Q: What’s your opinion on stretching between sets to relax a muscle—for example, doing a hamstring stretch between sets of hamstring curls?
A: Don’t stretch the muscle you’re working; instead, stretch the opposing—antagonist—muscle. So if you’re working the upper back, stretch the muscles of the chest.
The process of supersetting muscle pairs, such as the biceps with the triceps, relaxes the opposing muscle group. Often it’s not tension in the muscle being worked that prevents maximum muscular contractions but tension in the opposing muscle. If you stretch the quadriceps—the antagonist of the hamstrings—between sets of hamstring curls, you’ll increase your range of motion because you reduce muscle tension that can shorten the muscle.
Research on plyometrics suggests that the people who have better performance on explosive activities are those who can best relax the antagonist muscles during the movements involved. That’s common sense; after all, you can’t drive very fast if you are applying the brakes while pushing the gas.
Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit www.CharlesPoliquin.com. IM