Do you ever feel like the only thing stopping you from having biceps that could rival any action hero’s is your stretching routine?
If so, then rest assured – you’re not alone!
Stretching has been lauded as the key to unlocking superhuman strength and agility, with many athletes swearing by their pre-workout stretches.
But does it actually build muscle?
We’ll look at stretching and answer commonly asked questions about it, such as:
- Does stretching help muscle recovery?
- Does stretching tone muscles?
- Does stretching make you stronger?
- Does stretching after workout prevent muscle growth?
Ready to go? Let’s learn!
Why Do We Gain Muscle?
To understand if stretching builds muscle, it is crucial to first understand why, and how we gain muscle.
Now, gaining muscle is an important goal for many people, and there are multiple benefits that come along with it.
Not only does building muscle give people more strength and confidence, but it also helps to improve overall health by increasing metabolism and promoting a multitude of physiological processes.
But why do muscles… grow?
Well, muscles tend to grow in response to exercise, both in terms of size and strength.
When resistance training is undertaken, a process known as “muscle hypertrophy” occurs.
This involves an increase in the size of individual muscle fibers, which then create stronger and larger muscles overall.
In essence, if the body undergoes a previously unknown load, the body will make its muscle fibers bigger and stronger in preparation for experiencing this (or a greater) load again.
It’s All In The Load!
Keeping in mind that hypertrophy is a result of adaptation to previously unknown loads, it is fair to say that the most fundamental principle for growth is progressive overload.
Progressive overload is a method of continually challenging the body with increased levels of stress and resistance in order for it to grow and improve.
It makes sense when you think about it – if you keep doing the same exercises with the same amount of weight, your muscles will stop growing at one point because they won’t feel challenged.
On the other hand, if you challenge them to do more work during each workout than they did last time, they have to adapt (grow.)
In this way, progressive overload leads directly to muscle growth and improvement.
But does stretching build muscle? Well, in the context of continued, consistent and optimal muscle growth, you really shouldn’t turn to stretching.
Instead, you should focus on progressive overload.
Nevertheless, stretching has its implications in the quest for muscle growth, but before talking about that, let’s quickly go through the three main ways to progressively overload (and enhance muscle growth.)
Increasing the weight used in an exercise is one of the ways to do progressive overload.
By gradually increasing the challenge placed on the body, we are continually improving our strength and endurance.
However, it is important to note that this should not be done too quickly, or it may lead to injury.
A cautious but consistent approach is key for experiencing real results from this concept.
When increasing the weights used, make sure to do so only after a given weight feels somewhat easy, and then implement an increase of 2.5-5%.
As you learned, progressive overload implies progressively increasing the challenge you give to the muscles.
Though increasing the weight of the bar is one of the best ways to do so, it is far from the only one.
Another way to do this is by increasing the reps of a particular exercise.
It’s fascinating how something so simple can create such great results and is a reminder of the power we have over our bodies by pushing them a little further than before.
Again, just like increasing weights, increasing the reps should be done gradually – one-two reps here, and there will do the job and stack up to big changes over time!
The third main way to progressively overload is to increase the total number of working sets.
Increasing the volume of your workouts can help spur physical adaptation and get you closer to achieving your goals.
It may sound simple, but being mindful about keeping track of your sets and gradually increasing them weekly or bi-weekly can really help move the needle forward.
It’s all about creating a schedule that works for you and maintaining it to make incremental gains leading up to bigger lifts over time!
Activation Before Overload
Most gym-goers know the importance of stretching before a workout, but they may be doing it wrongly.
Instead of stretching to warm up, it’s far more beneficial to focus on activation exercises instead.
Activation exercises are tailored to target specific muscle groups and get them ready for your workout routine.
This not only helps with injury prevention but also primes the body for higher performance during exercise by increasing blood flow, muscle fiber recruitment, and stimulating neural pathways.
Doing these exercises before working out will help you push yourself further and achieve better results from your fitness program.
Now, because the muscles’ movement has a phase of contracting (shortening) and stretching (lengthening), it is perhaps a good idea to do both of these phases – this can be best done by doing dynamic stretches rather than static ones.
Why? Because for the most part, static stretches relax the muscles, which is just the opposite of what you want before a workout – activating the muscles.
Remember – Activation before overload!
Let’s Talk Negatives
Exercise is fascinating! Have you ever thought about the two phases of movement during exercise?
There is a positive phase, in which your muscle contracts when lifting a weight or performing a move, and the negative phase, where your muscle elongates as you return to starting position.
What’s interesting is that there is tension placed on the muscle during both phases, which can contribute to muscle growth.
The stretching that occurs during the negative phase aids flexibility while also causing an overload of the muscles.
It appears there’s something beneficial happening whether we are flexing or extending ourselves.
Some fitness experts even suggest that the tension that is placed upon the muscle during the negative (stretch) phase of a movement can even be more beneficial to growth than the positive!
So does stretching build muscle? Well, static stretching alone won’t really do much for muscle growth, but the stretching (negative) phase of an exercise may, in fact, be highly beneficial.
This is why it is a good idea to go slowly on the way down!
Stretching & Recovery
Since muscle recovery is of prime importance for growth, it begs the question – does stretching help muscle recovery?
Well, the answer is… We don’t know for sure.
The literature on the subject is incredibly inconclusive, as some studies note positive effects from post-exercise stretching while other research suggests there may be no added benefit at all. 
At this point, more research is needed to draw any definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of post-exercise stretching.
Until then, athletes may just have to trust their own experience and see what works best for them, and also keep these facts in mind:
1. Pre-workout static stretching may hinder performance
2. Post-workout static stretching may relax the muscles and mind
3. Static stretching can increase the available range of motion
For this reason, stretching is a good idea (dynamic before a workout, static after,) but much like anything else, it should be done in moderation.
Now before wrapping this up, let’s answer some frequently asked questions regarding stretching and muscle growth.
Stretching & Toning
Have you ever questioned why so many exercise programs proclaim to help you “tone” your muscles?
It turns out that isn’t really a thing.
That’s right – muscle toning is actually just a marketing buzzword people have been using for years, and while they may offer mild improvements in muscle size, they’re hardly the miracle cure-all they profess to be.
In terms of “toning,” stretching doesn’t work either – while it can improve range of motion and flexibility, it won’t make your muscles look any different or give them definition if their size and your body fat remain the same.
The truth is: if you want significant changes in your muscle size and shape, it takes an active effort combined with the right foods and training plan.
So… does stretching tone muscles? Not really.
Stretching & Strength
Stretching is a widely accepted practice that many people use to relax their muscles and reduce pain.
But does stretching make you stronger?
Well, although it does relax the muscles so that they are less stiff and sore, the reality is that stretching does not increase strength in any significant way.
This does not mean that it does not have its benefits, as flexibility can help prevent potential injuries from happening.
But sorry, folks! No significant strength gains are to be reaped by stretching.
Stretching & Growth
Have you ever asked yourself, “does stretching after workout prevent muscle growth?”
Well, the truth is that it probably won’t make any significant difference when trying to achieve the body of your dreams.
Muscle growth is primarily determined by progressive overload and caloric intake.
Ultimately if you’re looking to build healthy muscle, lift heavy weights and eat at a slight surplus of calories and worry not about stretching!
The Verdict: Does stretching build muscle?
So, does stretching build muscle? No.
But, if you want to avoid injury, relieve pain, and improve your range of motion, then you should probably add it to your workout routine.
Just don’t go overboard – you’re not trying to do the splits here.
Unless, of course, you are…in which case, good luck!