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While training to grow muscle, most people overlook an innate function in the body which can help build strength: the stretch reflex. “The stretch reflex is something that we all have,” explains Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. “It’s a protective mechanism that our muscles have that allows us to get a better strength of contraction when a muscle is momentarily stretched to its limits.”
This stretch reflex can be purposely built into our workouts to get the absolute most benefits in terms of muscle growth. In his newest video, Cavaliere breaks down the different exercises that can be used to tap into the stretch reflex for every key muscle group in the body.
Cavaliere starts with the arms. He demonstrates how the lying triceps extension, a horizontal variation of the overhead triceps extension, creates full extension of the longhead in the muscle. He follows this with the incline bicep curl: to tap into the stretch here, you exploit the full bottom end of the move’s range of motion by extending your arms all the way down and behind you back. Relaxing the biceps and contracting the triceps when in full extension will trigger that stretch reflex.
To work the back, Cavaliere recommends three exercise options. In an underhand lat pulldown, the placement of the arms out ahead of the body rather than at the sides creates a greater stretch on the lats. Similarly, performing a seated row with a lower hand placement causes us to lean forwards, creating a relative elevation of the arm and more stretch on the lats. The third option he recommends is a Meadows row variation designed to maximize contraction and muscle fiber recruitment.
For the chest, Cavaliere suggests either a cable crossover or a dumbbell press. “Whenever you’re training your chest, you want to make sure you depress your traps,” he says. “Not only does it send your shoulder blades back and down, but it’s taking your shoulders from a position of dominance and getting them out of the way so the chest can do more work.”
When it comes to building size in your shoulders, Cavaliere notes that “the side lateral raise has its limitations as far as stretch reflex goes,” as ideally you want to be moving your arm across your body. To achieve this, he recommends the incline side lateral raise which gives you a freer range of movement.
Moving down to the legs, Cavaliere starts with a squat. “The stretch reflex, when applied to a squat, is actually placing it on the glutes,” he says. “Because we’re in deep hip flexion at the bottom of the squat, we’re going to have a great stretch on the glutes and a stronger thrust from the bottom of the squat.”
Finally, he demonstrates two alternate ways to train your legs using the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift. The first version creates a stretch in the hamstrings, as you’re bending at the waist rather than flexing your hips. “This is the best way to perform the exercise if you’re looking to get the stretch reflex in the hamstrings,” says Cavaliere. However, can place that stretch on the glutes instead by slightly altering the exercise and hinging at the hips.
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