The Benefits of Stretching for Weight Training
By Ron Israel
All of you that stretch regularly please stand up. Oh, why aren't you standing? Is it because you're sore from your leg workout, or maybe cause you don't stretch regularly? I bet it's the latter.
"Stretching is for females and fitness trainees", this is heard on and on and guess what? It's also good for you ironheads and hardcore trainees! In this article I'm not going to tell you which method that is best for stretching because they all are. I'm going to introduce one method that I think will be very appealing to those who train for mass, power and strength. And it may also be more productive.
Why would it be appealing you ask? Well to answer that you must read the article, but I'll give you a hint - this method involves weights, yes, weights!
This method is part of a much larger approach to stretching, so before we talk about this component let's talk about the big picture.
For those readers that don't know the importance of stretching I'll devote this paragraph to you.
You need to stretch before your workout for two main reasons:
1. To warm up your body and prepare your muscles, nerves, tendons, etc for the lifting so injury will not occur, i.e., to prevent injury.
2. A warm muscle functions better, e.g. it can produce more power and force then a cold muscle.
Let me digress to tell you a well-known story based on my last sentence. Maybe I mess up some of the facts but the bottom line won' t suffer.
One educated salesperson of one of the versions of jumping shoes (those shoes that Jimmy sold in one of "Seinfield" episodes) used this method in convincing people to buy from him: he asked the person to jump up and mark his jump height, all this in the person own shoes. Then he asked the person to change and wear the jumping shoes, jump again and mark again. Well, for the person's surprise the second jump was always higher so he\she was convinced to buy those "incredible" shoes. You can only imagine how many pairs this salesman sold. So what to this story and weight training? Simple, the first jump were done when the muscles were cold, the jump warmed the muscle so when the second jump was done it was done with warmer muscles, and since warm muscle functions better the second jump was always higher...
Nice one, isn't it? There are even more going on these days. Like those devices that do "wonders to your abs", but this is not the place for that. So now, back to business.
After workout it's important to stretch for cooling down, avoiding soreness, stiffness, etc.
It's also vital to stretch while you workout, between sets because you keep the muscles warm and also this will help you to add power to your workout. There are more reasons to stretch but if I were to mention them all then this article would never be finished. I hope the above convinced you enough.
Here are few guidelines about incorporating stretching to your workout no matter who you are (male or female), what you do (bodybuilding, powerlifting, aerobic, OL weightlifting, etc) or what your goal is (mass, power, lose fat):
1. At the beginning of the workout - a.) In my tailor your workout - part 2 article I told you about a study that found that too much stretching will decrease your RM, this is why I recommend that you shouldn't do more then 3-4 stretches for a short time and for the working muscle only.
b.) To prepare your body and especially your nervous system I suggest you do your warm up sets on the Swiss ball. I believe that this is the right time to use the Swiss ball because of the undisputed fact that with the ball you use more of the stabilizers. The opponents say there are better ways but I think that for warm up sets the ball is the best.
c.) For this part of your workout it is best to use the PNF stretching method. For details about this method see Chris' article "little things that make a big difference" on this site.
d.) Do your vigorous stretching only on your non workout days, especially the day after your workout so it will help you recuperate for your next workout.
2. At the end of your workout - for cooling down use static stretching. The muscles have contracted and flexed during the workout so this is the time to relax them, elongate it and increase the flood of blood to it. This is why I think that long time held static stretches is best suitable at this segment of your workout.
3. During your workout - between sets you can use the PNF method or you can use the method that is called loaded passive stretching. I recommend you try the latter since there is research data on its effectiveness when used between sets. The method is originated and researched, as far as I know, in the east (Russia). The Olympic Russian weightlifters and other strength trainees and coaches used it for many years, and you know the results of their training. It was imported to the west and used with some variation there.
Although this method was used by advanced trainees, it's fair to say that it is suitable also for novice and intermediate trainees.
The basic principles of this method:
1. You do the stretch using weights! This is what "loaded" stands for. You don't need to flex your muscle, you breath normally and relax into the stretch, this is what "passive" stands for.
2. The weight you use is between 20% to 50% of 1RM of the stretching exercise. Note that it's 1RM of the exercise you use as a stretching exercise! Not your workout exercise.
3. You hold the stretch for the duration of 5 to 20 seconds.
4. You do 1-2 sets of the stretching exercise for every 1 work set. You always do 1 set of the loaded passive immediately after your work set, and if you choose to do another stretch set then you can do it immediately before your next work set or 1 minute before your next work set.
5. Use progressive principals in your stretching exercises. For more information on this see below.
Let us be more specific about the method. So let's talk about when the stretch occurs and in what exercises it is best achieved. O.k., some of you probably heard about the stretch-reflex action that you use when you lift weights. You use this reflex to transfer as fast as you can from the eccentric to the concentric. In this segment, the pause between the eccentric part of the movement and the concentric part the stretch happens. In other words - you take the weight and lower it down (i.e. do the eccentric) as much as you can to the lowest possible point. Then stop and hold the weight in that downward position for the required time. Remember to relax into the stretch and breath normally. When you finish, raise the weight (i.e. do the concentric) back to the starting point.
This reflex is taking place in every exercise but from a biomechanical point of view there are only few exercises where the stretch itself can be done in order to produce maximal results.
Here are the exercises:
a.) For the chest:
1. Flat or incline or decline flyes. (and every angle between the decline and incline).
2. Cable crossovers.
b.) For the biceps:
1. Incline dumbbell curl
2. Dumbbell or barbell preacher curl, on every side of the pad.
c.) For the triceps:
1. Flat or incline or decline barbell or dumbbell triceps nose crushers (and every angle between the incline and decline).
d.) For the delts:
1.dumbbell or barbell military press.
e.) For the back:
1. Chins (pronated or supinated, close or wide grip).
2. Lat pulldowns.
3. Cable rows.
4. Dumbbell or barbell bent over rows.
f.) For the legs:
1. Squat (close or wide stance)
2. Good morning.
3. Stiff legged deadlift
4. Deadlift (regular or sumo)
These are the exercises, so now you know what exercises to do and how to do them so you will get to the stretch position. In my last paragraph I'm going to talk about the progressive principals you can do with what I have written so far:
1. Use the same weight (same % of 1RM) in all sets but increase the time you hold the stretch from set to set. (If you do 2 stretching sets for every work set then raise the time after the second stretching set of every pair - this advice is true for all the options below).
2. The same as above but you keep the time constant in the workout and increase the time from workout to workout.
3. You keep the same duration of the stretch for every set you do and increase the weight you use, i.e. progress in the % of 1RM.
4. The same as above but you keep the weight steady in the workout and raise it from workout to workout.
5. Raise the weight (% of 1RM) from set to set and simultaneously decrease the duration, i.e. like in pyramiding sets.
6. Raise the weight and decrease the duration from workout to workout.
7. Like the above, you can use every periodization model you can think about, like powerlifters or others.
NOTE: since the method is based on your 1RM you must remember that when you get stronger or weaker your 1RM changes! This is why it's important to plan the stretching workouts in blocks of 4-6 weeks so when your 1RM changes you will adjust the weight you are stretching with. This will give you more variety and new stimulus for more growth and better results.
Isn't this simple? Why don't you try it and see what happens? I will answer every comment you will send me.