Any fitness program will see better results if it contains both a stretch and strength component. In our experience, no strength training program is complete without a stretching component. With most activities, optimal performance requires not only power, efficiency, and control from your muscles, but also requires those body parts to move freely with good flexibility.
We are often asked how long will stretch and strength programs take until a person can expect to see results?
When it comes to strength, expect to spend twelve weeks before seeing changes to muscle strength and size. With stretching, expect to spend eight weeks before seeing increased muscle length and joint movement.
Stretching needs eight weeks for change to occur
In our assessment, we may determine you have tightness and restriction in certain muscles or joints that prevent you from achieving your goals.
Like strength training, tissue adaptation in stretching takes time and consistency. Tissues adapt to the loads and forces they are placed in repeatedly. If you lift heavy things repeatedly, the muscles will adapt and strengthen. If you stretch your muscles repeatedly, eventually the muscles will lengthen, and joint range will increase. But how long will this process take?
First four weeks: sensation versus lengthen
Many studies show that after four weeks of consistent daily stretching, the primary improvement is that the sensation of a stretch is greatly lessened, but muscle length has not increased.
This may seem discouraging, but we can still use these findings to our advantage.
How often do you back off your stretch because the intensity of the stretch is too strong? Probably very often. This discomfort is blocking you from getting into a deeper stretch, not allowing you to gain full flexibility. Now, if you knew that within four weeks you would experience less discomfort with that stretch—that’s something to look forward to. The greater ease at which you can access the full flexibility of your muscles, the greater range of motion you will have when needed.
Stretching for eight weeks and beyond
Research shows, although not definitive, that with an eight-week stretching program, we start to see physiological changes in muscle length and increased joint movement.
The great news is these studies have also shown an increase in athletic performance at the end of the eight weeks. And strengthening muscles at lengthened positions and utilizing eccentric exercises (lengthened contractions of muscles) also produces long- term increases in flexibility.
How quickly can you build muscle?
Strengthening muscles and being able to apply the new-found strength to performance takes several weeks to implement. A good strength program usually takes around twelve weeks to see physiological changes to muscle strength and size.
The following is a general timeline of how muscles adapt to strength training.
First six-eight weeks: recruiting the nervous system
The first six-eight weeks of strength training does not involve much muscle growth but rather adaptation of the nerves.
Strength training not only involves muscles, but also upon the ability of the nervous system to appropriately activate the muscles.
How do we activate the muscle?
Each muscle is made up of thousands of fibers that are bundled together in groups called motor units. There are a few motor units per muscle and each motor unit is stimulated by nerves. When more motor units are stimulated and recruited, the stronger the contraction, leading to greater muscle growth.
However, we don’t want to recruit all of our motor units all at once every time we want to move; otherwise we would be yanking doorknobs off of doors, sprinting instead of walking, or overshooting a free throw by 20 feet.
Once we begin strengthening through exercise, we train the brain and muscles to recruit those motor units that have been dormant to meet the demand of the activity. Over time, the more we exert our muscles, especially at full extent, those dormant motor units now become readily available, and thus, strength increases.
Eight-twelve weeks: muscle growth
At about eight weeks of strength training, we typically have trained the muscle to utilize all dormant motor units when needed, and thus strength gains can plateau until muscles start to hypertrophy (enlarge in size).
This is when we see an increase in the size and numbers of muscle fibers and proteins leading to greater force production (more explosive). We also see increased strength of ligaments and tendons, which help reduce the risk of injury as well as increased bone density and mass.
All these factors help increase power, endurance, and stability, all of which are needed to have a better performance.
Hypertrophy can continue as long as higher forces of stress are placed on the muscles (heavier resistance, higher intensity of exercises).
Metabolic adaptations are the physiological changes in your body that allow it to utilize energy more efficiently and effectively.
Some of these adaptations include:
- Your body becomes more efficient in activating muscles and supplying muscles with nutrients.
- Your body increases its storage of phosphoprotein, which is used as an immediate source of energy for muscle contraction.
- It increases enzyme activity to allow faster breakdown of phosphocreatine and glycogen.
- It becomes better at reducing built up lactic acid, so the burn you feel when working out is felt later in the workout or in later sets. That’s due to an increase in mitochondria volume within each cell which make up the muscles.
- With a more endurance type of activity, there is an increase in capillary supply to allow faster delivery of oxygen to the muscles.
- Increased muscle mass also means increased calorie expenditure throughout the day; therefore, making it easier to maintain a leaner body.
Whether we find strength or mobility deficiencies or a combination of both, our tailored stretch and strength programs are built to address these deficiencies safely and effectively. Once you apply stretch and strength to your routine, you’ll discover you not only have the tools to perform pain-free but also the potential to perform at a higher level.