The Best Weighted Stretching For Your Training
Maximizing Muscle Growth with Weighted Stretching Techniques
In my Volume Strategies article, I went over a wide variety of tools for increasing the amount of load that your muscles are subjected to without having to add sets. One of those tools is Weighted Stretching, and that’s what we’re going to cover a little more in-depth today.
The type of weighted stretching I discuss is performed after your main sets... it is probably the most widely used protocol.
We do have evidence that loading a muscle in a stretched state CAN increase total hypertrophy. Before I jump into specific exercises for achieving a weighted stretch in this or any other fashion, here are some facts:
This study by Evangelista et al studies the effect of light stretching BETWEEN sets, rather than after them. The authors tested the biceps, triceps, quadriceps (vastus lateralis), hamstrings (biceps femoris) using light stretching between sets. All of the results indicated increased muscle thickness in the stretching group.
This study by Pedroso et al studies the effects of training a muscle through a partial range of motion in a stretched position, meaning each rep only moves through the phase of the exercise when the working muscle is stretched, so the bottom of the squat, the bottom of the bench press, the part of the dip when the elbows are the most bent, et cetera. This study illustrates that this portion of the movement may contribute the most to muscular growth, and suggests that it may not be the full ROM itself that builds the muscle, but the weighted stretch.
Then, if you add in the household-name coaches who use it, like Dante Trudel and the late John Meadows (many of whom train enhanced athletes), and the numerous anecdotal evidence laid out by folks like The Bioneer, Alex Leonidas, Team3DAlpha (all of whom are convincingly unenhanced), and others, it becomes clear that there is SOMETHING to weighted stretching that warrants our attention.
There are three rationales by which weighted stretching is thought to increase hypertrophy. The first is the simplest, and that is time under tension. Weighted stretching involves sustaining the time under tension; that’s literally all it is. The second is that weighted stretching increases the size of the fascia, the membranous layer of tissue surrounding each muscle, thus allowing it to grow larger. The third is that weighted stretching increases the production of satellite cells, which then may contribute to the growth of more muscle.
There are other potential partial explanations, like an occlusion effect or the signaling of IGF-1 and mTOR, but for now, the bro science and the SCIENCE science are starting to catch up with one another, and you may find the practical applications of this article to be sufficient.
So How Do We Implement Weighted Stretching?
Whether you stretch the muscle during, after, or between the main sets, or even in totally separate workouts, you may be able to yield the benefits assuming you’re in a caloric surplus and getting adequate protein.
One thing to keep in mind is that weighted stretching is often PAINFUL. The stretch is held for anywhere from 30 seconds to two MINUTES. The muscle is being stretched in a way that is impossible with traditional lifting or stretching. Start small, and keep in mind that if the wrong kind of pain—acute pain, “owy, that’s not right” pain—starts to accumulate, stop and reassess.
Here’s how to apply weighted stretching to every muscle group. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Pause Fly: Get set up for a dumbbell fly movement. Retracting your shoulders hard, lower the weights to the side and hold them there. Use the amount of back-arch and arm-bending that gives you the deepest stretch in your chest.
Pause Chest Dip: Using your Bar Dip Handle Attachment for the Super Bench, start at the bottom of the dip position with your elbows bent. Raise your feet off the ground and bend your knees. Lean forward into this sustained dip as much as possible, flare your elbows as needed, and hold.
Pause Triceps Dip: This is the same as the Pause Chest Dip, except instead of bending over, stay as upright as possible and keep your elbows tucked and your legs beneath you instead of kicked back.
Pause French Press: While seated, bring a dumbbell overhead and sink it behind your skull and hold it there with your elbows bent as much as possible. Don’t let your elbows flare or your lower back arch excessively, as this will reduce the stretch in the tris.
ATG Pause Sissy Squat: Consult my article on the Sissy Squat to learn how to set it up. At the bottom of the movement, just STAY THERE. Hold onto something if you need to (I would).
ATG Pause Zercher Squat: Just in case you lack the knee mobility for the Sissy, try the Pause Zercher Squat. Hold a barbell in the crook of your elbow. With a narrow stance, lower into the squat as low as possible, staying as UPRIGHT as possible (I mean it!). Stay at the bottom and try not to die!
Deficit Bulgarian Split Squat: By elevating your front foot (creating a “deficit”), you can obtain a deeper stretch in the Bulgarian than normal. Go as low as you can without irritating your back or your rear leg.
Supported Pause Nordic Ham Curl: My article on Nordics shows how it’s the ultimate hamstring weighted stretch exercise. To use it for weighted stretching, you have to be able to rest at the bottom without A) your lower back arching, or B) passing out. Use bands or your hands on the floor for support and find a point in the stretch that you can sustain for at least 30 seconds.
Pause RDL: Just like a regular RDL but you pause at the bottom. You MUST keep your lower back flat. Your ROM may increase as you hold the stretch. If you have plates on the bar and they hit the floor, just stand on a box so that you can bend all the way over.
Pause Incline Dumbbell Curls: Using a more drastic angle than you normally would, grab heavy@#! dumbbells, sit on the bench, and then just let the weights stretch your biceps into next week!
Pause Preacher Curls: Don’t worry about going to “full lockout” in your elbows; just go about 90-95%. It’s safer. Keep your armpits jammed down onto the top of the preacher bench.
Weighted carries: These are self-explanatory. One common question is whether to remain retracted or not while doing them. I have always found a deeper stretch while NOT retracting, but you have to be careful because it’s easier to sustain a shoulder injury doing it this way. Work your way into it.
Above-the-Knee Rack/Block Pulls: This is a deadlift variation, but a pretty unrecognizable one. Place a loaded bar (not too heavy; remember, you’re going for at least 30 seconds) on a rack or blocks at the height of your upper thigh. With or without lifting straps, grab it, deadlift it up and hold it. Observe extreme stretching in the traps! Same with carries: experiment with letting your shoulders protract.
Dead Hangs: Hang from a pullup bar. Try different grips. When it gets too easy to hold for more than 60 seconds, add weight. Simple!
Pause Unilateral Dumbbell Row: Set up your row, engage the core, reach your shoulder forward, and hold it there. The key is to protract as much as possible. You can actually try this with any row style.
Weighted Dorsiflexion: “Dorsiflexion” means the toe comes up. So all you’re doing is staying at the bottom of a Calf Raise for WAY longer than you’d probably prefer. But the power of stretching the calves to build them is decently understood. Check out Ironmaster's Calf Block, which is a staple for your home gym, and will enable you to comfortably execute this weighted stretch.
Weighted arched crunch: Lie on an AbMat, Bosu ball, or exercise ball and find the best position whereby you feel your abs are being stretched. Once you’ve found that spot, hold some weight in your hands as close to your neck as possible. If you feel ANY discomfort in your lower back, stop and reassess.
Front Delt Stretch: Attach an elastic band about hip height. Loop your hand through it and tuck the same arm behind your back; then, take a few steps away and hold the stretch. Experiment with band tension and angle to get the deepest stretch possible with NO acute shoulder pain.
Side Delt Stretch: The same setup can work for the side delt, except you pass the banded arm in front of you like that shoulder stretch you sometimes see people do that looks kinda like this:
Rear Delt, Pause Lying Side Raise: The lying side raise is an amazing exercise for your rear deltoid. All you need to do is sustain the bottom portion of it for twenty times longer than you would ever want to! Really focus your mind on that rear delt and get rear delt DOMS like never before!
And there you have it! I omitted the glutes because it's pretty easy to irritate the low back (but feel free to experiment), and the forearms to avoid wrist issues. Plus, with dead hangs and weighted carries, your forearms will be fine!
Try adding in some weighted stretching to your workout. It feels amazing (besides the pain), keeps your joints healthy, strengthens connective tissue, and best of all, increases your gains!
About the Author
Mark Ludas CPT is a NASM-certified personal trainer with a decade of experience in the fitness industry. After an asthmatic childhood, Mark discovered his natural aptitude for fitness in his late twenties. At age 36, he accomplished a 300+ pound conventional deadlift and 280+ high-bar squat as a 6’5” 170-pound ectomorph on a fully vegan diet, all after just one year of proper self-programming. Mark is the founder of Resistance Quest Fitness, established in 2016, and the creator of the Paralinear Method of strength training. Additionally, he is a writer, actor, model, and musician. Find him on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and at www.resistancequest.com.
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