Can you get jacked doing yoga? Maybe. New literature from the academic journal Frontiers in Physiology has demonstrated the potency of extended stretching protocols on muscle size, strength, and flexibility.
The paper in question, published in May 2022 and entitled “Influence of Long-Lasting Static Stretching on Maximal Strength, Muscle Thickness and Flexibility,” by Warneke and colleagues, showcased that certain static stretching protocols were able to create “significant increases in muscle cross-sectional area.” (1)
While there is a litany of research on static stretching, Warneke et al. are among the first researchers to put forth a causative, dose-response relationship between stretching and physiological adaptations that go beyond just making you a bit bendier.
What They Did
Fifty-two participants were divided into two groups — 27 classified as the “intervention group” and 25 acting as a control. The intervention group utilized an orthotic device that stretched their ankles for one hour daily for six weeks.
Notably, the participants in the intervention group stretched only one of their ankles to analyze and compare contralateral force transfer or how effectively they can distribute force across both of their legs.
Additionally, the researchers measured the following qualities to determine the efficacy of their stretching protocol:
- Maximal isometric contraction and one-rep-max (1RM) strength of the knee joint.
- Muscle cross-sectional area of the gastrocnemius.
- Maximal range of motion in the ankle joint.
After six weeks, Warneke and colleagues assessed the strength, mobility, and muscle size of the intervention group’s calves and ankles and came away with some surprising results:
- The affected ankle had high time-and-interaction effects on isometric contraction and 1RM strength.
- A “significant increase in muscle cross-sectional area” of just over 15 percent in the gastrocnemius tissue of the calf.
- Increases in range of motion of up to 27 percent for the affected ankle.
Researchers remarked that there were no significant effects on the control group. However, they also documented an 11.4 percent increase in contralateral 1RM strength for the intervention group.
What It Means
Warneke and colleagues postulate that extended stretching is capable of inducing “muscle damage comparable to the effects of strength training.”
In short, the study asserts that standard in-the-gym weight lifting isn’t the only way to elicit muscular hypertrophy or to get stronger. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should strap yourself to a machine that stretches your ankle for 60 minutes every day if you want to beef up your calves.
[Related: Do Get it Twisted — 8 Benefits of the Russian Twist to Boost Your Core Training]
While the modality did present notable changes, it may not be practical to bind your ankle (or any other joint) for an hour every day if you want to make gains.
However, Warneke et al. have shown that, when applied with enough intensity, static stretching can challenge your tissues such that they’re forced to adapt, grow, and strengthen.
Whether this phenomenon can be recreated under more reasonable circumstances has yet to be determined, but it’s an exciting find nonetheless.
- Warneke, K., Brinkmann, A., Hillebrecht, M., & Schiemann, S. (2022). Influence of Long-Lasting Static Stretching on Maximal Strength, Muscle Thickness and Flexibility. Frontiers in physiology, 13, 878955.
Featured image via Shutterstock/Inside Creative House