How Stretching Strengthens Your Muscles
Experts agree that stretching is a crucial component of fitness and must form part of any exercise program. Stretching adds length to muscles, increasing the body’s range of motion. In addition, scientific research shows that stretching promotes muscle growth.
In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 1993, researchers confirmed that stretching does enhance muscle growth. The research project focused on 26 adult quails whose wings were increasingly extended over a span of 38 days by weights that ran from 10% to 35% of their body weight. As they wrapped up, it was found that those birds had at least 318% more muscle mass than during the beginning of the experiment, and those in the control set did not.
Types of Stretching
There are at least seven general types of stretching. Ballistic stretching is easy – the person bounces in and out of a stretched position with their stretched muscles as a spring – but experts do not advise it. In dynamic, static, active and passive stretching, muscles are stretched slowly but surely, providing that much sought-after relaxing sensation. Isometric and PNF stretches, in which stretches are done as muscles are contracted, usually yield maximum results.
An isometric stretch requires that resistance is applied to the body, and then muscles are flexed to negate such resistance with the body part making zero movement. Reaching the ball of one’s foot with one hand followed by extending the calf muscle while as the top of the foot is pulled in, is one common isometric stretch.
PNF stretches are performed by applying resistance on a stationary object as with isometric stretches, reducing the resistance to increase the extent of the stretch and then reintroducing the resistance. Lying supine while pulling a leg into the chest area as a second person tucks a shoulder below the knee is one of the most effective PNF stretches. Then the hamstring is flexed and force is exerted against the resistance coming from the partner.
Stretching decreases muscular tension, which can limit your muscles’ ability to grow following exertion. Additionally, it makes muscles more mechanically efficient, so that less energy will be needed as the person exerts and more repetitions may be performed while strength training. Stretching also improves the blood circulation in the muscles, meaning more efficient delivery of vital nutrients to the cells, less lactic acid accumulation, and thus,reduced muscle soreness and fatigue. Stretching also stimulates blood flow around your muscles, so that essential nutrients can be more effectively delivered to the cells, lactic acid build-up can be lessened, and muscle soreness and fatigue may be controlled.
A stretch should be sustained for a period of 7 to 15 seconds after getting to the maximum extent of the stretch. Taking 30 to 60 second-breaks is common in between stretches. For best results, 5 to 20-minute warm-ups and cool-downs must never be missed before and after each workout.