By the title you might think this article is about standing in front of a mirror and flexing your muscles followed by some stretching. Not quite. By flexing and stretching we are actually talking about the process of working a muscle.
Unlike the general idea of ‘weightlifting’ which is just about picking up or moving large amounts of pounds at once, we are looking more at building out bodies. By utilizing resistance training we have the unique opportunity to reshape how we look. Muscles can be made bigger and shapelier to change the overall form of our body. That is a wonderful thing, having so much control over how we look.
Of course there is a lot of hard work involved.
Flexing & Stretching
The process of properly working a muscle involves a positive and negative motion. Most people understand the positive, or flexing, motion range of an exercise. In barbell curls you flex and contract the biceps to curl the weight upward. This stresses the muscles on the concentric portion of the contraction.
Conversely, when you lower the weight you are in effect stretching the muscle back out. This is also known as the negative range of motion or the eccentric contraction. Both are vital to building muscle size and shape.
The truth of the matter is most people pay far too much attention to the flexing. They load on a lot of weight and grunt and groan to curl it up. Then they let gravity do most of the work to lower the weight back down. But by doing this they are missing out on getting a good stretching, or negative workout. This basically means you are doing half the workout you could.
Getting a Good Negative Workout
So why do people skip the negative portion of a workout so much? Usually it is a lack of knowledge about how much extra strength and size you can gain from focusing just as hard on the negative portion of the range as you do on the positive. More advanced practitioners have learned this important tip and include negative work in their routine.
But many people use it sparingly. It is very easy to cause incredible soreness from causing a lot of hypertrophy in a muscle that isn’t used to a lot of weight stretching work. The key is to start slow, just like you did on the flexing side, and build up strength slowly.
One of the best ways to get a good stretch workout is to use a slower lowering or eccentric motion. In the case of our barbell curl example you would simply double the amount of time it took to curl the weight when lowering it. For example, if it took two seconds to curl the weight then slowly control the weight on the way down over a four count. If you need to reduce your weight then do so.
The muscle will be getting an intense workout from focusing on both the flex and stretch, so do not be overly concerned with how much weight you use initially. It will go up later and you should be able to quickly exceed your previous maximums as your negative strength increases.
This focus takes time and discipline. But when the end result is added size and muscle strength then it easily becomes very worthwhile. So try a little flex and stretch during your next workout and see what it does for you!