STRETCH PAUSE: Technique for Igniting Anabolism
I am going to cut right to the chase…this article is about how muscle growth occurs (the Cliff Notes version); a technique you should use to ignite this process; and my favorite exercises for each body part to utilize this technique. Lets jump in…
By Eric Broser
Most often people relate hypertrophy to an increase in “protein synthesis,” or the production of new cellular proteins from amino acids. However, the process is far more complex than this, requiring an overwhelming cascade of physiological events to occur in a specific order, while dozens of bodily hormones and chemicals rush into action. To discuss all of this in depth would take the space of entire book, and likely bore you tears, so let’s skip to the meat and potatoes of this whole thing because I really don’t want any of you to fall asleep, or even worse, dehydrate (and besides, meat and potatoes are yummy).
In order for muscle hypertrophy to occur, new cells (known as satellite cells) must fuse with existing muscle fibers. Normally these satellite cells are dormant, and sit “minding their own business” adjacent to muscle fiber sarcolemma.
An intense weight-training workout can serve as a trigger for satellite cell activation, leading to the first stage of hypertrophy, known as proliferation. It is at this point that these cells will begin to divide and multiply, forming into myoblasts. The myoblasts then fuse with existing muscle fibers and donate their nuclei in a process called differentiation. Because muscle cells contain many nuclei, increasing their number allows the cell to regulate more cytoplasm, inducing more actin and myosin (the two main contractile proteins in skeletal muscle) to be produced. This increases overall cell size and protein content, leading to a larger muscle mass. (Note: This process will only come to fruition, however, if adequate recovery/repair is allowed to take place through rest, proper nutrition, and effective supplementation).
One of the best ways to cause injury to muscle fibers, and thus ignite the “mechanics” of hypertrophy in motion, is through a technique I call “stretch pause.” This simply means choosing an exercise that forces the muscle into a deep stretch position at the mid-point of every rep, and holding that stretch for 3-4 seconds before beginning the concentric (positive) contraction. In order to maximize this muscle-building-method I suggest using relatively heavy weights that will keep reps in the range of 5-7 per set. Keep in mind, however, that because you will be holding the deep stretch position for 3-4 seconds on every rep, you should not use the same poundage as you would during a “normal” set of equal repetitions. Another point to remember is that the eccentric (negative) stroke should be done under control as you carefully move into the stretch position so as to avoid injury. However, I suggest moving explosively from stretch to positive as this will further shock the muscle into growth.
Ok, so are you ready to get growing? Here are my personal favorite exercises for utilizing the “stretch pause” technique for each major muscle group!
Chest: DB or Cable Flye
Lats: One Arm DB or Seated Cable Row
Delts: Behind the Back Cable Side Lateral
Biceps: Steep Incline DB Curl
Triceps: Incline or Seated Two Arms Overhead DB Extension
Quads: Sissy Squats (freestanding version)
Hamstrings: BB or DB Stiff Leg Deadlift
Calves: Donkey Calf Raise
Give this technique a try for a few weeks and the next thing you will find yourself stretching are all of your T-shirts!