By David Thurin

The Surprising Connection Between Stretching and Bodybuilding

Ever found yourself comparing apples to oranges and thinking they're pretty much the same because, well, they're both fruits? Alright, maybe that's a bit of a stretch (pun intended).

But what if I told you stretching and bodybuilding isn't that different either? No, seriously, stick around, and you'll see what I mean!

Bodybuilding Basics and Sets

When we think of bodybuilders, we often visualize muscular titans, lifting monstrous weights, and sipping on protein shakes.

But did you know that at the core, it's not about lifting the heaviest weights but about the consistent sets they perform each week? The magic number here is 10. Yup, about 10 sets a week is the golden ticket to those muscle gains.

Now, I'm not claiming to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger or anything. Can you tell? No bulging biceps here! Just kidding (kind of). But even I know that consistency in those sets is key, whether you're lifting dumbbells or your own body weight.

Stretching: It's Just Like Lifting

Now, let's talk about stretching. If you've been thinking of stretching as that relaxing thing you do after a workout, it's time for a tiny paradigm shift. Think of every second you stretch as a rep. That's right!

Holding that calf stretch or reaching for those toes? Each second counts as one rep, just like when you're lifting weights.

Now, here's the kicker. You don't need to hold a stretch for a minute or rush through it in 15 seconds. The sweet spot? 30 seconds. Research suggests that stretching for 30 seconds is the optimum time to get those flexibility gains. 

It's better than struggling through a whole minute or hastily breezing past a quarter minute. So, the next time you stretch, remember: 30 seconds, just like a pro!

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Determining the Right Number of Sets for Stretching

So you've got your weights routine down, right? Ten sets a week and you're on your way to looking like Hercules. But how does this translate to stretching? Guess what? It's the same magic number – 10 sets per week. You might be thinking, "So, if I stretch and lift, I'll end up with muscles and flexibility?" Spot on!

It's funny how these two seemingly different fitness realms – bodybuilding and stretching – actually have so much in common. Both require consistency, dedication, and routine. 

However, while bodybuilders aim for bigger muscles and strength, those of us on the stretching side of things are gunning for improved flexibility, mobility, and range of motion. The path might seem similar, but the destinations are unique and equally awe-inspiring.

Intensity of Stretching

Let's get something straight. Stretching isn't just a cool-down activity or something you do while watching TV (although, I must admit, I've been guilty of that).

It's serious business! Just like you wouldn't slack off during your lifting sets, you shouldn't take your stretching lightly. It's about pushing yourself, but, and this is a big "but," without venturing into the pain territory.

You see, intensity is crucial. Think of it as giving your 100% during those 30-second stretches, feeling the tension but never the pain. You want to be mindful, be in the moment, and truly connect with your body during these sessions.

The Balance in Stretching: Active vs. Passive

Okay, diving deeper into the world of stretching, let's talk about the two major players: active and passive stretching. If you're picturing some calm yoga session versus an intense Pilates workout, you're not too far off.

Let's break it down.

Active Stretching Explained

Active stretching is where you're actively engaging the opposing muscles to stretch the target muscle. No external force is involved. For example, if you're stretching your quads, you're using your hamstrings to create that stretch. Think of it as a dance; one muscle contracts, and the other releases.

Significance of Active Stretching

  • Muscle Engagement: Active stretching not only increases flexibility but also strengthens the muscles. It's a two-in-one deal!
  • Mind-Body Connection: Since you're actively engaging muscles, there's a deeper mind-body connection. You become more aware of your body's limits and how far you can push it.
  • Safety: With no external force pushing or pulling, there's a reduced risk of overstretching and injuring yourself.
  • Better Control: Actively using your muscles to stretch helps in improving balance and control over your movements.
  • Functional Flexibility: It enhances flexibility that's usable in daily activities and sports, making you not just flexible but functionally flexible.

Now, while passive stretching (where you use an external force like a strap or gravity) has its benefits, relying solely on it can lead to being flexible without having muscle strength or control. This can be a recipe for disaster (think of a noodle trying to lift a weight). 

That's why at least half of your stretching sessions should be active. Balancing active and passive stretching ensures you’re not just increasing your range of motion but doing so with strength and control.


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Dynamic vs. Static Stretching

When diving into the world of stretching, you'll often come across two standout terms: dynamic and static stretching. Though both are essential for enhancing flexibility and muscle function, they serve different purposes and are best utilized at different times during your fitness routine. Let's dive into the nitty-gritty of these two stretching superstars.

Dynamic Stretching Explained

Dynamic stretching involves movement — think of it as active stretches where you're not holding the position for long. Examples include leg swings, arm circles, or walking lunges. These stretches actively engage the muscles, getting them ready for action.

Why and When to Use Dynamic Stretching?

  • Warm-Up: Dynamic stretches are perfect for warming up because they increase blood flow, warm up the muscles, and improve your range of motion. They're especially beneficial before high-intensity workouts or sports that require a lot of agility and movement.
  • Preventing Injuries: Because dynamic stretching prepares the muscles for action, it can help reduce the risk of strains and sprains when you jump into more strenuous activities.

Static Stretching Explained

Static stretching is what most people picture when they think of stretching. It involves holding a stretch in a comfortable position for a period of time, typically 15-60 seconds. 

This type of stretching is excellent for increasing flexibility and relieving muscle tension. Think of stretches like touching your toes or stretching your quads by pulling your heel towards your butt.

Why and When to Use Static Stretching?

  • Cool-Down: After a workout, static stretching can help relax the muscles and return them to their resting length. It's a fantastic way to reduce post-workout soreness and stiffness.
  • Flexibility Goals: If you're aiming to improve your flexibility, especially in specific areas, static stretches should be a staple in your routine. They allow for a deep, isolated stretch that can enhance your flexibility over time.

Disclaimer: This is fitness advice. Please consult with your doctor before starting any new training routines.

Bottom Line

Stretching is more than just a cool-down; it's a key component of overall fitness. From the nuances of dynamic vs. static stretches to the intensity of active methods, it's all about making informed choices. 

Like any fitness journey, it demands dedication and knowledge. So, don't sideline those stretches; embrace them for a more flexible, stronger you. Stay Flexy!