When it comes to personal training with the goal of muscle gain, stretching is not exactly a high-priority for fitness enthusiasts and lifters. But according to one study, a regular stretching program may actually enhance performance, making people stronger and increasing their endurance.
According to the author of the study, Arnold Nelson, an associate professor of kinesiology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, “Stretching appears to do more than just increase range of motion. The extent that some people improved was surprising, some people had fantastic improvements.
Nelson says stretching won't take the place of aerobic and strength-training programs, but it may supplement them. It’s a smart idea for people who are traveling, don’t have a personal trainer to guide them, and don't have a good place to work out. It may especially benefit people who need exercise the most but are too weak to lift weights or get moving.
He also believes stretching affects muscles in a similar way as strength-training but on a smaller scale. "We suspect it's activating some of the same things in the cell that exercise activates," he says.
According to exercise physiologist Michael Bracko, a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the findings offer some good news about stretching, which also can help keep people flexible, improve posture and possibly allow them to avoid some injuries and other aches and pains.
However, he notes that it's unlikely many people would comply with such an intensive stretching program. Participants in the study stretched for 40 minutes three times a week.
Nelson says the study was designed specifically to include a lot of stretching to see whether there was an effect. While lab research has found that stretching can boost strength in rats, the new study is one of the first to document this in people. He says it's likely that lesser amounts of stretching offer strength benefits, too, but that hasn't been researched.
In conclusion, to get the most out of stretching, Nelson and other experts say people should aim to stretch all major muscle groups at least once a few times a week, such as after exercising. Getting up from your desk and stretching out throughout the day also is recommended to release muscle tension.