How static holds can boost muscle growth. By Greg Merritt
The biggest change Phil Heath made in 2016, other than prioritizing leg training, was a greater focus on stretching. “I realized I had to stretch more in order to make space for new muscle,” he said the night he won his sixth straight Mr. Olympia. Others have successfully employed this strategy. In fact, what is known as extreme stretching is an essential component of the Doggcrapp training system. Let’s break down exactly what it is and how you can “make space” for every body part to expand.
STRETCHING THE TRUTH
There are two stretching categories: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretches utilize movement. Examples include high kicks and trunk twists. These can increase your mobility in exercises, and they should be done as a warmup or between sets. In contrast, static stretches are motionless. Once you’ve positioned yourself properly, you remain locked in place. These stretches should be performed when your tendons and muscles are most pliable. Do them after weight training, not before.
Intense static holds may have advantages beyond simply increasing flexibility. Studies with birds indicate that such stretches can cause hyperplasia in muscle cells—the splitting and thus multiplication of those cells.
Another theory proposes that expanding the fascia (the layer of connective tissue tightly surrounding muscles) will foster growth by literally making room for easier expansion. Some bodybuilders, including Heath, regularly get deep-tissue massage in part to loosen their fascia, but another way of doing this is via static holds. In fact, when this technique was first popularized in the ’90s by trainer John Parillo, it was called fascia stretching. The originator of Doggcrapp, Dante Trudel, credits Parillo for originating what he calls extreme stretching. David Henry, a DC adherent for years, did extreme stretching as part of every workout.
An extreme stretch puts your muscle into the maximally elongated position and keeps it there, sometimes with slight changes, for 60 to 90 seconds. Of course, you never want to wrench your joints, but you do want to fully stretch. There will be pain. If there’s not, you’re not doing it right. Extreme stretches can be done with weights, equipment like chinning or dipping bars, or with only your body and your will to self-torment.
Grab two dumbbells that are slightly heavier than those you would use for a set of flyes. Then lie on an incline bench and lower the dumbbells as if doing flyes. Go as low as you can go and hold that position, keeping your hands wider than your elbows. When you start to give out, bring your hands in, so you’re mimicking the lowest position in a press. This can also be done on a flat or decline bench. Another chest stretch is done by pressing one forearm against a vertical bar and revolving your body to maximally tauten the pec. Repeat with the opposite forearm to work the other pec.
You can intensely stretch your lats simply by holding onto a chinning bar. Use additional weight if necessary to make it painful to keep hanging. You can also accomplish something similar by gripping a vertical bar with both hands, standing close to that bar, and then leaning backward so you’re supporting your body weight with your lats maximally stretched. Experiment with a low or high grip on the bar because each will stretch different areas of the lats.
Grab the ankle supports on a decline bench with your feet in front of you and your knees bent as if you’re sitting on air. Bend your arms. Then roll your shoulders forward and down until you feel the maximum stretch. Hold this position. This can also be done unilaterally by “sitting” parallel to the bench.
Again at the decline bench, rest the top of an ankle on the ankle supports, tucked behind you with your knee bent and your other foot on the floor. Bring your hips back and your forward knee down to maximally stretch the quads of the tucked leg. Repeat for the other side. You can do another quad stretch in a power rack by grabbing a bar set about hip-high and squatting all the way down. Then lean back while you bring your knees forward to find the maximum squat position. Hold and embrace the pain.
Nothing beats the hurdler’s stretch for hams, but you need to up the intensity. Set a bar in a squat rack or Smith machine at least hip-high. Set one ankle on the horizontal bar, and keeping that leg straight, press down until you reach the point of maximum tension and then hold. Repeat with the other leg.
Stand with your toes on a riser, whether at a standing calf machine or a stair, and lower yourself as far down as you can go. Hold this position. This can also be done with one leg at a time.
You can stretch each biceps in a way similar to the way you did each pec. Hold a vertical bar with one hand, and while keeping that arm straight rotate your shoulder away until you feel the maximum pressure on your biceps. Repeat for the other arm. Another great biceps stretch is done by holding a stationary horizontal bar, such as a Smith machine’s, behind your lower back and keeping your arms straight. Then lower yourself, as if squatting to feel your biceps tauten.
Grab a dumbbell with one hand and lower it behind your head, as if to do a one-arm triceps extension. Go as low as you can go, and hold that position. Another excellent triceps stretch can be done by with dipping bars. Drop into the lowest dip position while keeping your torso perpendicular to the floor. Hold that stretch and embrace the pain.
EXTREME STRETCHING BASICS
• Attain the maximally stretched position and hold it for 60 to 90 seconds.
• Stretch a body part only after training it.
• Such stretches will increase mobility and may also boost growth.
• Do one or two stretches per body part per workout.
EXTREME STRETCHING TIP SHEET
• Don’t place your joints in an unnatural position, but do maximally stretch the targeted muscle(s).
• To be effective, this must be painful.
• Build up your tolerance by gradually increasing the duration of the stretch until you can do 60 to 90 seconds.
• Try following each stretch with a self-massage of the area.