How Stretching Can Build Muscle & Strength
How can stretching be beneficial to the idea of building muscle and strength? To go about answering this question, let’s first examine what it means to build muscle then move to the idea of increasing muscle strength.
What does building muscle mean?
Building muscle is a physiological process that involves the breakdown of muscle tissue in order for them to repair and grow. Skeletal muscle is probably the most adaptable tissue in the body. It is a very complex process, but to put it plainly, when you endure an activity, like heavy weight lifting, for example, this causes structural damage to the cells in the muscles. Because the human body is in a constant state of healing, after damage is done to these muscle fibers, they go into an automatic state of repair. But the body is very smart; not only do these cells fully repair, but they also multiply. When these cells replicate, it makes the muscles bigger. The intention is to prepare the body for any future damage to protect itself.
Does stretching help muscle growth?
There are many studies out there that have tested this very question. Most of these studies have been done on athletes to see if stretching helps or hinders the process of building muscle. The general conclusion based on specific scientific studies indicate that some styles of stretching enhance muscle growth. Basically, we can generalize that stretching can relieve tension in your muscles. When there is less tension, that allows for an increase in blood flow so that essential nutrients can target those damaged cells for repair and growth.
But not every stretch is equal. Isometric muscle stretching is a common exercise that can contribute to muscle growth. Isometric stretching means that you’re applying resistance to your body, then flexing the muscle in opposition to that resistance without allowing the body to move. An example of this is the yoga posture Seated Forward Fold. One intention of this pose is to stretch the calf and hamstring muscles of the leg. As you fold forward (and if you’re flexible enough, grab your toes. If not, use a prop like a yoga strap to wrap around the bottoms of your feet.) This will create the required resistance. When you flex your feet, this will engage the hamstring and calf muscles. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds before releasing. This is an isometric stretch that can assist the yogi or athlete when they want to improve their flexibility and enhance the muscle growth process.
What is strength?
Having larger muscles doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is stronger. Strength is the amount of power needed to exert physically or mentally to perform a task. Strength is measured by how well one can withstand pressure. Going back to the weightlifting example, lifting a barbell loaded with weights in a chest press requires some level of strength. If the weight is too heavy, the person may have a tough time pushing the bar over their head. But as they remain persistent in this effort, the muscles grow enough until they are able to withstand the pressure of the added weight, thereby being able to lift it.
How does stretching help with building strength?
The science books seem to state that stretching alone does not make one stronger. Rather, stretching has an indirect relationship to muscular strength. Stretching has the potential of increasing your range of motion. This is ideal when lifting heavy weights in the gym or even performing challenging postures in yoga (e.g. arm balancing postures like Crow Pose). And as mentioned before, stretching releases tension in the muscle fibers so that fresh blood and oxygen can flow freely for proper and effective nutrient transfer. This aids in more efficient muscle growth and larger muscles are attributed to an increase in strength.
It is all a process just like your other training. Adding a stretching regimen will help you reach your goals for more muscle and more strength.