By Nick Nilsson
Author of Mad Scientist Muscle
If you want to build muscle, you need to focus strongly on exercises that target the stretch position of a muscle.
For example, if you want to build maximum bicep size, you should always make sure and include incline dumbbell curls in your arm workouts.
The stretch position is important for muscle growth for several reasons.
1. Loading the muscle in this position activates more muscle fibers and motor units by putting the muscle in an "emergency" situation. The stretch position is also the most vulnerable position a muscle can be in. When you load the muscle in this position, your body wants to do what it can to get back out of that position, hence the activation of more muscle fibers. This is called the "myotatic reflex."
2. Loading a muscle in the stretch position can result in more mechanical trauma to the muscle fibers. In other words, the exercise damages the muscles fibers more, which leads to greater adaptation via muscle growth.
Some trainers have also theorized that stretching a muscle under load when it's pumped up with blood can stretch the fascia (the "pillowcase" of connective tissue surrounding each muscle.
Unfortunately, fascia is incredibly strong and a short-term stretch simply doesn't have the power to meaningfully stretch the fascia.
That being said, in attempt to stretch the fascia, these trainers are also developing the muscles within that fascia. This, in my opinion, actually CAN stretch the fascia out, via long-term pressure from the inside of the fascial "pillowcase."
Think of a tarp stretched very tightly off the ground. You can put a large rock on it for a very short period of time and it won't warp the tarp. However, if you put a smaller rock on the tarp and leave it there for a LONG time, it WILL warp the tarp.
That is how fascial stretching is accomplished.
Good stretch exercises for your other muscle groups include:
- Chest - dumbbell flyes
- Back - stiff-arm pushdowns
- Quadriceps - sissy squats
- Hamstrings - Romanian deadlifts
- Triceps - bodyweight tricep extensions
- Calves - donkey calf raises
- Shoulders - there aren't really any good stretch exercises for shoulders
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