By Christian Thibaudeau T-Nation
Build big muscles that perform as good as they look. One simple method can deliver it. It’s a method I first introduced ten years ago and it’s since been adopted by numerous strength coaches as a way to accelerate muscle growth. But the benefits go beyond getting big. It’s also one of the fastest ways to increase mobility. In a nutshell, stretch with weights. In fancy terms, it’s about using eccentric quasi-isometrics or EQIs.
How To Do It
Hold the stretched position of an exercise under load. That load can be barbells, dumbbells, or even your own bodyweight with exercises like dips. Simply lower the weight until you reach a position where the target muscles are stretched. When you reach that position, hold it by contracting the muscles hard so it becomes an isometric contraction.
You’ll slowly reach a position that is more and more stretched. It becomes a very slow, very gradual eccentric or negative action as you go deeper. As fatigue sets in you won’t have the strength to hold the position any longer. Note: This hurts like hell. Suck it up.
Weighted Stretching Builds Muscle 5 Different Ways
- It flips the switch that triggers muscle building. Loaded stretching and accentuating the eccentric (two things you’re doing when using this method) are the training modalities that activate mTor the most. The more mTor is activated, the greater protein synthesis will be.
- It creates an occlusion effect. Loaded stretching lasting 45-75 seconds will create an occlusion effect which will lead to a hypoxic state. Both the stretch and the contraction decrease the entry of blood into the muscle, so less oxygen can come into it, creating an accumulation of lactate. Both of these things increase the release of IGF-1, a very anabolic hormone, inside the muscle. The more you release the more muscle you’ll build.
- It increases IGF-1 sensitivity. Loaded stretching increases the sensitivity of IGF-1 receptors. So not only are you releasing more IGF-1, you’re also making the muscles more sensitive to it so the anabolic response will be even greater.
- It causes blood to fill the muscles with nutrients. After you release the stretch there will be a surge of blood flow into the muscles. This is called intramuscular hyperhemia. If your blood is loaded with more nutrients via proper workout nutrition you’ll dramatically increase the transport of protein into the muscle, facilitating muscle growth.
- It stimulates growth through muscle fatigue. Since you’re contracting the muscles hard to hold the position, you’re firing the muscle fibers intensely and fatiguing them. This is a direct stimulus for muscle growth.
So loaded stretching with EQIs create the perfect biochemical state to build muscle as well as maximize the uptake of the required nutrients.
Loaded Stretching for Size Gains
Use isolation exercises if your main goal is hypertrophy.
DUMBBELL FLYE – MODERATE ELBOW BEND
STRAIGHT ARM BARBELL PULLOVER HOLD
LYING MALTESE HOLD – ARMS CLOSE TO BODY – SUPINATED GRIP
LYING MALTESE HOLD – ARMS AT 30 DEGREES – PRONATED GRIP
BENT ELBOW DUMBBELL PULLOVER HOLD
ZERCHER SQUAT HOLD
GLUTE-HAM RAISE HOLD – PARALLEL TO THE FLOOR – SLIGHT KNEE BEND
Loaded Stretching for Compound Lifts
To increase mobility and range of motion, use these three movements to get the proper mobility in all the basic positions.
PUSH-UP HOLD – HANDS AND FEET ON BLOCKS
SPLIT SQUAT HOLD – BACK FOOT ELEVATED
Loaded Stretching for Olympic Lifts
Do the following if you want to improve mobility or the quality of the positions in complex lifts like the Olympic lifts.
OVERHEAD SQUAT BOTTOM POSITION HOLD
FRONT SQUAT – CLEAN GRIP – BOTTOM POSITION HOLD
The most important thing is to keep the position perfect: lower back arched, knees pushed out (trying to spread the floor apart) and chest up. If you do the holds with an improper positon you’re simply drilling bad habits.
How Long Do I Stretch?
Aim for a total time under load of 3-5 minutes broken into sets of 60-90 seconds each. On the bodyweight exercises, you may need to start at 45 seconds per set. That’s acceptable at first, but you should still shoot for a total duration of 3-5 minutes and strive to reach a minimum of 60 seconds as soon as possible. If you can easily do the holds for 90 seconds per set, add more weight.
When Should I Do It?
When your main goal is to build muscle, do EQIs when the target muscles are pumped after a workout. This makes for a greater stretching effect and will also lead to a greater overall level of growth factors inside the muscles. You’ll notice more hypertrophy and faster improvement in range of motion over time when doing EQIs after strength or bodybuilding work.
Do EQIs at the beginning of a session when a lack of mobility is affecting the proper execution of a lift. For example, doing EQI split squats when hip flexor or hamstring extensibility makes it impossible to do a proper full squat without losing the lower back arch.
How Long Do I Rest Between Stretches?
Rest periods are roughly the same duration as the sets. So if you did a 60 second stretch, rest 60 seconds before the next one.
Supplements To Accelerate Results
It’s not a sales pitch or voodoo. It’s actual science and it does lead to greater, faster results. EQIs increase muscle mass in part by activating mTor. Both loaded stretching and slow eccentrics are the contraction types that lead to the greatest mTor activation. Micro-PA™ increases the mTor response to training. Taking Micro-PA™ prior to training will significantly amplify your results.
Another important aspect of EQIs is the reactive hyperhemia that you get after each set. This promotes hypertrophy by shuttling nutrients inside the muscles, provided that your blood is pre-loaded with nutrients prior to training. Using Plazma™ pre and intra-workout will allow you to reap maximum benefits.
Other Benefits of Stretching with Weights
- Loaded stretching transfers over to your workout. You’ll improve mobility and range of motion when the muscles are producing tension or force, and you’ll do it using a position you use during workouts. Unlike regular stretching, you not only improve the parallel elastic component (PEC) of the muscle, but also the series elastic components (SEC). EQIs improve dynamic mobility and are much more transferable to movement performance.
- Loaded stretching increases your capacity to contract a muscle when it’s being stretched. This will improve performance via a higher force production during training. It’ll also help reduce the risk of injuries that happen when a muscle is violently stretched, which is usually when tears and pulls happen.
- Loaded stretching strengthens tendons. Many lifters can’t get stronger because their tendons are weak. This method strengthens tendons and may also help heal tendinitis.