Suppose you’re one for swerving your stretches or cutting your range of movement short. In that case, this new research on ‘stretch-mediated hypertrophy’ might pique your interest and may influence the way you train – especially if you have goals of gaining muscle.
Published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, this new study compared a stretching protocol to strength training and found that those in the stretching group built the same muscle thickness as those who underwent the lifting routine.
But before you rush off to stretch your hamstrings in the quest for bigger biceps, let’s look at the research more closely to see if it is really worth the hype.
The study involved 81 active participants with training experience, divided into several groups:
- Group 1: Static stretching group
- Group 2: Resistance training group
- Group 3: Control group (no exercise protocol)
The static stretching group performed 15 minutes of pectoralis major (chest muscle) stretching, four days a week, over eight weeks. They used specific pieces of equipment like a pec deck to hold the stretch for entirety of the time frame and were supervised to ensure they kept the stretch at a high intensity.
Surprisingly, results demonstrated significant increases in strength, muscle thickness, and flexibility for both the stretching and resistance training groups.
What’s more, there was no significant difference between these two groups, with researchers concluding that static stretching could be as effective as resistance training in gaining strength and size. The stretching group showed a notable increase in flexibility compared to the lifting group.
The study was keen to impress that it wasn’t just stretching, but the intensity of the stretch, that played a crucial role in stretch-mediated hypertrophy. Light chested band work isn’t going to get your pecs like The Rock, unfortunately. Although you can try his chest-pumping workout here.
While the study does provide some interesting insights into the benefits of static stretching for the upper body, it acknowledges its practical limitations, such as the need for specialised stretching devices and the potential time constraints – plus, sitting in a stretch for 15 minutes isn’t time effective, or much fun.
However, the results are promising, although further research is needed to explore the underlying causes and to address the limitations.
The study concludes that an eight-week static stretching programme can lead to the same increases in strength, muscle thickness and flexibility as traditional resistance training for the pec muscle. The practical applications of stretching, however, are considered to be limited by certain factors and further research is needed.
What Does This Mean for Us?
Now, we’re not suggesting you make camp at your gym’s pec deck machine and hold an uncomfortable stretch for 15-minutes. However, the recent research around stretch-mediated hypertrophy looks promising. You can certainly take influence from the study by ensuring you use full range of movement, especially when the muscle is in the lengthened position during the rep. For example, the bottom of the squat, the bottom of the pull-up or the stretched position of chest flyes.
The bottom line: stretch-mediated hypertrophy could influence our muscle building techniques henceforward
This story originally appeared on Mens Health UK