By Chanelle Smith, IFBB Pro
Okay bodybuilders, it’s time to talk.
The reason we all call ourselves bodybuilders is because we love lifting, right?
Getting stronger, getting bigger, people noticing the gains -- it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and I don’t mean figuratively.
Of your bodybuilding friends, I bet you can name several who have been injured in the line of bodybuilding duty.
It’s no big secret that an injury like a blown-out knee or torn bicep is not only incredibly painful but hard to recover from and can hinder or completely derail your bodybuilding career.
So why do we all rush into the gym, start lifting without warming up, then rush back out as soon as we finish, gulping down a protein shake on the drive home?
We’re not indestructible (even though we might look it), so it’s time we take some preventative measures to nip potential injuries in the bud.
Our best defense, in this case, is stretching and mobility work, so let’s talk about why that is.
STRETCHING ALLOWS YOUR FASCIA TO MAKE MORE ROOM FOR MORE MUSCLE GROWTH
Your fascia is the tough, densely-woven layer of tissue that surrounds your muscles and organs.
It’s what allows your muscles to return to their original positions after you move them, kind of like a rubber band snapping back to its original size after you stretch it.
It’s also where adhesions, or scar tissue, build up when you injure yourself, and that’s why highly active people swear by foam rolling -- to break up that scar tissue to afford you more mobility.
When you hold static stretches or foam roll, you loosen the super-tight fascial network, which allows your muscles to expand a little bit more.
If you’re consistent with stretching and foam rolling, you’ll keep making incremental muscle gains that you wouldn’t have been able to make with that fascia blocking the way.
One form of stretching specific to bodybuilders is to first get a pump (aka fill the muscles in the target area with blood) by performing your workout as you normally would.
Then, place the area under tension and hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.
By doing this static stretch, you’re pushing the fascia to its current limit, then pushing it past its limit with the finishing stretch, encouraging it to expand.
For example, after a chest workout, you might grab a couple of medium-weight dumbbells, lower them to the bottom of a flye movement, and hold there for 30-60 seconds.
After a back and traps workout, you could hold a heavy dumbbell in one hand and let it hang low while you tilt your head to the opposite side, giving you a deep trap stretch.
STRETCHING INCREASES YOUR RANGE OF MOTION
In order to get the full benefit of the weightlifting exercises you perform, you have to be able to activate your muscle throughout the entire ROM -- range of motion -- of the exercise.
To do this, it’s important to be mentally present and focus on the mind-muscle connection as you perform each rep.
So, what does a greater range of motion mean to you? Well, increased ROM means more time and space to use to focus on muscle activation, and that means more gains!
To increase your ROM, you can incorporate active or dynamic stretching (as opposed to the static stretching we talked about above).
Active and dynamic stretching help increase ROM because they utilize the muscle you’re working on as well as the antagonist muscles that help you return to your starting position.
Think about it this way: when you hold a static runner’s stretch, the only muscles you’re stretching are those in the front of the hip.
But if you perform a dynamic form of that stretch, you’re using opposing muscles to help press forward into the runner’s stretch and then again to move back out of it.
So, if a certain muscle group has plateaued in growth, think about incorporating active and dynamic stretching to increase your range of motion in that area and get unstuck.
STRETCHING CAN HELP IMPROVE YOUR POSING
Consistent stretching provides twofold benefits for your posing: it increases flexibility and can help improve your posture.
If you’re a women’s physique or bodybuilding competitor, or a men’s bodybuilding competitor in any division, the better your flexibility is, the better your posing routine can be.
You’ll be able to perform more impressive skills that catch the judges’ attention and make them remember you.
Just think about IFBB Pro Kai Greene’s posing routines if you don’t know what I mean -- he’s one of the biggest and best heavyweight bodybuilders in the world and his flexibility is top-notch, allowing him to sink low to the ground in poses that are close to the splits!
Better posture will improve your posing no matter what division you’re in.
Everyone looks more impressive and statuesque when they hold their shoulders back, chest out, and glutes in, and presenting yourself on the bodybuilding stage is no different.
Let’s break down why:
CHEST OUT, SHOULDERS BACK
When your shoulders are rolled forward and chest is concave, your upper body appears narrower than it really is.
That means there is less of a distinction between the width of your shoulders and the width of your waist, which is the exact opposite of what judges are looking for.
Whenever you’re on stage you should think about creating angles that make your waist look its smallest, and showcasing wide shoulders is the most straightforward way to do that.
Often, shoulders that roll forward are caused by tightness in the pecs, so check out this article for tips on how to fix it (and gifs to show you exactly what to do)!
GLUTES TUCKED IN
Tucking in the glutes is an overlooked way of improving your stage presence, and it’s also something that can be difficult if you have tightness in the front of the hips.
When your hips are tight it means they’re shortened, in essence pulling your abs and legs toward each other and causing your lower back to curve to compensate.
* I’m exaggerating here a little bit, but in the first picture I’m showing lumbar hyperlordosis and it’s making my waist look thicker than in the second picture.
What this means for your posing: overly relaxed abs that give the illusion of a thicker waistline.
Aside from the negative effects on your posing, excessive lower back curvature (aka lumbar hyperlordosis) can also cause persistent back pain.
Thankfully it’s easy to fix!
I should know; I had this exact problem myself.
I had lumbar hyperlordosis stemming back to my high school days as a marching band kid with exaggerated “good” posture.
I decided to try to fix it this year because it was unintentionally affecting my bodybuilding posing in the way I mentioned above -- my glutes stuck out too much and forced my abs to remain lax when they should have been as tight and flexed as possible.
Every evening, I’d hold a static hip flexor stretch for a minute or so followed by rolling with my 5-inch mobility sphere.
At first, it was painful.
After a few days my back muscles, tight from years of hyperlordosis began to relax and spasm.
Also painful. But the spasms subsided after a day or two of sticking to my mobility routine, and I started to notice that my posture was better and I could keep my glutes tucked without any extra effort.
STRETCHING FORCES YOU TO COOL DOWN FROM YOUR WORKOUT
When’s the last time you took a few minutes to focus on cooling down from your workout?
I know I’m totally guilty of being in a hurry to leave the gym, even if I have nowhere else to be.
But I noticed that when I began to focus on stretching and rolling my hip flexors post-workout, I felt less stressed and like I was doing something smart for my body.
It might sound crazy, but the habit started to become meditative somehow.
So, have we convinced you that stretching is non-negotiable for bodybuilders?
If you want to start incorporating stretching into your bodybuilding routine, my advice is to choose one area of your body to work on and be serious about working on it after each and every workout.
It’s okay if you don’t know where to start.
We’ve got a 7 day mobility program that can help to kickstart your new habit of daily mobility work.
It’s totally free and you can sign up right here.