Stretching is the neglected part of every person’s workout. We're all guilty of skipping it.
And, the fitness world is constantly fighting over what types of stretches are the best.
Let’s get serious for a second. There will never be a definitive answer to any question regarding stretching in the fitness world. Fitness research is constantly evolving and we are learning new bits and pieces each and every day.
One thing I can say with confidence, however, is this:
The greater the flexibility you have, the more you can utilize your muscles, the stronger you will become.
You should train your flexibility.
But what does this mean? Does it mean stretching?
To put it quite simply, the larger the range of motion in a given muscle, the more you are able to produce force within that muscle.
Think back to the last time you did pull-ups. Did you start in a dead hang? Did you come to a dead hang between each repetition? If your answer is no, this is because your body’s optimal strength zone is in the mid-range of a muscle. As your body gets to the top and bottom of a muscle’s range of motion, it becomes significantly weaker.
Now let’s get back to our pull-ups. How do we learn to get more comfortable at that bottom range of motion?
Eccentrics. Eccentrics allow you to train both strength and flexibility. It's great for busy people who sometimes skip stretching.
The eccentric contraction (commonly referred to as “negatives”) is the elongation of the muscle. This type of contraction is the most effective type of contraction in gaining strength and power, and can handle heavier loads. An eccentric contraction works the body both physically and neurologically, developing the pathways between the brain and the muscle.
Now lets run-down quickly how to perform eccentric exercises.
- Start an exercise at the top of the motion, holding a contraction as the muscles shortest length.
- Slowly let your muscle lengthen, while controlling your body while that muscle remains contracted, until the end range of motion.
Eccentrics for Strength
For strengthening, eccentric contractions cause muscle damage which leads to protein synthesis and muscle growth.
Because of this damage, you cannot perform eccentric exercises on the same muscle daily; your body needs a few days between to fully recover and to see the strength benefits.
Eccentrics for Flexibility
When performing eccentrics for a stretching benefit, these exercises help to increase muscle length by increasing the strength at the end ranges of motion. This benefit makes eccentric contractions more effective than a static (sit and hold) stretch. Eccentric stretches also create less tension spots, often referred to as knots, and will help to prevent injuries (and cramping). Eccentric stretches can be done daily.
The importance of stretching in fitness and training has been beaten into the ground. You need to stretch; but for every workout where you are running short on time or rush through your warm-up, start incorporating negative exercises. You can now begin to build the strength through your newfound flexibility.