Alright, confession time…how often do you hard gainers, iron pumpers, and cross fitters actually stretch? I mean, consistently and thoroughly stretch?
If you’re like me, your answer will be “meh, not much.” And in my own head, I’ve kind of rationalized this by coming up with a myriad of excuses. For example: I don’t have time; I don’t feel like taking time; It’s boring; I forget; How much difference will it really make with my workouts?; etc…
What if stretching could actually help you gain more muscle?? That’s right! I recently read an article, How Stretching Can Explode Your Muscle Growth by Nick Nilsson, VP, BetterU, Inc, which mentions the critical role of stretching in building muscle.
Now, I learned in my massage therapy training that every muscle in your body is enclosed by tough connective tissue known as fascia. And it’s pretty common knowledge that fascia is important for holding your muscles in their proper place in your body. BUT, Nilsson proposes, your fascia may also be holding back your muscle growth.
“Because fascia is so tough, it doesn’t allow the muscle room to expand. It is like stuffing a large pillow into a small pillowcase. The size of the muscle won’t change regardless of how hard you train or how well you eat because the connective tissue around your muscles is constricting the muscles within. The best example of this is the calf muscle. The lower leg is riddled with fascia because of its tremendous weight-bearing duties in the body. It is because of this fascia that many trainers have great difficulty developing their calves.
Using the pillowcase example above, imagine you can expand the size of the pillowcase by stretching it. Suddenly, the pillow within has more room and will expand to fill that new space.”
Anyone else having the same lightbulb moment that I had?
Nilsson goes on to mention that there are actually ideal conditions in which to stretch your muscles so that you can maximize fascial stretch and kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.
“The key to effective fascial stretching is the pump. The best time to stretch to expand the bags that are holding in your muscles is when your muscles are pumped up full of blood. When your muscles are fully pumped up, they are pressing against the fascia. By stretching hard at that time, you increase that pressure on the fascia greatly, which can lead to expansion of the fascia.”
You’ll know you are engaging the fascia when you feel a powerful pulling sensation and pressure as the muscle works against the fascia to expand it. Just be careful not to stretch so hard that you hurt yourself…you should not feel any sharp pain, just a steady pull.
You can find instructions for stretching at: http://www.fitstep.com/Library/Info/Stretching1.htm
“Hold each stretch for at least 20 to 30 seconds as you must give your fascia time to be affected by the stretch. Stretch hard like this only when you have a fully pumped muscle as you must give your fascia a reason to expand. If your muscles aren’t pumped, just stretch normally.”
Ciao for now,