Health and fitness: Stretch for strength
Special to the Tribune
Think you need heavy weights and a gym to get strong? Well, at least for beginner lifters, stretching — whether added to a strength training routine or on its own — can increase strength.
One recent study showcasing the positive effects of stretching had 32 college students,16 women and 16 men, with little gym experience split into two groups. Both groups participated in a three-day-per-week, eight-week-long training program consisting of three exercises, the hamstring curl machine, the leg extension machine and the leg press. One group added a twice-per-week, 30-minute stretching routine on the off days. The group that only did the exercise saw a modest increase in strength after eight weeks, 12 percent in hamstring curl strength, 14 percent on the leg extension and 9 percent on the leg press. The group that added the stretching saw a much greater increase in strength; 16 percent on the hamstring machine, 27 percent on the leg extension machine, and an impressive 31 percent on the leg press, more than three times the exercise-only group.
The researchers concluded that, “The results of this study would suggest that the addition of stretching exercises on days where one is not participating in resistance exercise can offer some benefit in addition to regular strength training.” In fact, stretching by itself can make you stronger.
Another study published in the journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise had 38 volunteers participated in it. The stretching group did 40 minutes of lower body stretching three times a week for 10 weeks while the control group did nothing. In every test including sprinting, vertical jump, long jump, leg extension strength, hamstring strength and others, all saw increases. The authors discussed that, “this study suggests that chronic static stretching exercises by themselves can improve specific exercise performances” and that, “It is possible that persons who are unable to participate in traditional strength training activities may be able to experience gains through stretching”.
Both these studies used beginner weightlifter and what is not known if theses results would be the same with experienced lifters. Their muscles, because of the consistent use, may not response with the same increases. The researchers point this out, “it is not known if people with more trained muscles will respond similarly to the stretching stimulus”.
Whether you are a beginner looking to increase strength or a veteran looking to feel good, here are some basic lower body stretches you can do at home. I prefer to stretch on the off days or after lifting, as recent research has established a possible decrease in performance stretching before training.
Standing Quadriceps Stretch: Stand near a wall or chair if you need assistance balancing on one foot. Start by reaching back and pulling heel toward glutes until a stretch is felt in front of the thigh. Keep leg close to body with knee pointing to floor. Repeat with both legs 2-3 times.
Sitting Hamstring Stretch: Bend knee of left leg and keep right leg extended with knee slightly bent. Bend at the waist towards your left foot. Hold your lower leg for support. Repeat with both legs 2-3 times.
Stranding Calf Stretch: Place hands against a wall. Keep back leg straight. Push heels down and slowly lean forward until stretch is felt in the back of the calf. Repeat with both legs 2-3 times.
If you are unfamiliar with any exercise, seek the advice of fitness professional and as always consult your doctor prior to starting any exercise program.
— Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal trainer and strength coach that trains at Sierra Athletic Club and a training center instructor at Barton Memorial Hospital. Kyler specializes in performance enhancement and rehabilitation after injury. Visit http://www.KCstrength.com for more information.