- Stretching alone does not confer many of the benefits attributed to it, including increasing muscle length, improving recovery, warming up, or reducing injury. It can also potentially reduce subsequent exercise performance if done before a workout.
- However, because it is so light of an activity, and because it still does carry with it some benefits, stretching may still be useful if performed after a workout or in a separate workout entirely.
- Extreme or weighted stretching is a method in which a stretch is emphasized by the use of added weight. This weight applies extra force to the body, helping you get into a deeper stretch.
- Research supports that this method is actually effective and may be more effective than traditional non-weighted stretching, and it can build some muscle and strength during the process as well.
- This jives with some old-school training methods, including Dante Trudel's doggcrapp training.
- However, you should exercise caution when using this method, as it may increase the risk of injury if not performed carefully. Additionally, weighted stretches place a greater overall strain on the body, so you need to be sure to plan for them within your weekly training and recovery schedule.
Stretching is purported to have numerous benefits that improve both health and athletic performance. One of the most common is that stretching helps improve recovery times and reduce soreness after a workout, or that it somehow helps fix underlying health issues.
In recent years, it’s become fashionable for science-based coaches and trainers to hate on stretching. I sure wrote an anti-stretching article on Personal Trainer Development Center a few years back. Essentially, research has shown that stretching doesn’t seem to have many of the mythical effects we attribute to it, and further that stretching may work more due to the principle of specificity than due to any actual physical changes occurring to the tissue. What that means is, stretching may not actually have any physical effect on the underlying tissue.
When people stretch, they get more flexible, but often their muscles aren’t physically getting any longer - what’s happening is more likely that the brain is learning to inhibit and remove reflex actions and pain signals which, normally designed to protect us, prevent us from getting as deep as we possibly can into the stretch.
While it does seem likely that stretching can induce physical changes in muscle, it’s also likely that it would require very long stretches to do so. This is because ultimately, our muscles are very strong - the idea that you could generate enough force to permanently deform and lengthen the muscles just by stretching (but not by putting something like a 200lb squat on your back) is kind of silly.
Stretching is not an effective warmup. It’s also now old news that stretching can temporarily inhibit strength, endurance, and force production, meaning that stretching a long time before a hard workout probably isn’t a good idea. That being said, it’s still fine to do shorter stretches, and it’s also still fine to stretch after your workout.
So, if stretching doesn’t permanently lengthen the muscles, doesn’t improve recovery or reduce soreness, and doesn’t seem to have any other performance benefits, what gives?
Well, ultimately stretching still has its place. As explored in the posts on no load exercise, beginners starting from disability, serious injury, or age-related muscle loss can still benefit just from unloaded, stretch-like repetitions of an exercise.
While the benefits of stretching for long term health or athletic performance are modest, stretching itself is a low intensity activity, and can complement heavier work when recovery is already limited. Plus, many people do start off pretty inflexible, and some degree of flexibility training is necessary to get to the point where they have a great enough range of motion to perform the lifts they want to perform, safely. Just be sure to put it after your workout instead of before.
Earlier I said that it would be kind of silly if we could permanently lengthen our muscles through stretches, but not be able to do so by lifting heavy weights. After all, when we're handling weights, a much greater amount of force is being placed on our muscles. In fact, research has confirmed that you actually can increase flexibility simply by lifting weights, particularly for inflexible beginners. Further research shows that weighted stretches can actually increase muscle length in a meaningful way as well. (Aquino et al. 2010, Morton et al. 2011, Nelson & Bandy 2004)
Essentially, a weighted stretch is any stretch that adds weight to the equation. A standard toe touch is similar to a hip hinge, so if you wanted to add weight to further stretch yourself out, you’d essentially be doing a stiff leg deadlift, with the weight paused at the bottom of the motion. These kinds of stretches have been given a lot of names, but "weighted stretches" and "extreme stretching" are the names I've seen most frequently.
Similar examples include long pause squats with weight on your back, bench presses paused at the bottom of the range of motion (bonus points using dumbbells or a cambered bench bar to increase the range of motion), weighted calf raises paused at the bottom of the range of motion, and more. Essentially, if you can add weight to a major movement pattern, you can turn it into a weighted stretch.
More recently, further research also confirmed that weighted stretches have the ability to induce muscle growth as well. This makes sense, intuitively - a stretch is essentially what we would call an isometric exercise, (any exercise where muscles are essentially held still against resistance) and other isometric exercises like planks have shown the potential to generate muscular growth.
This all sort of makes sense. I've noticed in the past that when I toss a heavy barbell on my back, I can get into a much deeper squat than I can with just my bodyweight - because the weight helps push you into a range of motion that your body might not normally want to do on its own. In essence, the weight pushes you beyond your comfort zone. I've noticed the same thing with other movements as well.
This is the same principle seen in partner assisted stretches, where a partner helps you stretch by pushing or pulling you further into the desired range of motion. This also means that they share a similar risk - that if you're not careful, pushing you "out of your comfort zone" may mean "into a dangerously excessive place", risking injury. For this reason, you should be more cautious about safety when using a method like this, and never put yourself in a position where you can't dump the weight if needed.
One school of training which has always espoused weighted stretching is Dante Trudel’s doggcrapp (DC) training. DC training may have an odd name, but it’s known to be a brutally effective bodybuilding program. One of Trudel’s staples is the use of a variety of weighted stretches, some of which are shown in this writeup of the doggcrapp program. While I wouldn’t say that I would use that quad stretch (I vastly prefer long pause squats with weight), the rest of them are all basically just solid applications of the principle of, well, adding weight to a stretch.
In short, it would seem that Trudel’s ideas have been partially validated. Weighted stretching seems to be an effective way to increase flexibility, induce actual changes in muscle fiber length, and even build a bit of muscle in the process.
One careful note is that weighted stretches are (evidently) going to be more intense than their unweighted counterparts. While unweighted stretches are very low intensity (and this is part of their charm and value), weighted stretches need to be progressed carefully, just like any exercise. I wouldn’t toss a beginner under two 100lb dumbbells to do that chest stretch in the same way that I wouldn’t ask a beginner to deadlift to a 1RM. Start light, add weight or time slowly as your ability improves.
Likewise, you should consider the potential impact these more intense stretches will have on your recovery. While traditional stretching is light enough to be a kind of freebie that you never have to worry too much about recovering from, a long weighted stretch with enough weight will generate a lot of soreness on its own and require recovery in the same way as any weighted exercise. So, you should consider it carefully in the context of your program, and not throw in a lot of weighted stretches with no concern for how it could impact the rest of your training.
Weighted stretches are an often overlooked part of the lifter’s toolkit, and one that can be powerfully useful, especially for lifters who need to enhance their flexibility or mobility while also building a bit of muscle and strengthen weak ranges of motion in the process. For those looking to build serious flexibility alone, extreme stretches may provide unique benefits that you can't get from unweighted stretching alone.
- "No Load" Exercise For Those With Impaired Function
- How To Use Light Weights To Get Big
- Should My Clients Stretch At All?
- Quite A Stretch
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