I was having an e-mail conversation with Mr. America Doug Brignole, which will be part of an exclusive interview in the March ’13 IRON MAN, and I asked him which are his favorite exercises for building mass. He’s put on quite a bit of size lately, so I was wondering if he’d made any “discoveries.”
His answer stunned me, even though it’s something related to an animal study on hypertrophy I often quote and directly related to my Positions-of-Flexion mass-building protocol (more on that in a moment)…
“[The best mass-building exercises] are the ones that have a resistance curve whereby the resistance increases as the muscle elongates and diminishes as it contracts–for example, standing cable laterals.”
Whoa! Ask most people what the best size-building move is for the medial-delt head, and you get “presses.” But I know for a fact Doug is not an overhead-press fan. That’s another story. The point here is that his best choice for shoulder size is a STRETCH-position exercise.
Doug said, “A standing cable lateral raise–with the pulley about hip high–provides resistance right from the beginning of the movement [where the medial head is somewhat stretched], and it diminishes as the arm is raised to parallel to the ground.”
That’s the complete opposite resistance curve of a standing dumbbell lateral raise, an inferior delt exercise, according to Doug. There is zero resistance at the start–the most important point–and it gradually increases to where it’s impossible to hold in the contracted position. There should be max resistance at the bottom with much less at the top.
So why is the stretch point so important for stimulating muscle-mass increases? Here’s the scientific explanation from top strength and hypertrophy researchers Steven Fleck, Ph.D., and William Kraemer, Ph.D.:
“At the optimal length [of the muscle fiber] there is potential for maximal cross-bridge interaction and thus maximal force….. With excessive shortening there is an overlap of actin filaments so that the actin filaments interfere with each other’s ability to contract the myosin cross-bridges. Less cross-bridge contact with the active sites on the actin results in a smaller potential to develop tension.”
In case your eyes glazed over while reading all the science lingo, what they are saying is that at the peak-contracted position, like the top of a dumbbell lateral raise, the fibers are very bunched up, so much so that they can’t produce as much tension as when the muscle is in a more lengthened, or stretched, state.
There’s definitely something very special about stretch-position exercises when it comes to triggering mass–semi-stiff-legged deadlifts for hamstrings, overhead extensions for triceps, flyes for pecs, incline curls for biceps and so on. I use those as the second move in standard Positions-of-Flexion mass-building protocol, but maybe they should be first.
I’ve been more intrigued with stretch-position moves since I saw the bird study by Antonio and Gonyea (Med Sci Sports Exerc. 25:1333-45; 1993). They produced a 334 percent increase in mass gain in the “lat” with one month of STRETCH-ONLY “workouts.” They progressively overloaded the bird’s wing at elongation, and according to Antonio, “produced the greatest gains in muscle mass ever recorded in an animal or human model of tension-induced overload.”
With Doug’s comments and revisiting all of the above, I’m going to experiment again with putting the stretch-position exercise first in my bodypart routines. I say “again” because we tried that years ago. In fact, it worked so well we created a video titled “Hypercontraction Training.” Lots of trainees reported excellent mass gains–but it fell out of favor. Why? Because strength was sluggish on the big midrange exercises, which were performed after a few sets of a stretch-position exercise. We thought because strength wasn’t increasing, it wasn’t working well. Wrong…
Now we know that there is not a major correlation with getting a muscle stronger to get it bigger. And maybe, just maybe, stretch overload is the key get-bigger trigger.
I’ll have more in a future blog. Till then, stay Built for Life.