscles are not stretched and are subjected to a limited range of motion. The best time to stretch the fascia is when the muscles are very' warm and 'pumped' (i.e. full of blood). This occurs during and after a workout, so stretch between and after sets, and at the end of your training session.

Stretching increases flexibility, giving the muscles and joints a greater range of motion. It can1 prevent muscle soreness and promote faster recovery between workouts, helping to release1 lactic acid from the muscle cells into the bloodstream so that it does not hinder further: muscle contraction. Therefore, stretching! during your workout may enable you to train! harder and longer.

Stretching improves posture as well, and gives the body a more athletic or graceful appearance instead of that clumsy awkward gait that many bodybuilders develop.

How do muscles stretch?

The muscles contain receptors called muscle I spindles, which register information about the, muscle's length and rate of change of length.

One of their main jobs is to protect the muscles from injury. So whenever there is a rapid change in muscle length, a reflex action is set up to shorten or contract it instead.

Tendons - which attach muscles to bone ­ also contain receptors called golgi tendon organs (GTOs), registering information about the degree of tension in the tendon. When a high force is registered, the GTOs enable the muscle to relax in an attempt to reduce the tension, thus acting as a safety mechanism. If the intensity of a muscular contraction or stretch exceeds a certain critical point, an intermediate reflex occurs to inhibit the contraction or stretch. As a result, the muscle instantly relaxes and the excessive tension is removed, and with it the possibility of injury. In other words, the GTOs shut down the muscle to prevent injury. If the GTOs did not exist, it would be possible to have a stretch or contraction so powerful that the muscle or tendon would be torn from its attachments!

Bouncing, uncontrolled or forced movements cause the greatest reflex response. Thus ballistic stretching can cause the muscle to contract and so increase the chance of injury. Static stretching that is carried out slowly and in a controlled manner will lead to a reflex relaxation of the muscle.

Strength through stretching is related to your GTO threshold, which limits a contraction well short of the point at which tendons would be injured. Stretching gives the muscles the ability to contract more efficiently without shutting down in response to stretched tendons. Obviously, it is desirable to
have a high GTO reflex threshold, as this allows you to handle heavier weights and do more reps without the GTOs inhibiting muscle acton. The higher the GTO threshold, the more intensely you can train, and the greater the gains in size and strength. Stretching your muscles regularly can help raise your GTO threshold, some experts estimate, by up to 15-20%.

How to perform stretches

You should only stretch when your body is warm and the muscle is receiving an increased blood flow. Stretching a cold muscle increases the risk of injury and reduces the effectiveness of the stretch. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Ideally, stretching should be done after a workout and also in-between sets.
  • Alternatively, stretch in-between workouts as a separate session but only after a thorough warm-up - 5-10 minutes of some light aerobic activity.
  • Perform static stretches and avoid bouncing. This is a far safer method of stretching a muscle than ballistic movements.
  • Gradually ease into position, all the time focusing on relaxing the muscle.
  • Stretch only as far as is comfortable and then hold that position. As the muscle relaxes, ease further into the stretch, gradually increasing the range of motion.
  • Never hold your breath. Exhale and relax as you go into the stretch and then breathe normally.
  • Never go past the point of discomfort or pain. You could pull or tear the muscle/ tendon.
  • Stretches performed at the end of a work­out, or during a separate session, should be held for 30 seconds or more to allow stretching in the connective tissue and muscle.
  • Release from the stretch slowly.

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