Stretching, also known as “Flexibility Training” by the American Council of Exercise, is always referred to as an essential component of any fitness program.
But, there has been a ‘stretching debate’ going around in the fitness experts lately, where everyone is coming up with the same question, « Does stretching help build muscle? ».
Let’s find out the answer to this debate in this article.
What Is ‘Stretching’?
To understand the role of stretching in muscle growth, first, we must know what stretching is all about.
Stretching is a physical exercise where you intentionally flex or stretch your muscles to attain a specific end feel or muscle tone.
Consequently, stretching also results in decreased tension in muscles, increased range of motion, and enhanced flexibility of muscles.
Stretching gained fame in the 1980s when it was made part of a coaching program of sports on Japanese television.
According to MIT, stretching is classified into different types that include:
- Active stretching
- Passive stretching
- Isometric stretching
- PNF stretching
- Ballistic stretching
- Static stretching
- Dynamic stretching.
The first three types are classic and common in clinical practice, while later are more advanced ones.
However, each type of stretching affects a different type of flexibility, which in return helps to build the muscle.
For instance, active stretching strengthens the active flexibility of the agonist muscles of the body.
Role of Stretching in Building Muscle
You might be wondering how does stretching help build muscle?
The following 9 key points will summarize the role of stretching in optimizing your muscle growth.
One of the most common treatment interventions for rehabilitation in clinical practice is ‘Stretching’.
It not only helps in muscle healing but also increases range of motion and reduces stiffness.
It gives an alignment to the collagen fibers to help in the healing process.
Moreover, stretching has also found responsible for the increase in muscle length.
Decrease muscle tension
During your long office hours, you barely do any active physical activity, which results in stiffness and tension in muscles. You may also feel pain.
You must be wondering how stretching helps here…
Stretching exercises through various flexibility techniques relieve this tension from your muscles and recover them from the painful state.
Eventually, when a muscle relaxes, it can start flexing in an increased range of motion.
Tense and tight muscles cannot grow or build in size; they must be flexed before doing hardcore training.
Muscles are enclosed in layers of connective tissue known as fascia, which is dense in certain regions of the body like calves.
The fascia does not allow muscles to expand, so, how does stretching help build muscle?
Stretching helps in flexing this fascia to create enough space for muscles to expand and grow.
Fitness experts do realize the importance of stretching the length of fascia in muscle building.
Well-Balanced Exercise Programs
Stretching (flexibility training) is usually intervened in combination with strengthening, cardiovascular, and balance exercises in many well-balanced exercise programs.
As a result, it has been found to increase the mobility of the joints and range of motion, enabling the muscles to grow and build without any hindrance.
Increase Muscle Mass
According to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, there is a potential of a 318% increase in the muscle mass of a muscle group, if you perform intense stretching exercises on it after working out.
Increase in Blood Circulation
When you perform stretching exercises in a region, it diverts the blood supply to that particular region.
Additionally, as stretching loosens the muscle fibers, the blood can circulate freely in the muscle.
With increased circulation comes the increased amount of metabolites and nutrients, and eventually, muscles get more energy to grow.
Also, a vascularized muscle can build and work in a greater range of motion as compared to a non-vascularized one.
Preparation of muscles
Dynamic stretching, one of the techniques of stretching, can help in preparing your muscles if you do it to warm up your body before going for any athletic activity or training.
Also, it improves the overall performance of your muscles.
Though, stretching can not do wonders overnight, it can make your muscles more flexible and mobile if done over a long period.
Heals Muscle Soreness
As mentioned above, stretching increases blood supply to muscles, and increased blood supply does help in recovering from injuries.
Likewise, stretching helps in recovering from sore muscles (the condition known as delayed onset muscle soreness).
Only healthy muscles can grow.
Apart from this, stretching has also been used for the treatment of contractures and immobility.
Increase Muscle Strength
Dynamic stretching (also known as active stretching) has been said to increase strength, endurance, speed, and agility of the muscle.
It also enhances the anaerobic capacity of the muscle, assists with power outcome, hence helps to grow in size.
Also, the above-mentioned attribute of vascularized muscles adds up to strengthening the muscle and increasing its anaerobic capacity.
How can Stretching help Build Muscles?
It should be noted that stretching can only help if you do it while considering precautions.
- First, start your stretching routine from a slower pace and take it further.
- Second, stretching demands holding a position for a certain duration for its effect on your muscles.
Many studies have debated the role of static stretching in muscle injury.
Given the facts, muscle injuries can be avoided if you perform static stretching after workouts instead of doing it before workout sessions.
For pre-workout preparations, dynamic stretching is preferred and useful as it prepares the muscles for workout training.
It is always advised to consult your therapist before starting any routine, especially if you have any history of limitation in movements, trauma, or surgery.
Chronic conditions, edema, and serious injuries are some of the contraindications of stretching.
If you want a simple but effective stretching routine check out the below video, it’s a 15 minutes beginner flexibility routine that you can follow along.
In conclusion, all these above discussed mechanisms clearly explain that stretching does help in building muscles.
Though, the function of certain types of stretching on certain stages can be debatable, the role of stretching directly or indirectly in muscle strength, flexibility, and growth has been quite evident.
However, it is necessary to consider and follow the precautions and contraindications of stretching and all other physical fitness techniques if you are aiming to gain the desired results.