Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or you don’t have social media) then you’ve probably heard of the idea of “loaded stretching” movements for muscular hypertrophy. I first read about these in the context of Dante Trudel’s Doggcrapp method of training, many years ago. Dante describes the method like this:
Basically, you want to get into a deep stretch and hold it for 60 to 90 seconds. These are very painful. I’ll walk you through a quad stretch. You just got done quad training, so take an overhand grip on a barbell fastened in a power rack about hip high and simultaneously sink all the way down. Push your knees forward and under the barbell until you’re on your toes basically a sissy squat. Now straighten your arms and lean as far back as you can, and hold that stretch for 60 to 90 seconds. It’s going to be excruciating for most people.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
The important things to note here:
- You’re performing these stretches after you’ve finished resistance training.
- You’re holding the stretches for 60 to 90 seconds.
- You’re using enough resistance (whether through bodyweight or some other method) that the stretch is really deep and painful.
In theory, these stretches increase blood flow, loosen muscle fascia, and induce hyperplasia, all of which lead to improved potential for muscular size. While there’s not a lot of formal evidence for any of these outcomes, my own coach, John Meadows, incorporates a variation on loaded stretching in most of his programming, as well.
So do Matt Jansen, Neil Hill, and many other successful bodybuilding coaches. In my opinion, when so many experienced, knowledgeable people agree on the efficacy of a method, it’s silly to not at least give it a shot, regardless of what academic research suggests.
My Take on Loaded Stretching
That said, I’ve tried loaded stretching as Dante recommends, and never really noticed much improvement from it. But I never like to write off an idea without investigating it from all possible angles, so recently, I’ve begun incorporating loaded stretching into my training itself. This can be a little difficult to describe without context, so I’ll follow Dante’s lead and just walk you through a stretching movement I might perform for quads.
So, we’ve almost finished quad training — we’ve hit our bread and butter squats, and then got a sick pump with a leg extension and leg press superset. Now it’s time for some stretching. Instead of an unweighted sissy squat, I’m going to perform stretching as part of a time-under-tension set using Bulgarian split squats with my front foot elevated for an extra stretch.
I’ll begin by performing a slow negative split squat, taking a full 5-count to sink all the way into the stretched position under load. Then I’ll hold that stretch for a 10-count before returning to the starting position. That’s one rep. I’ll do a set of 8-10 reps in this way, and then repeat for the other leg.
This method — combining extended time under tension with a loaded stretch — is not only excruciating, but in my mind, it covers all the bases. Even if the theory behind loaded stretching doesn’t pan out, there’s plenty of formal evidence for increased time under tension contributing to hypertrophy, so I know for sure that all my bases are well covered.
Stretching Movements I Use
Most lifters will need to use a band to make the movement less challenging, because a regular slow-negative chin-up is pretty darned hard. Take a full 5 seconds to lower into the stretch position, and hang out at the bottom for 10 seconds before pulling up.
Be sure to keep your shoulder blades retracted to protect your scapula from excessive strain, and keep your abs tight to keep tension on the lats and not the lower back.
Dumbbell Power Flyes
We’re using the same 5 second negative/10 second stretch deal, but unlike a conventional dumbbell flye, when you finish the stretch, I want you to bring the ‘bells in close to your chest.
Then press up as you would in a dumbbell bench. This method will allow you to use more weight (enough for a sufficiently painful stretch at the bottom).
Deficit Stiff-Leg Deadlift
You want to be very careful with these to keep your core braced and lumbar spine in a neutral position, but done properly, the hamstring pump from these is unmatched by any other movement. These are just a few examples; you’re by no means limited to them. However, the movements you choose to use for this method should follow a few general rules:
- You can hold the stretched position without any significant strain on your joints or connective tissue. Typically, heavy compounds are not the right choice here (deficit SLDLs are one of the few exceptions).
- You can use sufficient load to make the stretched portion very difficult. Just hanging around with a light weight isn’t doing you any good.
- You can train the movement progressively. That can mean increasing load, time under tension, reps, whatever — but you still need to improve over time if you want to grow.
A Sample Hamstring Program With Loaded Stretching
Fair warning: if you don’t regularly train your hamstrings hard, this will probably leave you with crippling soreness for a day or two!
- Seated hamstring curl: Start off by getting a nice pump in the hams using a myo-rep set. Warm-up to a hard set of 12 reps, then rest 20 second, crank out a second set of 4, rest 20 seconds, and then finish with a third set of 4. You should really struggle to get that last set.
- Wide-stance box squat: It’s hard to find many compound movements that target the hamstrings, but I do like this one. Make sure you’re sitting back and really opening up the hips to engage the hamstrings as much as possible. Yes, there will still be plenty of quad engagement, but a little extra leg work won’t hurt! Work up to a hard set of 5, doing plenty of warm-ups before reaching that top set. Rest as much as needed between sets.
- Inverse curl or glute-ham raise: These are very challenging, so just stick with a standard 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets.
- Tempo deficit SLDL: Do these exactly as described above. I’d like two sets of 8-12 reps, but if you fail at 6-8, that’s okay too, as long as you’re maintaining good technique and really emphasizing that deep stretch. You’ll probably be using only about 30-40% of your 1RM here.
Looks easy. Feels brutal. Give it a shot and see if loaded stretching is a method that works for you!