Q: I’m loving the 3D HIT program [listed in the X-traordinary Arms e-book]. Every bodypart is growing, my strength goes up at almost every workout, and I’m only in the gym for 45 minutes. So far, it’s sweet! My question is, Shouldn’t the stretch exercise be last in the 3D sequence: midrange, contracted, then stretch? I’ve read that stretching a muscle makes it weaker right after, so it only makes sense that you should do the stretch-position exercise last instead of before the contracted-position exercise; otherwise, you’ll be weaker on the contracted move. Am I off base here?
A: Either order works well for stimulating growth, and it’s good to mix it up for more adaptation (growth). But we’ll give you our reasoning for why we think the standard order (see the pics below) is best for optimum hypertrophy (fast mass) with regard to the stretch-strength link. Take biceps as an example. The standard 3D POF program is barbell curls, incline curls, and concentration curls—in that order.
Would it be better to flip-flop the last two exercises—do concentration curls as the second exercise and incline curls as the third? That way you would stretch the muscle at the end of the bodypart routine.
While stretching a muscle can make it weaker, as you suggest, the studies with that result used passive static stretches—stretching a muscle and holding it there for long periods—not stretch-position exercises against heavy resistance on which you recoil immediately out of the stretch.
In fact, Russian studies into the stretch-strength link have shown that weighted stretch exercises with that recoil can increase force production, perhaps due to the myotatic reflex, an emergency-response reaction that occurs when a muscle is elongated against resistance and then contracted immediately after. It “scares” your nervous system into activating more muscle fibers.
And speaking of force, stretch-position exercises help you generate a lot of it, so doing them as the exercise following the max-force midrange exercise makes a lot of sense—you are continuing to train max force as you also attack the stretch position. It’s the perfect transition. According to Vladimir Zatsiorsky, Ph.D., and William Kraemer, Ph.D. in their book Science and Practice of Strength Training…
If a muscle shortens immediately after a stretch
•force and power output increases, and
•energy expenditure decreases.
Thus, muscles can produce greater mechanical force and power while using less metabolic energy.
So we believe that the best order is midrange (max force), stretch (force/stretch overload), and contracted (continuous tension/occlusion). The last exercise, because of its continuous tension, creates a full pump immediately after, flushing the muscle with nutrient-rich blood—just what you need to kick-start the anabolic processes and finish off the muscle.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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