Loaded stretches are easily one of the most powerful training methods in the world. They were popularized by John Parillo in the 1980s and today many of the world’s greatest coaches use loaded stretches to build bigger, stronger athletes.
If you want to reach your fitness goals in record time then loaded stretches are for you!
- Part 1: The Science Of Loaded Stretches
- Part 2: Loaded Stretching: Static Exercises
- Part 3: Loaded Stretching: Dynamic Exercises
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to use loaded stretches to build muscle mass and strength. Loaded stretches are a high-intensity training technique where you place your muscles into a deep stretch with added weight or manual resistance.
Science has proven that loaded stretches are one of the best training methods that you can use for building size and strength. They increase mTOR (the “on-switch” for protein synthesis), they stimulate muscle-building hormones in your muscles and they might even stretch the dense fascia tissue surrounding your muscles so they have more room to grow.
Here is Christian Thibadeau giving a great overview of some of the benefits of loaded stretches on muscle growth:
I’ll talk about the science of loaded stretches in more detail in part 1 of this article. In parts 2 and 3 of this article I’ll teach you the best loaded stretch exercises for every body part.
There are two main ways to perform loaded stretching in your training:
- Perform loaded stretches as a separate static exercise
- Perform loaded stretches as part of your regular dynamic exercises
Dante Trudel popularized the idea of using loaded stretches as a separate exercise. He had his bodybuilders perform a deep static stretch with extra weight after they trained each body part.
For example after training the chest they would hold the bottom position of a dumbbell fly for 60-90 seconds. Here is a great video demonstration:
These static stretches are normally called “extreme stretches” in the bodybuilding community.
The other way to incorporate loaded stretches into your routine is much more popular. You just perform exercises that place the muscle under a deep loaded stretch at some point in the movement. You may even do things to specifically overload that stretched part of the movement during your reps.
For example here is John Meadows demonstrating “stretch push ups” that he sometimes performs at the end of his chest routines:
John is really forcing himself to spend as much time in the bottom position of this exercise as possible. This is a great way to stretch out your chest after you have pre-fatigued it with other exercises. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you all of the best loaded stretch training strategies for every body part in part 2 and 3 of this article.
Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: The Science Of Loaded Stretches
There is an enormous amount of scientific showing that loaded stretches are one of the best tools for building size and strength.
In fact the research has shown that there are at least six reasons why loaded stretches work so well:
- They stimulate mTOR, the “on” switch for protein synthesis
- They overload your fast-twitch muscle fibers
- They increase blood flow and induce hyperemia in your muscles
- They release anabolic hormones into your muscles
- They **potentially** stretch out the fascia surrounding your muscles
- They **potentially** stimulate hyperplasia in your muscles
Let’s take a closer look at each of these advantages of loaded stretching.
Advantage #1: Loaded Stretches Stimulate MTOR, The “On” Switch For Protein Synthesis
Stan Efferding is one of my favourite coaches in the fitness industry. He is known for being “the world’s strongest bodybuilder” and for coaching some of the strongest athletes in the world like Brian Shaw and Hafthor Bjornsson. You may have heard Stan say “you don’t grow in the gym.”
Stan is exactly right! You don’t build any muscle tissue in the gym. When you lift weights you are actually breaking down muscle tissue. Your muscles only grow back bigger and stronger when you leave the gym and start recovering from your workout.
So how do your muscles grow back bigger and stronger? One of the ways that your body builds more muscle tissue is by increasing the rate of protein synthesis. Research has shown that a pathway called “mTOR” is the key to turning on protein synthesis in your muscles.
People have developed all kinds of ways to turn on mTOR in your muscles. However, there are two training methods that turn on mTOR better than anything else:
- Loaded stretches
- Eccentric training
There is a ton of research showing that loaded stretches are one of the 2 best ways to increase mTOR in your muscles.
Scientific studies have shown over and over that loaded stretches “stimulate… the AKT/mTOR pathway and protein synthesis” in your muscle cells (1-4). This is good news if you are interested in building bigger, stronger muscles!
Of course there are many different types of loaded stretches. The more “extreme” the loaded stretch the more you will turn on mTOR and stimulate protein synthesis. Dante Trudel’s version of “extreme stretching” will stimulate mTOR more than any other stretching method.
For example here is IFBB professional bodybuilder Dusty Hanshaw using a loaded stretch to stimulate muscle growth in his lats:
This type of loaded stretch with ultra-heavy weights will jack up mTOR to ultra-high levels! However, even the less aggressive forms of loaded stretches will stimulate mTOR to some degree.
Advantage #2: Loaded Stretches Overload your Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers
There are two main types of muscle fibers in your body:
- Slow-twitch muscle fibers
- Fast-twitch muscle fibers
Everyone has some combination of each of these types of muscle fibers. Your slow-twitch muscle fibers are smaller in size and are great for endurance activities.
For example when Tom Platz squatted 525 pounds for an unbelievable 23 reps he was relying heavily on his slow-twitch muscle fibers. Check it out:
One of the problems with your slow-twitch muscle fibers is they don’t have as much potential for becoming bigger and stronger. Your fast-twitch muscle fibers are completely different. These muscle fibers help you lift really heavy weights and perform explosive movements.
Your fast-twitch muscle fibers are the ones with the greatest potential for size and strength gains. If you want to become as big and strong as possible then you have to spend a lot of time training your fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Research has shown that loaded stretches are one of the absolute best ways to target your fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Normally during a set your body recruits the slow-twitch muscle fibers first before the fast-twitch fibers. The fast-twitch fibers are only activated if your body absolutely needs them to perform a task. Loaded stretching breaks all of these rules because your body recruits the fast-twitch muscle fibers right away before the slow-twitch ones!
Research has even shown that heavy loaded stretches can make your slow-twitch muscle fibers behave more like fast-twitch ones. Eccentric training is the only other training method that can also do this.
Advantage #3: Loaded Stretches Increase Blood Flow And Induce Hyperemia In Your Muscles
Bodybuilders know how important “the pump” is for building muscle mass. The pump occurs when you lift weights and blood starts rushing into your muscles. Your muscles swell up with blood as if they were a water balloon swelling up with water!
The pump does a number of things to stimulate muscle growth:
- It stretches the fascia surrounding your muscle tissue
- It delivers muscle-building nutrients to the working muscle
- It turns on many muscle-building pathways at the molecular level
The pump is also a great sign that you are actually working the target muscle. In other words if you get a pump then you know you were really recruiting that particular muscle on your exercises.
Bodybuilders have invented many different training methods such as drop sets and giant sets to get a bigger pump and stimulate more muscle growth in the gym. However, research shows that loaded stretches are one of the best ways to maximize blood flow to your working muscle (5-7).
When you perform a loaded stretch you occlude the muscle or prevent blood from entering into it. Your muscles enter a state of “hypoxemia” where they are deprived of oxygen and other critical nutrients.
As soon as you release the loaded stretch a tsunami of blood rushes into your muscle. This is known as “reactive hyperemia.” The pump you get following a loaded stretch is absolutely insane!
Research also shows that loaded stretches create enough metabolic fatigue to stimulate various muscle-building pathways on a cellular level (8-9).
There are many different ways to stimulate reactive hyperemia with loaded stretching. Here is Dusty Hanshaw showing one great way to do it with a pec-dec machine:
I want you to pay close attention to how Dusty performs this movement. On every rep he is taking a long pause in the stretched position. This acts as a type of loaded stretch because he is really stretching out his chest under a heavy load.
This is a great way to maximize blood flow into your chest and stimulate extra growth.
Advantage #4: The Release Anabolic Hormones Into Your Muscles
One of the biggest advantages of loaded stretches is they stimulate the release of anabolic hormones into your muscle cells (1-4). Here are two of the most important hormones stimulated by loaded stretches:
- IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1)
- MGF (mechanical growth factor)
These are powerful hormones that stimulate muscle growth in your body. Most other training methods do a very poor job of elevating these hormones in your body. Actually this is one of the reasons Dante Trudel decided to include loaded stretches in his world-famous “DC Training” bodybuilding program.
Here are Dante’s exact thoughts on the science of loaded stretching:
“Under various circumstances, a stretched muscle under load has produced hyperplasia [an increase in the number of muscle fibers], increased IGF-1, increased MGF (two very potent growth factors), increased protein synthesis and increased long-term production of prostaglandin F2 alpha, an anabolic stimulator of myofiber growth (10).”
Loaded stretches are one of the only training methods that dramatically increase IGF-1 and MGF in your muscles. This means if you are not using loaded stretches in your training then you are missing out on some serious gains.
Advantage #5: They **Potentially** Stretch Out The Fascia Surrounding Your Muscles
Your muscles are surrounded by a dense layer of connective tissue called “muscle fascia.” This fascia tissue is incredibly tight and very difficult to stretch out. It is designed to protect your muscles by limiting their range of motion.
The reason you can’t just stand up and perform a “split” with your legs is that the fascia surrounding your legs is too tight.
One of the downsides to muscle fascia is it actually limits the amount of muscle tissue that you can build. If your fascia tissue is too tight then you will never have enough physical room to build new muscle tissue.
It’s like trying to add more water to a water bottle that is already full. There just isn’t enough room in the water bottle to hold any more fluids! Your muscles work exactly the same way.
John Parillo believed that using loaded stretches to stretch out tight fascia tissue was the key to bringing up lagging body parts (11). Other bodybuilding coaches such as Dante Trudel, John Meadows and Scott Stevenson also believe that it might be possible to use loaded stretches to stretch out the fascia surrounding your muscles.
Thousands upon thousands of bodybuilders who have reported unbelievable results after incorporating loaded stretches into their training program. Many bodybuilders have said that their chest, triceps, lats and quadriceps took on a completely different look after just a few weeks of using loaded stretches.
Just take a look at the following video of Dusty Hanshaw performing a chest stretch:
Dusty is holding a maximum effort stretch in the bottom position of a dumbbell fly. This was performed at the end of his chest workout when his chest was full of blood. This is pretty much a perfect environment for stretching out the dense fascia tissue in the chest.
Many bodybuilders have reported that their chest appears significantly “rounder” and “fuller” after just 2-4 workouts using this exact stretch. This is definitely something to think about.
Advantage #6: They **Potentially** Stimulate Hyperplasia In Your Muscles
There are two main mechanisms for muscle growth:
Hypertrophy occurs when your individual muscle fibers increase in size. This is how muscles normally grow in humans and other animals. Hyperplasia is completely different: your muscle fibers actually split in half so there is an increase in the total number of muscle fibers! In other words 1 muscle fiber splits into 2 smaller muscle fibers.
Hyperplasia is the “holy grail” of building muscle because the more muscle fibers you have the bigger your muscles can eventually become.
Animal studies have shown that you can increase a muscle by over 1,000% in just 30 days using heavy loaded stretches (12-13)!
Normally this kind of muscle growth would be absolutely impossible. I mean, can you imagine your chest growing 10 times larger in just 30 days? These unbelievable results were possible because the loaded stretches stimulated hyperplasia in the animal’s muscles.
IFBB professional bodybuilder David Henry added 30 pounds in 3 years after using heavy loaded stretches on every body part. Keep in mind he made these gains AFTER he turned pro!
How are these kinds of gains even possible? The answer might be “muscle hyperplasia.”
Here is the über smart guy Dr. Scott Stevenson talking about the evidence supporting hyperplasia in humans:
Muscle biopsies have also shown that many IFBB professional bodybuilders have a HUGE number of relatively small muscle fibers. In fact their muscle fibers are just as small as people who don’t lift weights! Could this be evidence of muscle hyperplasia in professional bodybuilders? It’s hard to say.
The big point is that loaded stretches may be able to induce hyperplasia in humans and you would be a fool to ignore this information!
Part 2: Loaded Stretching: Static Exercises
There are 2 main ways that you can use loaded stretches in your training program.
- Static loaded stretches
- Dynamic loaded stretches
In this section we are going to discuss static loaded stretches. Static loaded stretches are often called “extreme stretches” and were popularized by Dante Trudel through his DC Training program.
There are main ways that you can incorporate extreme stretches into your program.
The first method is to perform them at the end of your workout after you have worked that particular body part. Guys like Dante Trudel and Christian Thibadeau are big advocates of this method. Dante recommends that you perform 1 all-out extreme stretch for 60-120 seconds while Christian Thibadeau recommend that you perform 3-4 submaximal loaded stretches for 60-120 seconds each.
The other way to use extreme stretches is to perform them in between your regular sets for that body part. In order to not burn yourself out these stretches are done with more moderate resistance. Stan Efferding did a ton of stretching in between his sets when he was training to be a professional bodybuilder with Flex Wheeler.
Now let’s take a look at some of the best extreme stretch exercises for every body part.
Extreme Stretching: Chest Exercises
Let’s kick things off with everyone’s favourite body part: the chest! There are several different ways to perform an extreme stretch for your chest. The most popular version involves holding the bottom position of a dumbbell fly. For example:
This is the extreme chest stretch that most trainees use when running the DC Training program. It is very important that you perform this stretch at the end of your workout after your chest is already engorged with blood.
You want to play around with the exercise until you find your “sweet spot” where you have a massive stretch on your chest but your shoulders aren’t bothering you.
You should use a weight that is about half of what you can use for flat dumbbell presses. For example if you can flat DB press the 100 pound dumbbells for 8 reps then 50 pounds is about the MOST that you should use on this exercise.
You may want to start with the 30 or 25 pound dumbbells and slowly increase the weight over several workouts.
Dante Trudel, the creator of DC Training and co-founder of True Nutrition has come up with many more advanced exercises to stretch out your chest. One of these advanced chest stretches is performed on a dipping station. Check it out:
I recommend you listen to the audio and watch this video several times before trying it out in the gym. This is a very difficult exercise to perform but the stretch is unbelievable if you get it right.
If you are using a more traditional high-volume bodybuilding program then you may want to experiment with performing a straight arm chest stretch in between your sets. Here is Marc Bell of Super Training demonstrating this chest stretch:
This is NOT an exercise where you want to push yourself as hard as possible. Instead you should focus on gently stretching your chest out. If you feel any discomfort in your shoulders then you should back off a little bit or play around with your technique until the discomfort is gone.
Extreme Stretching: Back Exercises
The “hanging lat stretch” is probably the single most powerful extreme stretch that you can do. Here is Dusty Hanshaw giving a perfect demonstration of this exercise:
For this exercise you want to grab onto a pull up bar with a wide, overhand grip. If you have access to lifting straps then you should use them. It is very difficult, if not impossible to perform this exercise correctly without them. Once you are strapped in you slowly lower yourself down until your arms are straight and you are hanging from the bar.
You should feel your shoulder blades gliding out to your sides and your whole upper back / shoulder area opening up. After about 30 seconds you are going to find yourself sinking further into the stretch. Your goal is to relax even more so that you can sink another 1-2 inches into the stretch.
Your mind is going to tell you to pull up but you have to fight that feeling and sink down even further. If you perform this stretch correctly your outer lats and teres majors will feel like they are on fire!
The hanging lat stretch is easily one of the best exercises you can perform for increasing the width of your lats. I recommend you start out with just your bodyweight and slowly add extra weight to your lifting belt as you become more comfortable with this exercise.
Extreme Stretching: Shoulder Exercises
There are a few different ways that you can use extreme stretching to stretch out your shoulders. Here is Dusty Hanshaw’s favourite shoulder stretch:
As you can see you are going to grip a barbell (or any large metal pole) that is placed directly behind you. Then you are going to roll your shoulder forward while holding onto the barbell.
If you perform this exercise correctly you should feel a huge stretch on the front of your shoulder.
You don’t have to apply a lot of pressure to get a really strong stretch with this exercise. If you don’t like this variation then you can also stretch out your shoulders using a regular bench press station.
Here is Dusty’s training partner giving a perfect demonstration:
It’s extremely important that you grip the barbell with an underhand grip. Then you want to scoot forward on the bench so that your arms are straight behind you. Once you are in position you roll your shoulders forward and try to hold that position for 1-2 minutes.
The stretch on your shoulders is incredibly painful but the results are more than worth it.
Extreme Stretching: Bicep Exercises
There are two main ways to perform a bicep extreme stretch. The first method is actually very similar to the shoulder extreme stretch performed on the bench press station. Check it out:
The man difference between this stretch and the shoulder stretch is that you want to grip the barbell with an overhand grip. You also want to think about really straightening your arms and driving your elbows forwards and downwards.
If you perform this exercise correctly you will feel a huge stretch on your biceps near your elbow.
After you finish this exercise you may find that your biceps really hurts when you bend your arm. Don’t worry, that is normal. Just bend your arm a little bit 3-7 times in a row and the pain should quickly disappear.
If you don’t like the 2-arm version of the bicep stretch then there is a 1-arm version that you may want to try. Here is Dusty Hanshaw and his training partner giving a nice synchronized demonstration:
If you’re scheduled to compete in synchronized swimming at the next Olympic games then you might as well give up now. These two bodybuilders are working on a synchronized swimming routine that will redefine the sport of aquatic ballet forever.
Only someone like Eddie Hall could ever hope to give Dusty a run for his money!
Extreme Stretching: Tricep Exercises
There are several different ways to perform an extreme stretch for your triceps. The most popular way to do it is to hold the bottom position of an overhead triceps extension.
Here is Dusty Hanshaw demonstrating a triceps stretch with an ez-curl bar:
This exercise is simply unbeatable for stretching out your triceps. Overhead triceps extensions place your triceps under the biggest stretch possible and are fantastic for overloading the long head of your triceps.
The only downside to this variation is that you need a training partner to grab the weight after you are done with the exercise.
If you do not have a training partner then you can always perform this exercise 1 arm at a time using a dumbbell. For example:
Many trainees find that using a dumbbell is much easier on their shoulder because they can move their arm around until they find a position that is comfortable.
Some trainees get more tension on their triceps with this exercise if they fight against the weight. In other words you would fire your triceps so the dumbbell moves upward by about half an inch out of the bottom position. Then as you fatigue you want to continue to fire your triceps and hold that position as the weight pulls you down.
If you perform this exercise correctly your triceps will feel absolutely murdered after just 1 set!
You can also perform a triceps extreme stretch by holding the bottom position of a triceps dip. Here is IFBB professional bodybuilder Shelby Starnes giving a perfect demonstration:
Shelby does a great job of explaining what he’s doing so I recommend you watch the video with the audio turned up. Basically Shelby wants his elbows pointed up towards the ceiling. Then he sinks down into the deepest stretched position he can.
His goal is to feel as much tension in his triceps as he can throughout the entire set.
EMG studies have shown that dips recruit all 3 heads of the triceps better than any other exercise so this is one of the best extreme stretches you can do for your triceps.
Extreme Stretching: Quadricep Exercises
There are a couple of quadriceps stretches that you should know about. The first one is an extreme stretch that should only be performed at the end of your workout after you have trained your quads. This extreme stretch is incredibly painful but it has the potential to completely change the look of your quads in just a few workouts.
Check it out:
First you place your feet directly under the bar as you grab it with your hands. Next you want to go up on your toes and push your knees way out in front of your body. Keep pushing your knees forward while lifting your butt up and leaning backwards. You should quickly feel a massive stretch on your quadriceps.
This stretch is particularly painful so do your best to hold it for 30-90 seconds total.
The second quad stretch involves getting into a deep squatting position. Here is Marc Bell giving a perfect demonstration:
You would perform this quad stretch in between your regularly scheduled sets. In this video Marc Bell is performing these quad stretches in between his sets of leg presses.
This deep squatting position places a huge stretch on your quadriceps. This is especially true if they are already pumped full of blood from different exercises.
Extreme Stretching: Hamstring Exercises
There are at least a couple of different ways that you can perform loaded stretches for your hamstrings. The first and most obvious way is to perform a regular hamstrings stretch at the end of your workout.
For example here is a simple hamstrings stretch that you can perform while you are standing up:
Dante Trudel believes that really stretching out your hamstrings is a great way to stretch out your fascia tissue and make room for new growth. The legendary bodybuilders Ronnie Coleman and Tom Platz could perform a full split and they had incredibly large, round hamstrings.
I’m not saying that you are going to build world-class hamstrings just by performing a static hamstrings stretch once or twice per week. However, if you perform this kind of stretch immediately after your hamstrings workout then it may have a synergistic effect together with your workout.
If you use DC Training or if you are a more advanced trainee then you may want to try stretching out your hamstrings with extra loads. Here is Dusty Hanshaw giving a perfect demonstration of a stiff-legged deadlift extreme stretch:
Dusty does a great job of explaining this exercise in the video. You take a relatively light weight and enter the bottom position of a stiff-legged deadlift. Ideally you are standing on a platform so you can use a really large range of motion.
As you hold the stretch your hamstrings will “open up” and you will sink deeper into the stretch. This is what you want! Slowly sink deeper and deeper into the stretch over the course of 60-120 seconds.
When you are done just drop the weight down to the ground like Dusty. This hamstrings extreme stretch is incredibly effective but it should only be performed by intermediate and advanced trainees.
Extreme Stretching: Calf Exercises
Dante Trudel usually recommends that bodybuilders perform a deep stretch during their regular calf sets. In other words you would use a long isometric pause in the bottom position on every rep. However, it is also possible to perform a separate extreme stretch for your calves on any calf machine.
Here is Dusty Hanshaw giving a perfect demonstration:
You pick a reasonably heavy weight and then sink into the bottom position of the exercise. You want your toes pointing towards your shin as much as possible to maximize the stretch on your calf. I
recommend you perform this calf stretch on exercises that don’t tax your lower back. The seated calf raise machine and any type of leg press would be excellent choices. You should probably avoid the standing calf machine because it places unnecessary stress on your lower back.
Part 3: Loaded Stretching: Dynamic Exercises
Now we’re getting to the good stuff! This is the most important and longest part of this article. I’m going to teach you the best strategies for blending loaded stretches together with dynamic exercises.
Let’s use an example. Take a look at the following video of Romanian deadlifts:
In the bottom position of the exercise your hamstrings are placed in a deep, loaded stretch. This is what we are after! That deep, loaded stretch is the key to rapid size and strength gains in the target muscle.
Placing your muscles under a deep, loaded stretch during a dynamic exercise is one of the fastest ways to build muscle. You get all of the benefits of loaded stretches plus all of the benefits of dynamic exercises.
The bodybuilding coach Dante Trudel calls this “successful mechanical positions of exercises.” Here are Dante’s exact thoughts on the subject:
“In my opinion it has always been about putting yourself into a successful mechanical position…that is the beginning, the solution and the end to this bodybuilding puzzle.”
John Meadows is another big believer in using loaded stretch exercises to build muscular hypertrophy. His back finally started to grow when he started using loaded stretch exercises like 1-arm barbell rows and “Meadows rows.”
This topic is so important that I’m going to teach you the best loaded stretch dynamic exercises for every body part. These strategies are used by many of the world’s best bodybuilders and bodybuilding coaches. Now let’s get to it!
Dynamic Loaded Stretching: Chest Strategies
Training your chest is all about putting yourself in a successful mechanical position of exercise. On every exercise you want your sternum held as high as possible with your shoulder blades pulled back and down. This position naturally places your chest in a massive stretched position.
Just take a look at Dante Trudel performing a set of incline smith presses:
That is what we are after! On every rep he is pushing his chest up as high as possible while pulling his shoulder blades down and back. That is the successful mechanical position for training your chest! You want that position on literally every exercise you do.
Even when you press the weight to lockout you want to hold that position.
Of course there are a ton of different exercises you can use to really overload the stretched position during your chest exercises. Let’s start with an easy example. The bodybuilding coach John Meadows has really popularized stretch push ups as a way to stretch out your chest. Check it out:
Once again I want you to pay attention to John’s sternum and his shoulder blades. His sternum is held as high as possible and his shoulder blades are pulled back. He maintains this position during the entire exercise. Even when he straightens his arms out and approaches lockout he is holding this position!
A great chest training strategy for more advanced bodybuilders is to perform partial reps out of the bottom position of your exercises. Ronnie Coleman was a HUGE proponent of using partial reps on chest exercises. He would press the weight up about two-thirds of the way and then bring it back down to his chest.
Here is a great demonstration:
Ronnie Coleman knows that the key to building a huge chest is to put himself into a successful mechanical position of exercise. To him that means focusing on the bottom half of the range of motion so that his chest is under a loaded stretch throughout the entire exercise!
I’m not saying that you should perform all of your chest exercises through a partial range of motion. Dorian Yates trained using a full range of motion on all of his chest movements and he seemed to get decent results.
However, if you are an advanced bodybuilder then this is a great strategy for training your chest.
If you are creative enough then you can even tweak exercises like the regular barbell bench press to overload your chest with a huge loaded stretch. Here is a video of Dusty Hanshaw bench pressing with a cambered bar and a 5-second isometric pause on his chest. Check it out:
Talk about a mechanical position of exercise! Dusty is using the cambered bar so that he can lower his hands further than normal. The range of motion on this exercise is probably larger than a flat DB press! This places an enormous loaded stretch on the chest muscles.
Of course the 5-second pause in the bottom position also makes the exercise that much more effective.
So what’s the bottom line? If you are stuck at a chest training plateau then you must start putting yourself in a successful mechanical position on all of your chest exercises. That means holding your sternum up high and pulling your shoulder blades back and down.
Everything else is secondary.
Dynamic Loaded Stretching: Back Strategies
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: increasing the width of your back is all about the stretch. It’s all about the stretch you get in the bottom position of cable pulldowns, pull ups, machine pulldowns etc.
But don’t just take my word for it. Here are Dante Trudel’s thoughts on the subject:
“If some of you guys really realized that lat width is all about the stretch and only secondarily about pulling that weight down so you can call it a rep, you would be such the better bodybuilder for it.”
There are a ton of different ways to overload the stretched position of back exercises. Let’s start with an easy strategy. Many bodybuilders call rack chins the absolute king of lat width movements. Here is Paul Carter demonstrating the rack chin:
The rack chin is a wide overhand grip pull up performed with your feet placed on an incline bench in front of you. Your back naturally rounds forward during this exercise which places a huge stretch on your lats during the entire movement.
Even guys like Dr. Layne Norton believe in the power of this exercise. Layne is normally pretty skeptical that any one exercise can dramatically improve someone’s lagging muscle groups. However, after seeing the results of his athletes using this exercise he changed his mind.
One of the things I like about rack chins is that you don’t need a spotter or any fancy equipment to perform it. If you do have access to a spotter then you have to try out pulldowns with stretching resistance.
Here is John Meadows demonstrating this method:
In the video John’s training partner is applying extra resistance when John’s arms are up over his head. This creates an unbelievable loaded stretch on his lats in the stretch position. I recommend that you perform relatively higher reps with this kind of high-intensity training method.
If you are performing at least 10 reps per set then you are good-to-go.
The next exercise I want to teach you is called the “Dante row.” It was invented by – you guessed it – Dante Trudel. The Dante row is a special type of cable row. It is almost like a hybrid between a row, a pullover and a pulldown.
Here is Justin Harris of Troponin Nutrition giving a perfect demonstration of the Dante row:
With this exercise you are actually going to round your upper back forwards during the entire movement. As you pull your elbows back and contract your lats you want to round your upper back even more! This rounded-back position places an enormous loaded stretch on your lats.
Normally it is very dangerous to row or perform back exercises with this kind of rounded back position. However, it works like magic with the Dante row. Many bodybuilders like Justin Harris have taken their upper back from their worst body part to their best body part by focusing on this exercise.
Finally let’s talk about John Meadows and his love affair with 1-arm barbell rows.
For a long time John’s back was his weakest body part on the bodybuilding stage. He was doing all the “mass-building” exercises like chin ups, rows and deadlifts but his back wouldn’t grow. Eventually he started experimenting with some unusual back exercises and his back finally started to grow.
One of those unusual back exercises was the 1-arm barbell row. Here is a perfect demonstration:
This is John’s absolute favourite exercise for training the lats. The 1-arm barbell row places your lats in a huge stretch in the bottom position.
According to John if you are rowing with your right arm then you want to keep your right hip higher than your left hip during the set. This will maximize the stretch on your lats. You may also want to pause for 1-2 seconds in the bottom position of the exercise to really emphasize the loaded stretch.
There are a ton of other exercises you can use to place your lats in a deep loaded stretch. There’s no way I can cover all of them in this article. However, these 4 exercises should be more than enough to get your upper back growing again.
Remember: lat width is all about the stretch. The more you stretch out your lats during your dynamic exercises the more you will grow.
Dynamic Loaded Stretching: Bicep Strategies
When it comes to placing your biceps in a deep loaded stretch position there are two exercises that reign supreme:
- Preacher curls
- Incline curls
Preacher curls can be performed with dumbbells, barbells, ez-curl bars and even cables. The key to getting the most out of preacher curls is to use a full range of motion. You want to fully straighten your elbows out in the bottom position. This means your arms should be perfectly straight!
If you perform preacher curls correctly you will feel an absolutely massive stretch in your biceps in the bottom position. This deep stretch is extremely beneficial for both size and strength gains.
The first-ever Mr. Olympia champion Larry Scott used preacher curls almost exclusively to build his legendary 20-inch arms. Larry used the preacher bench so much that many strength coaches call this exercise the “Scott curl!”
Here is the exact preacher curl routine that Larry Scott used when he was at the peak of his career. Check it out:
Larry Scott Arm Workout
- A1: Dumbbell Preacher Curls, 3 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Barbell Preacher Curls, 3 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Reverse Ez-Curl Bar, 3 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
You can click right here for a training video from this workout.
The other exercise that places the biceps in a deep loaded stretch is the incline curl. Incline curls are performed with you laying down on an adjustable incline bench.
Here is a perfect demonstration of incline dumbbell curls:
Incline curls are the best exercise for stretching and overloading the long head of your biceps. The long head is stretched more any time your elbows are placed behind your body.
Most trainees find that the stretch on their biceps is so intense that they have to ease their way into this exercise. You may want to start with a 60 degree or even 75 degree incline curls. Over several weeks you can progress to the more challenging 45 and 30 degree incline curls.
If you really want to overload the stretched position of incline curls then you have to try one and a quarter reps. The idea is simple: you are going to perform a full range of motion rep followed by a quarter rep out of the bottom position. The full range of motion rep and the quarter rep together count as 1 rep.
Here is a perfect video demonstration of 1.25 reps:
One and a quarter reps dramatically increase the amount of time you spend in the bottom quarter range of motion. This is a fantastic strategy for overloading your biceps in their stretched position.
When it comes to training the biceps you don’t have to do anything fancy to put the biceps in a deep loaded stretch. All you have to do is focus on the two most bang-for-your-buck exercises: preacher curls and incline curls. These two exercises place an unbelievable stretch on your biceps if you train with a full range of motion.
Just make sure you fully straighten your arms out in the bottom position on every rep!
Dynamic Loaded Stretching: Tricep Strategies
The triceps are another one of those body parts that respond extremely well to deep loaded stretches. In my experience there are three exercises that work best for stretching out the triceps:
- Overhead triceps extensions
- Decline triceps extensions
Dips are easily one of the best exercises you can perform for your triceps. EMG studies have shown that dips recruit all three heads of the triceps better than other compound triceps exercises like close grip bench presses. Someone once asked Dante Trudel how to bring up a pair of lagging triceps. Dante’s response?
“Dip machine… dip apparatus… dip hammer strength… dip till you die!”
Dips are so effective for overloading the triceps because you can use a ton of weight AND they place the triceps in a deep loaded stretch. A great muscle-building strategy is to use a 1-3 second isometric pause in the bottom position of dips. For example:
This was a favourite strategy of the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin. When his athletes were stuck at a triceps training plateau he had them perform dips on a 3/2/X/0 tempo. That is, they used a 3-second eccentric phase, a 2-second isometric pause in the bottom position, an explosive concentric phase and no pause at the top position.
Of course isolation exercises are also great for putting the triceps in a deep loaded stretch. The two biggest heads of the triceps are the long head and the lateral head. These two triceps heads require completely different exercises to place them under a deep loaded stretch.
If you want to overload the long head of the triceps with a deep loaded stretch then the eccentric 1-arm french press is probably your best bet. Check it out:
This is one of the best triceps exercises you have never heard of. The concentric phase of the exercise is performed as an overhead dumbbell press. However, the eccentric phase of the exercise is performed as a 1-arm overhead extension. This exercise lets you isolate your triceps with a heavier than normal weight.
For best results you should lower the weight over 4-6 seconds.
Really try to slow the weight down near the bottom position of the movement on the way down. This will place your triceps in an unbelievable loaded stretch. You can expect some of the worst triceps soreness of your life the day after trying this exercise out!
If you want to stretch out the lateral head of your triceps then decline triceps extensions are the way to go. Research has shown that decline extensions hit the lateral head of the triceps the hardest in the bottom or stretched position of the exercise.
Here is a perfect demonstration of decline DB extensions:
It is very important that you keep your upper arms pointing directly at the ceiling the entire time. In other words your elbows should stay directly over your shoulders. This will place the long head under the largest stretch possible.
If you let your elbows drift back behind your head then you take some of the tension off of the lateral head of your triceps. If you have a high pain tolerance then one of the best ways to overload the triceps is with post-exhaustion supersets. The basic idea is to superset a compound exercise and an isolation exercise for the triceps.
Here is one of the best post-exhaustion supersets for overloading the long head of your triceps:
Long Head Post-Exhaustion Superset
- A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Overhead rope cable extensions, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
And here is one of the best post-exhaustion supersets for overloading the lateral head of your triceps:
Lateral Head Post-Exhaustion Superset
- A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-5 x 4-6, 3/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Decline DB extensions, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
You can expect some unbelievable triceps soreness after either one of these workouts. They both overload the triceps in the stretched position which causes a TON of muscular damage and remodeling.
Dynamic Loaded Stretching: Quadricep Strategies
If you want to place the quads in a deep loaded stretch then you have to squat with a full range of motion. What does a full range of motion mean? Charles Poliquin used to say that you should squat so deep that your ass “leaves a stain on the gym floor.”
Here is Olympic weightlifting superstar Dmitry Klokov showing you how to squat with a full range of motion:
Remember, the quads are maximally stretched when the knee joint is completely bent or flexed. You should not be able to see daylight between your hamstrings and your calves in the bottom position of squats.
If you cannot perform a full range of motion squat right now then that is OK. We all have to start somewhere!
I recommend you spend some time working on various single-leg exercises such as step ups, split squats and lunges. I talk all about them in my guide on the best vastus medialis exercises.
If you are already proficient in full back and front squats then there are many advanced strategies you can use to overload your quads in the stretched position.
One of the best strategies is to use long isometric pauses in the stretched position. These are often called “Klokov squats” because Dmitry Klokov used them extensively during his Olympic Weightlifting career. Here is one example:
Dmitry used to pause anywhere from 3-7 seconds in the stretched position of front squats and back squats. This strategy works awesome when you are training with single repetitions to build up your maximal strength.
If you are more of a bodybuilder then there are some other exercises that you may want to try. The first exercise is called a “quad squat.” Quad squats are performed with a very narrow stance and with your heels elevated. For example:
The quad squat places your quads in a horrific loaded stretch. Research has shown that both the narrow stance and the heels elevated position place the quads under more of a stretch and recruit more motor units in the quads. The quad squat is often performed for higher repetitions to rapidly build muscle mass.
Just make sure you are using the correct weight on this exercise. Most people have to use WAY less weight than they use on regular back squats.
If you are an advanced bodybuilder then there is one more exercise you should know about: the Peterson hack squat. To perform this exercise you use a very narrow stance with the weight on the balls of your feet. As you squat down you shoot your knees very far forward and put all the tension on your quads.
Here is John Meadows giving a perfect demonstration:
This exercise is simply unbelievable for recruiting and stretching the quadriceps muscle.
I recommend you perform this exercise with very light weights and for higher repetitions. If you pick the correct weight it can actually increase the health of your knees by overloading your vastus medialis muscle. If you use too much weight then you actually run the risk of injuring your knees so be careful!
There are many other strategies that you can use to overload your quads in their stretched position. Covering all of them goes beyond the scope of this article so I hope you found this overview helpful!
Dynamic Loaded Stretching: Hamstring Strategies
The hamstrings are one of those body parts that respond EXTREMELY well to loaded stretches. There are two main exercises I want to talk about:
- Leg curls
- Stiff legged deadlifts
Let’s start with leg curls. You probably already know that the hamstrings are really stretched out in the bottom position of lying leg curls. Many bodybuilders have invented some creative ways to overload their hamstrings in the stretched position of lying leg curls.
One of the most popular strategies is to perform partial reps out of the bottom position. Here is John Meadows demonstrating this strategy:
The basic idea is to train to failure using a full range of motion reps. After you hit failure you start busting out partials in the stretched position.
This is an AWESOME hypertrophy training strategy that really overloads the part of the hamstrings near the knee joint. This strategy tends to work best when you train in higher rep ranges so make sure you use it during your higher-rep hypertrophy workouts!
Stiff legged deadlifts are probably the king of all exercises when it comes to placing the hamstrings in a deep, loaded stretch.
If you are not very flexible then you will probably get a large stretch in your hamstrings using a normal range of motion. However, if you are extremely flexible then you may want to increase the range of motion further. There are a couple of ways to do this.
The first strategy involves using 25 pound plates rather than the normal 45 pound plates. Here is IFBB professional bodybuilder Shelby Starnes demonstrating this method:
This strategy may look a little weird but it gets the job done. Another strategy is to stand on a small 2-4 inch platform to extend the range of motion.
Here is Paul Carter demonstrating this strategy:
Talk about an impressive stiff legged deadlift! I strongly recommend you experiment with different variations of the stiff legged deadlift to find what works best for you. The most important part of the exercise is the deep stretch you get in the bottom position so do everything you can to overload that part of the movement.
If you work hard on the stiff legged deadlift you will be rewarded with bigger, stronger hamstrings!
Dynamic Loaded Stretching: Calf Strategies
Every calf isolation exercise places the calves in a deep loaded stretch. Many bodybuilders and bodybuilding coaches have experimented with using 1-3 second isometric pauses in the bottom position of calf exercises. This strategy works really well. However, I am sure you have already tried this in your own training programs.
Rather than rehash the same old calf training advice I want to give you 2 advanced methods for overloading the stretched position of calf exercises.
The first method was invented by Dante Trudel, the creator of DC Training. Dante believed that the best way to build up the calves was to use an extremely long pause in the bottom position. Dante had his bodybuilding clients perform 1 set of 8-12 reps on a 5/10/1/0 tempo. That is, they lowered themselves down over 5 seconds and used a 10 second pause in the bottom position!
Here is a perfect video demonstration:
This method can be used on any calf exercise including standing calf raises, seated calf raises and leg press calf raises. Why on Earth would anyone pause for 10 seconds in the bottom position on every rep? Great question!
Over the years Dante found that this method worked best for himself and his bodybuilding clients. Many of his trainees completely transformed the look of their calves after just a few months of using this strategy. Keep in mind that this was an all-out set performed to failure.
Another AWESOME strategy for placing your calves in a deep loaded stretch is to use the 2/1 eccentric method. The idea is simple: you raise yourself up using 2 legs and lower yourself down using 1 leg.
Here is a perfect demonstration of the 2/1 calf method:
Once again this method can be used on any calf exercise including standing calf raises, seated calf raises and leg press calf raises. With this method you can lower yourself down using a heavier than normal weight. This means your calf muscle will experience a HUGE loaded stretch in the bottom position of the exercise.
I highly recommend you try this training method if your calves are a weaker body part. I think you will be shocked at how fast your calves respond using this method!
Loaded stretches are easily one of the most underrated training methods in the world. This was a very long and detailed article so let’s review what we’ve covered.
In part 1 you learned the science behind loaded stretches and why they are so effective for building size and strength. Loaded stretches work so well because they activate mTOR, they recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers, they facilitate reactive hyperemia and they stimulate the release of anabolic hormones.
The research is unclear but they might even stretch the fascia tissue surrounding your muscles and even stimulate muscle hyperplasia in advanced trainees.
In part 2 of this article you learned the best static loaded stretches for each body part. These are often called “extreme stretches” and are a core part of the DC Training program.
Of course you don’t have to do DC Training in its entirety to benefit from these stretches. The strength coach Christian Thibadeau often uses them at the end of a regular high-volume workout to stimulate size and strength gains.
Finally in part 3 you learned some of the best dynamic loaded stretches for each body part. These are just exercises that place the target muscle group in a deep loaded stretch at some point in the movement.
Exercises like rack chins, tricep dips and stiff-legged deadlifts are particularly effective at stretching out your muscles and should be a core part of your training program. Of course there are many other unconventional exercises like stretch push ups, 1-arm barbell rows and quad squats which are also very beneficial for building muscular size.
If nothing else I hope you learned a few new training strategies and exercises that you want to try out in the gym. Some of the training strategies presented here may seem a little weird but they all work incredibly well if you are brave enough to try them out for yourself.
Remember: “Your mind is like a parachute. It only works when it’s open!
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
- Mohamad, N. I., Nosaka, K., & Cronin, J. (2011). Maximizing hypertrophy: Possible contribution of stretching in the interest rest period. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33, 81–87. https://doi.org/10.1519/SSC.0b013 e3181 fe7164
- Riley, D. A., & Van Dyke, J. M. (2012). The effects of active and passive stretching on muscle length. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 23, 51–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2011.11.006
- Tatsumi, R. (2010). Mechano-biology of skeletal muscle hypertrophy and regeneration: Possible mechanism of stretch-induced activation of resident myogenic stem cells. Animal Science Journal, 81, 11–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-0929.2009.00712.x
- Wisdom, K. M., Delp, S. L., & Kuhl, E. (2015). Use it or lose it: Multiscale skeletal muscle adaptation to mechanical stimuli. Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology, 14, 195–215. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10237-014-0607-3
- K. K. McCully. Adv Exp Med Biol, 2010. 662: p.317.
- T. Sadamoto, et al. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol, 1983. S1(3): p.395.
- T. Osada, et al. J Physiol Anthropol Appl Human Sci, 2003. 22(6): p.299.
- Goldberg, A. L., Etlinger, J. D., Goldspink, D. F., & Jablecki, C. (1975). Mechanism of work-induced hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 7, 185–198. https://doi.org/10.1249/00005 768-19750 0730-00016.
- Tatsumi, R. (2010). Mechano-biology of skeletal muscle hypertrophy and regeneration: Possible mechanism of stretch-induced activation of resident myogenic stem cells. Animal Science Journal, 81, 11–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-0929.2009.00712.x
- D. Trudel. Interview regarding DC Training. June 2010.
- J. Parrillo. Parrillo Performance Training Manual. 2004. Parrillo Performance: Fairfield, OH.
- Goldberg, A. L., Etlinger, J. D., Goldspink, D. F., & Jablecki, C. (1975). Mechanism of work-induced hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 7, 185–198. https://doi.org/10.1249/00005 768-19750 0730-00016
- Tatsumi, R. (2010). Mechano-biology of skeletal muscle hypertrophy and regeneration: Possible mechanism of stretch-induced activation of resident myogenic stem cells. Animal Science Journal, 81, 11–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-0929.2009.00712.x
Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. He won the Mr. Olympia contest 8 times and revolutionized the sport of bodybuilding. Arnold was known for his...
One of the reasons most people cannot build big, strong arms is they don’t know how to train the short head of the biceps. If you want to build a pair of biceps that would make Arnold...