Stretching and strength training are like the sister-and-law and grandpa you don’t want sitting together at family gatherings. That is, you love them… but separately. Not every school of fitness thought thinks the two modalities should be separated, however. Anabolic stretching, a fairly new way to train your muscles, asserts that you can get strong and stretched at one fell swoop.
Peter Tzemis, trainer and founder of TzemisFitness, says that anabolic stretching essentially “bulletproofs your body” by replacing static stretching with a more active alternative. Simply add a minimal weight to any strength training or stretching posture and the benefits change entirely. “The key thing is that you’re not really ‘stretching’ the way you do with most static stretching. You’re resisting the load in the stretched position,” he says.
For example, imagine you’re grabbing two (light!) dumbbells and lying down on a bench for a set of dumbbell flies. Only, rather than repeating a certain number of reps, extend the weight to either side of your body and hold them there until exhaustion. Two things will happen at once: your muscles will activate and you’ll feel a stretch as a result of the pull of the muscle. Or, complete a deadlift variation and feel the stretch and burn in your arms and hamstrings simultaneously. The modality makes your workout a twofer.
Phil Timmons, a program manager at Blink Fitness, says that anabolic stretching falls under the umbrella of “isometric concentration”—or exercise that involves static holds. “Isometric contraction is one in which the muscle is activated, but instead of being allowed to lengthen or shorten, it is held at a constant length,” he explains. “Anabolic stretching is a way to stress volume of your muscular cells in order to grow in size. It’s leveraged in the same way that we do slow tempo training to gain hypertrophy (increasing the size) of the muscle.”
Ready to try it? “You would perform a set of an exercise to failure. And then, instead of placing the weights down you would continue to hold the weights with the muscle being worked in the extension phase of the lift for about 30 seconds,” says Timmons. After resting for one to two minutes, you can repeat two or three more rounds and feel your arms turn to Jell-O.
As is the case with any workout, make sure that anabolic stretching works for your body. If you’re new to strength training, Timmons says to make sure you’ve grow accustom to dealing with weight before jumping into anabolic stretching. If it’s a good fit for you though, congratulations—stretching and strength training are no longer estranged relatives.
Get strong with this butt workout:
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