Stretching properly can boost your workouts and help you build muscle. Here’s a detailed look at how to use stretching to help muscle recovery and increase muscle mass.
I can’t emphasize enough how important stretching is for muscle-building—but in this post, I’m going to try!
Stretching is one of the most important parts of your workout. It’s what helps to loosen up stiff joints and tight muscles, lowering your risk of injury while running, jumping, cycling, or pumping iron. It also helps you to cool down and works out any kinks or knots after an intense training session.
There is a long list of benefits of stretching, including reducing tension, boosting athletic performance, and helping speed up recovery.
But did you know that stretching will also increase your muscle growth?
That’s right, doing chest, back, arm, or leg stretches before workout will make those muscles bigger and accelerate post-workout recovery.
Keep reading to find out all the ways that stretching helps to build muscle, and get ready to have your mind blown.
How Does Stretching Help Build Muscle?
Let’s talk about all the ways that stretching helps you to build muscle:
Greater force production – One study from 2006 found that stretching the lower leg muscles led to a 7-12% increase in ankle movement (both dorsiflexion and plantarflexion). Residual force enhancement increased by 13% as a result of stretching.
Increased muscle hypertrophy – One 2020 review of 10 studies found that passive, low-intensity stretching doesn’t do much in the way of increasing muscle hypertrophy following a workout, but active, high-intensity stretching does. This type of stretching, also known as “dynamic stretching”, elicits marked muscle hypertrophy, and thus is recommended to increase the results of your resistance training sessions.
Less muscle soreness – A 2005 study compared the after-effects of workouts, specifically measuring post-workout soreness, and found that those who stretched immediately after their training session had quantifiably less soreness in the 72 hours following their workout than those who didn’t. Stretching helps to drain away the lactic acid that builds up during your workout, which in turn decreases soreness.
Greater muscle growth – One study found that stretching immediately following an exercise (focused on a single muscle group) led to massive amounts of growth in a short period of time—a whopping 318% in just a matter of 28 days.
Increase your range of motion – When you are able to move your joints more fully through their entire range of motion, you can perform strength-building exercises through that full range of motion, too. This means that your muscles spend more time under tension/bearing the load, which means better muscular growth overall.
Lower injury risk – Injuries can stop you from working out or keep you from pushing yourself to the max. By stretching, you protect against injury, and thereby prevent anything that would interfere with your daily/weekly workout sessions.
Burn calories — Even though stretching is thought of as a passive activity, there are some forms of stretching that can burn a lot of calories and fat.
As you can see, stretching is a crucial component of your workouts, so it’s worth taking that time—before, during, and after training—to stretch out your muscles and joints!
My Favorite Stretches for Building Muscle
Stretch 1: Arm Circles
This is easily my favorite upper body dynamic stretches, hands down!
It’s highly effective at loosening up the shoulder muscles and increasing blood flow to your limbs in preparation for a “Push” or “Pull” workout.
To perform this stretch:
- Stand with your feet spread shoulder width apart, spine straight, head up, and arms extended to shoulder height at your sides.
- Rotate both arms in forward-moving circles. Keep the circles small, roughly 6 inches in diameter.
- Rotate 10 times forward, then reverse direction and rotate 10 times backward.
- Increase the size of the circles to 15-20 inches, letting your shoulder muscles warm up and move more noticeably. Again, perform 10 forward circles, then 10 backward circles.
- Increase the size of the circles once again, this time swinging your arms to nearly their full extension. You’ll feel the shoulder muscles limbering up and warming up, and your range of motion will drastically increase. After 10 forward circles and 10 backward circles, you’re done and ready to move on!
Stretch 2: Torso Twist
Limbering up your upper body and core can be one of the best ways to prevent injury risk, especially in your lower back (one of the most common “pain points”). It will lead to better rotational movement, too, enabling you to perform twisting exercises with greater ease.
To perform this stretch:
- Start with your feet spread roughly shoulder width apart, back straight, head up, and arms extended out to your sides at shoulder height.
- Without moving your lower body, twist to the right. Keep twisting until you hit the “stiff point” when your muscles and joints feel tight. DO NOT push to the point of pain.
- Twist back in the other direction, bringing your arms across the front of your body toward your left side. Again, stop at the “stiff point”.
- Repeat 10-15 times per side.
Stretch 3: Lunge with a Twist
Follow up Torso Twists with this stretch to get your lower body muscles working, too.
Combining the twist with a lunge maximizes both core engagement and warms up your legs in preparation for some hardcore squats, lunges, and leg presses.
To perform this stretch:
- Start with your feet together, arms hanging by your side.
- Step your right foot forward into a lunge. As you reach the bottom of your lunge, twist your torso to the right, stopping just when you hit the “stiff point”.
- Push back up to your original position, and repeat on the left side, lunging with your left foot and twisting to the left.
- Repeat 10 times per side.
Stretch 4: Deep Squat
This is a dynamic stretch that will help to loosen up your hips, knees, ankles, and lower back, and it’s a great option for increasing lower body mobility for your Leg Day training sessions.
You’ll find that after doing a set or two of bodyweight deep squats, you’ll move much more easily and your joints will bother you far less when squatting, lunging, or leg pressing.
To perform this stretch:
- Start with your feet planted slightly beyond shoulder width apart. Try to keep your toes pointing forward if possible, though you may find it a little more comfortable to point them slightly outward if you feel tension in your knees, hips, or ankles.
- Slowly lower into a squat, but instead of stopping at the 90-degree angle (like you would during training), keeping going all the way down as low as you can. Picture your butt hitting the floor or the backs of your ankles. Get as deep into the squat as possible.
- Hold at the bottom of the squat for a count of 2 seconds, then stand back up slowly, controlling your movements.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times. Feel free to extend the pause at the bottom of the squat to 3 or even 4 seconds to really give your joints and muscles a chance to stretch.
Stretch 5: Hip Circles
This is a highly effective exercise to loosen up tight hip muscles—a problem very common after spending 6+ hours a day sitting down.
Sitting for too long is one of the greatest contributing factors to tight hip flexors. That tightness can decrease your range of motion, reduce flexibility, and increase your risk of injury if you don’t take the time to stretch!
Doing this before a Leg Day workout will be crucial for keeping those hips hinging properly and your movements smooth and efficient.
To perform this stretch:
- Stand beside a wall, bar, post, or something else that can offer support. Hold the support with your right hand, and lift your right foot slightly off the ground.
- Without moving any other part of your body, rotate your leg clockwise in small circles out to one side. Keep your movements controlled and pay attention to your hips.
- Perform 10 circles clockwise, then 10 counterclockwise.
- Switch to your left side, and repeat.
Stretching for More Muscle – FAQs
When is the best time to stretch to improve muscle mass?
Ideally, you should be stretching before, during, and after training. Sound like too much?
Let me explain:
- Stretching before your workout gets your muscles ready to work, increases blood flow, and limbers up the joints. All of this will help you prepare to train and drastically reduce injury risk.
- Stretching during your workout (i.e., between sets) will help to drain lactic acid from your muscles, slowing down your time to fatigue/failure. It will also increase blood flow and deliver critical nutrients to your tired muscles. Active recovery will prevent you from running out of gas before you’re done training.
- Stretching after your workout maximizes muscle growth and hypertrophy, reduces post-workout soreness, and drains lactic acid. It will also speed up recovery time exponentially.
How long should you stretch to build muscle?
Your pre-workout stretching session should last 10-15 minutes. This way, you have time enough to incorporate both static and dynamic stretches—static stretches to loosen up your joints, dynamic stretches to increase range of motion and engage the muscles.
Dynamic stretches can also serve as your “warm up sets”—for example, use deep squats to warm up your leg muscles before you hit weighted squats hard.
After working out, your cooldown can be much shorter. Usually, with just 5-10 minutes of stretching and low-intensity exercise, you can accelerate recovery and prevent muscle soreness.
The Bottom Line
Stretching is absolutely critical if you want to see the best possible results from your workout!
Both dynamic and static stretches serve a purpose, but dynamic stretches have proven to be more effective at encouraging active recovery and greater muscle hypertrophy.
One of the best parts about adding stretching to your workout routine is that it requires no equipment and a small amount of time each day.
Programs like Hyperbolic Stretching (which I’ve used to help improve thoracic and lumbar range of motion) are designed to be short, removing any excuse you can generate to not do it.
Hopefully, the stretches I shared with you in this post will help you get ready to lift, move, and train like a beast.
It’s worth the time invested before, during, and after your workouts—in reality, it can save you from serious injuries and days of painfully sore muscles.
More Stretching Guides:
5 Stretches for Tight Glutes (Plus Benefits and How to Do Them). Unlock your posterior with these five proven stretches that you can do anywhere for better body movement and increased range of motion in your glutes.
The Best Stretching Programs and Apps for Improving Flexibility. Looking for a stretching program or app to help you kick up your flexibility? Here’s a detailed look at the top stretching apps for every level of user.