Stretching can play an important role in athletic development. Maintaining normal, controlled range of motion is essential to feeling healthy, performing well and avoiding injury. We all know it should be done, but the question is when?
For athletes looking to build muscle, pre-workout stretching could actually be holding you back. A recent study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology investigated this phenomena. Let’s take a closer look at this study and give you the most important takeaways.
The study featured nine untrained males. As opposed to breaking up the participants into two separate groups, each participant had one leg assigned to a different group (perhaps because of the small number of total participants). One leg followed an “RT” program that consisted of resistance training with no stretching while the other leg followed a “FLEX-RT” program which consisted of resistance training immediately after stretching.
The RT program consisted of four sets of leg extensions to failure at 80% of the participants’ one-rep max.
The FLEX-RT program consisted of the same, but featured two sets of 25 seconds of intense static stretching for the quadriceps pro to the exercise.
This training was performed twice a week for 10 consecutive weeks. Measures of muscle cross-sectional area, one-rep max, and flexibility were taken at baseline, at halfway through the program, and at the conclusion of the program.
The researchers found that the total number of reps and total training volume were roughly 20% higher in the RT group than the FLEX-RT group. That’s to say the group who did not perform the intense static stretching prior to exercise performed roughly 20% more reps than the group who did.
Additionally, the cross-sectional area of the vastus lateralis (the largest and most powerful muscle in the quadriceps group) increased by 12.7% in the RT group but just 7.4% in the FLEX-RT group. One-rep max increased similarly.
Flexibility, however, did increase by 10.1% in the FLEX-RT group and just 2.1% in the RT group.
The researchers concluded that “these results show performing flexibility training immediately before resistance training can contribute to a lower number of repetitions, total volume, and muscle hypertrophy.” If you’re interested in gaining muscle size, hold off on the static stretching prior to strength training.
Instead, perform a general dynamic warm-up that could look something like this:
- Jump rope: 3 minutes
- Bodyweight Squat x 5
- Reverse Lunge to Knee Drive x 5 each
- Leg Cradle to Lateral Lunge x 3 each
- Crossunder Lunge to Knee Drive x 3 each
- Push Up to Downward Dog x 5 each
- Front Plank x 10 second
- Side Plank x 5 second
- Bodyweight Squat x 5
The post-workout period is a good time for static stretching, as it can lower heart rate, accelerate recovery, and won’t interfere with the volume you need to do in the weight room.
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