There are so many exercise techniques in the fitness world that remain hidden due to ‘unfriendly’ terminology. It probably comes down to perception, but there is certainly reason to believe that ‘HIIT’, ‘cardio’, ‘CrossFit’, ‘Zumba’ and other popular practices are popular not just because of their effectiveness, but also because how catchy they sound. Compare this to someone asking you to do ‘deep overloaded stretching’ and it could make one shy away from the gym.
But it turns out that fitness experts, especially bodybuilders, suggest overloaded stretching as a major building block for muscle size and strength. An overloaded stretch basically involves placing the targeted muscle in a deep stretch with the use of either manual resistance or even weights. “[Deep stretches] increase mTOR (the “on-switch” for protein synthesis), they stimulate muscle-building hormones in your muscles and they might even stretch the dense fascia tissue surrounding your muscles so they have more room to grow,” states an article on the website revolutionaryprogramdesign.com, titled Loaded Stretches: The Ultimate Guide.
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Now this isn’t a new practice, it just hasn’t caught on. Probably because it is not easy either. The body-building community has been doing overloaded stretches for a while now, and it is split into two categories. One half does them as separate static exercises. An example would be to hold a chest fly at the bottom of the move for as long as possible. The other half believes in doing them as part of regular exercises. This would mean holding a triceps dip pose at the bottom of the move for as long as possible while your muscles are already fatigued.
In recent times, research into deep overloaded stretching has paved the way for fitness science to look into 'Stretch Induced Hypertrophy', which was based more on range of motion than on holding these stretches.
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“Passive, low-intensity stretch does not appear to confer beneficial changes in muscle size and architecture; alternatively, albeit limited evidence suggests that when stretching is done with a certain degree of tensile strain (particularly when loaded, or added between active muscle contractions) may elicit muscle hypertrophy,” says a 2020 review of the literature available on the research Does Stretch Training Induce Muscle Hypertrophy In Humans?
Jeremy Ether, whose YouTube channel has more than 5 million subscribers, put together a video which is an essential guide to whether Stretch Induced Hypertrophy works (see above). He cites research which says that people who did just the bottom part of the preacher curl saw a 2.6x growth in their biceps over five weeks compared to just the top part (start) of the exercise. All this research has occurred in the last three years.
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Just the first few minutes of Ether’s video might make you wonder whether it is being suggested that we should stop focussing only at full range of motion (ROM) during exercises. This is a shock to many, given how much ROM is stressed upon during most exercises, especially if you read a research titled Partial Range Of Motion Training Elicits Favourable Improvements In Muscular Adaptations When Carried Out At Long Muscle Lengths, published in the European Journal of Sports Science. This used the leg extension exercise and divided volunteers into groups which did them at various angles and stretches of the muscle. The group which did the partial ROM at the max-stretch part of the muscle saw the most growth.
So, is full range of motion a dead concept? The answer is now murky, because it probably is, in certain exercises for certain muscles. “Stretch-mediated hypertrophy is the most well-supported mechanism for why full ROM training generally reigns supreme and paradoxically, it’s also the reason why training with full ROM does not guarantee maximal muscle growth. You need to stimulate stretch-mediated hypertrophy. Just using full ROM with random exercises may not cut it,” says an article on fitness coach Menno Henselmans’ official website. Henselmans is a well-followed fitness trainer who is also a board member of the Institute of Nutrition and Fitness Sciences (INFS) in India.
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So how does one induct stretch-induced hypertrophy in their workouts? By starting off with introducing a few exercises for popular muscles like biceps. Jeremy Ether has a list of exercises to do which will make it easy to incorporate this science: seated leg curls, tricep overhead extensions, incline dumbbell curls, Romanian deadlifts, and Bulgarian split squats. He suggests that in smaller safe exercises (e.g. curls), “reach a point of failure in full range of motion and do some extra partial range of motion reps.”
Henselmans suggests doing the Bayeian curl for biceps. And for the back, he suggests something called Lat Prayers. Both the exercises need cable machines, so make sure you have access to those in the gym. Lat Prayers seem to be the one exercise that can isolate the lats for more growth.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.
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