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Does Stretching Help You Build Muscle? (Explained)

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

TL;DR: Overloaded stretching can help build muscle, while passive and low-intensity stretching does not build muscle.

Stretching is a popular activity that is done for a variety of reasons. Building muscle is perhaps one of the less well-known reasons. But, does stretching really help you gain muscle?


Stretching has long been thought as warm-up exercises, but it does seem to have the ability to develop muscle.


So, can stretching increase muscle in people? In this article, I'll discuss various studies and research into this matter.


woman doing stretches

The Research

One study in birds discovered that progressively overloaded stretching by adding weight onto their wings for 28 days led in a 318% increase in muscle mass. (1)


An excellent review article summarised current studies on stretching and muscle development in people. There are presently ten studies looking at how different types of stretching affect human musculature. (2)


Stretching had no effect on muscle development in seven of the trials, whereas stretching increased certain measures of muscle growth in three of the investigations.


Given that the majority of research showed no effect of stretching on muscle development, you could easily call it a day and conclude that stretching does not increase muscle.


However, this is not the full story.



Low-Intensity Stretching

Low-intensity, passive stretching was employed in the majority of the studies that showed no effect of stretching on muscle development measurements.


Let's take a look at one of the experiments to get a sense of what low-intensity, passive stretching could look like.


For 24 weeks, the participants stretched their calves for 60 seconds four times a day. The calf muscles did not develop much at the conclusion of the trial. (3)


The three studies that did show a positive impact of stretching on markers of muscle development, on the other hand, all employed some kind of overload.


Overload Stretching

One study discovered that stretching the biceps femoris (part of the hamstrings) for 450 seconds at maximum passive torque three times per week for eight weeks substantially increased fascicle length in the biceps femoris, potentially implying muscle hypertrophy. (4)


Simpson et al found that doing a 180-second calf stretch on a loaded leg press machine five times per week for six weeks led in substantial increases in gastrocnemii fascicle (part of the calves) thickness and length. (5)


Another study found that doing four sets of 30 seconds calf stretching at the maximum inclination on a calf board three times a week for eight weeks resulted in substantial increases in gastrocnemius (calf) thickness. (6)



Does Stretching Build Muscle?

Stretching at a low intensity does not seem to promote muscular development, while stretching with a load may help build muscle.


In the review of 10 studies, seven of which used low-intensity, passive stretching, while three studies used overloading stretching.


The three overloading studies have shown this overload may be achieved in a variety of ways.


  • Freitas and Milhemens study used stretching for a long time while producing maximum passive torque.

  • Mizunos study utilised the steepest slope on a calf board to load the stretch with the participant's bodyweight.

  • Simpson et al loaded a calf stretch using a leg press machine.


It seems that stretching under load can help build muscle, while passive and low-intensity stretching does not.


Stretching Helps Build Muscle in Other Ways

Stretching can also help you to build muscle in other ways.


  • Stretching improves flexibility. This allows you to execute strength-building exercises with a wider range of motion and therefore increasing the effectiveness of the exercise. (7)

  • Improves blood circulation. Stretching after an exercise helps the body pump new blood, which feeds these hungry muscles with nutrients. (8)

  • May reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. Stretching after a workout can help to eliminate lactic acid accumulation, which may help to reduce post-workout pain and delayed onset muscle soreness, improving recovery time. (9)

  • Increases 1-rep max. According to this research, stretching may help you raise your one-repetition maximum (the amount of weight you can lift in one rep), improve your endurance, and improve your performance. (10)

  • Stretching may help you avoid injuries. For example, if you have a rotator cuff injury, you won't be able to continue your normal upper body strength training until the ailment heals. It is important to take precautions to minimise your risk of damage before it occurs. Some types of stretching may help you avoid injuries. (11)


These factors may help improve your workouts and further increase muscle growth, some of these effects may also be the reason for the muscle growth seen when overloading stretching.



References

This section contains links to research, studies, and sources of information for this article, as well as authors, contributors, etc. All sources, along with the article and facts, are subjected to a series of quality, reliability, and relevance checks.

Real Muscle primarily uses high-quality sources, such as peer-reviewed publications, to back up the information in our articles. To understand more about how we fact-check and keep our information accurate, dependable, and trustworthy, read more about us.

This evidence-based analysis on the effects of stretching on muscle growth features 11 references, listed below.

1. Antonio J, Gonyea WJ. Progressive stretch overload of skeletal muscle results in hypertrophy before hyperplasia. J Appl Physiol (1985). (1993, Sep) ✔

2. Nunes JP, Schoenfeld BJ, Nakamura M, Ribeiro AS, Cunha PM, Cyrino ES. Does stretch training induce muscle hypertrophy in humans? A review of the literature. Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. (2020, May) (Review) ✔

4. Freitas SR, Mil-Homens P. Effect of 8-week high-intensity stretching training on biceps femoris architecture. J Strength Cond Res. (2015, Jun) (Randomised Controlled Trial) ✔

5. Simpson CL, Kim BDH, Bourcet MR, Jones GR, Jakobi JM. Stretch training induces unequal adaptation in muscle fascicles and thickness in medial and lateral gastrocnemii. Scand J Med Sci Sports. (2017, Dec) (Randomised Controlled Trial) ✔

7. O'Sullivan, K., Murray, E. & Sainsbury, D. The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. (2009)

8. Hotta K, Behnke BJ, Arjmandi B, Ghosh P, Chen B, Brooks R, Maraj JJ, Elam ML, Maher P, Kurien D, Churchill A, Sepulveda JL, Kabolowsky MB, Christou DD, Muller-Delp JM. Daily muscle stretching enhances blood flow, endothelial function, capillarity, vascular volume and connectivity in aged skeletal muscle. J Physiol. (2018, May 15) ✔

9. Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (2011, Jul 6)

10. Nelson AG, Kokkonen J, Winchester JB, Kalani W, Peterson K, Kenly MS, Arnall DA. A 10-week stretching program increases strength in the contralateral muscle. J Strength Cond Res. (2012, Mar) (Randomised Controlled Trial) ✔

Citations with a tick indicate the information is from a trusted source.

 

The information provided in this article is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a physician or other competent professional before following advice or taking any supplement. See our terms and conditions.



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