When you think about gaining muscle, stretching is probably not the first thing that pops into your head. But did you know that stretching plays a critical role in building muscle?Every muscle in your body is enclosed in a bag of tough connective tissue known as fascia. Fascia is important for holding your muscles in their proper place in your body. But your fascia may also be holding back your muscle growth. Think for a moment about your muscles. You train them and feed them properly. They want to grow and will grow but something is holding them back. They have no room to grow!
Because fascia is so tough, it doesn’t allow the muscle room to expand. It is like stuffing a large pillow into a small pillowcase. The size of the muscle won’t change regardless of how hard you train or how well you eat because the connective tissue around your muscles is constricting the muscles within.
The best example of this is the calf muscle. The lower leg is riddled with fascia because of its tremendous weight-bearing duties in the body. It is because of this fascia that many trainers have great difficulty developing their calves.
The solution: stretching.
Using the pillowcase example from above, imagine you can expand the size of the pillowcase by stretching it. Suddenly, the pillow within has more room and will expand to fill that new space. By stretching your muscles under specific conditions, you can actually stretch your fascia and give your muscles more room to grow.
The key to effective fascial stretching is the pump. The best time to stretch to expand the bags that are holding in your muscles is when your muscles are pumped up full of blood.
When your muscles are fully pumped up, they are pressing against the fascia. By stretching hard at that time, you increase that pressure on the fascia greatly, which can lead to expansion of the fascia.
One of the major reasons Arnold Schwarzenegger had such incredible chest development was that he finished his chest workouts with dumbell flyes, an exercise that emphasizes the stretched position of the pectoral muscles. He would pump his chest up full of blood during the workout then do flyes, holding the stretch at the bottom of the flye. This gave his chest room to grow to amazing proportions.
Fascial stretching is more rigorous than regular stretching but the results can be amazing. When you stretch hard enough to cause the fascia to expand, you will really feel it! When you are stretching the fascia, you should feel a powerful pulling sensation and pressure as the muscle works against the fascia to expand it.
Be sure you do not stretch so hard that you cause the muscle to tear or cause injury to yourself. You will rapidly learn to distinguish the difference between a good stretch and a bad stretch. You should not feel any sharp pain, just a steady pull.
Hold each stretch for at least 20 to 30 seconds as you must give your fascia time to be affected by the stretch. Stretch hard like this only when you have a fully pumped muscle as you must give your fascia a reason to expand. If your muscles aren’t pumped, just stretch normally.
One set of hard stretching after each set you do for a muscle group, besides the obvious benefits of increased flexibility, can have an incredible effect on the size of your muscles and their further ability to grow.
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Nick Nilsson is Vice-President of the online personal training company BetterU, Inc. (http://www.fitstep.com). He has a degree in Physical Education and Psychology and has been inventing new training techniques for more than 14 years. Nick is the author of a number of bodybuilding eBooks including “Metabolic Surge – Rapid Fat Loss”, “The Best Exercises You’ve Never Heard Of” and “Gluteus to the Maximus: Build a Bigger Butt NOW!”, all available at (http://www.fitness-ebooks.com). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.