If you asked any group of strength-training athletes if they would be willing to make one minor, five-minute change to their routine with the promise of greater gains, the vast majority would be in favor of such a change. Even the most stubborn exercise enthusiasts would likely give up a bit of their time to guarantee a bigger payoff from their efforts in the gym. Of course, many experienced athletes might argue that no sure-fire method for improving results exists. According to new research from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, however, those individuals would be wrong.
At this point, strength-training athletes have no shortage of tools in their arsenals for boosting their strength and mass gains. Flipping through the latest issue (or any one before that) of any muscle magazine at your local newsstand will likely provide even experienced trainees with a handful of routines or techniques they have never attempted. From body-part splits to high-intensity training to specialized programs such as Rippetoe and West Side training, there is always another routine to try if one isn't seeing desired gains from his or her current program. However, changing one's entire schedule, eating habits, exercise selection or any other major factor isn't necessary to boost strength. While those are definitely effective ways of doing so, there are plenty of less drastic measures that will do the same job.
As a study from the latest issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research indicates, boosting strength considerably can be as easy as simply incorporating stretching into one's routine. If this sounds like another too-good-to-be-true training trip, don't worry - it's not. Researchers split a pool of participants into two groups, taking both through an identical training program, lifting three days per week over the course of eight weeks. The only difference was that one group also participated in two weekly stretching sessions in addition to the resistance training. All of the stretches performed were static, meaning that the muscle was gradually extended and held in the stretched position for 15 seconds.
At the end of the eight weeks, both groups were given strength tests to compare with their performances before the program began. While both groups gained strength, there was a significant difference between the degree of strength gain in the groups. While the non-stretching group improved leg press 1RM strength by 9 percent, the stretching group improved the same exercise by 31 percent. Knee flexion (12 percent vs 16 percent) and knee extension (14 percent vs 27 percent) assessments also found a significant advantage stemming from the stretching.
So while stretching has long been known as an injury-prevention measure, this research indicates that it can also be a powerful method of improving strength as well.
1. Kokkonen, J., et al. Early-Phase Resistance Training Strength Gains in Novice Lifters Are Enhanced by Doing Static Stretching. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010; 24(2): 502-506.