Does training at different muscle lengths affect how quickly the muscles grow? In this interview, Menno Henselmans and I discuss new research on stretch-mediated hypertrophy and the role muscle lengths play in combination with mechanical tension. This is something Mike Israetel and I briefly touched on in our recent interview on partial reps versus full-ROM training, but in this discussion, Menno and I talk about the latest science of resistance training at long muscle lengths, including a new meta-analysis that isn’t published yet.
Menno has been on my podcast many times on my podcast, but in case you’re not familiar with him, he’s a former business consultant turned international public speaker, educator, writer, published scientist, and physique coach who’s passionate about helping serious athletes attain their ideal physiques.
In this interview, Menno and I talk about . . .
- What stretch-mediated hypertrophy is, possible mechanisms behind it, and whether you should modify your training to incorporate more of it
- Active tension versus passive tension
- The actual reason why full-ROM training is effective
- Specific guidance on how to modify and tweak exercises for more loaded stretching (including Bayesian curls, flyes, leg extension tips, and “skull-overs”)
- Static stretching between sets (its effects and whether you should do it)
- And more . . .
So if you want to learn what the science says about training at longer muscle lengths, and how to incorporate more stretch-mediated hypertrophy in your program, definitely check out this interview!
0:00 – My award-winning fitness books for men and women: https://legionathletics.com/products/books/
4:22 – What is stretch-mediated hypertrophy?
6:28 – What is passive tension and active tension?
11:00 – Can muscles get longer, not just bigger?
15:34 – What are your thoughts on modifying full range of motion training?
28:06 – Are there modifications to exercises that can make them more efficient?
42:21 – What are your thoughts on different height positions for flyes?
45:03 – Can you explain skull overs?
48:17 – Are there any other modifications you want to cover?
50:15 – Does the position of the wrists affect pec activation?
58:22 – Where can we find you?
Mentioned on the show:
My award-winning fitness books for men and women: https://legionathletics.com/products/books/
Menno’s Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmO2dykYM3nlb5BtsXxp9ZQ
Menno’s Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/mennohenselmans
Menno’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/menno.henselmans/
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Hey there, and welcome to Muscle For Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to learn about a hot topic, at least at the time of this recording, which is stretch mediated hypertrophy, fancy words that refer to the relationship between muscle length, mechanical tension. Muscle growth as opposed to just mechanical tension and muscle growth.
So what some people say is, if you can tinker with your training, if you can tinker with certain exercises to produce more mechanical tension, when muscles are stretched, when they are at their maximum length, you are going to gain muscle faster than if you did those exercises in a traditional manner that produces the most amount of mechanical tension at shorter lengths.
For example, think about the barbell biceps curl. Very little tension when your biceps are stretched out. When. Hands are down at your side or right in front of you, and a lot of tension when your biceps are flexed, when they are shortened. When you are at the top of a rep, is that ideal for muscle growth or should you modify that exercise or do another type of biceps curl that produces a large amount of mechanical tension when your biceps are stretched?
You are going to get an answer to that question and to similar questions that you might ask about other exercises in this podcast. And in case you are not familiar with my guest, Meno is one of my favorite guys to talk to about really anything and everything related to health and fitness. He has been on my show many times and he is a former business consultant who decided to follow his health and fitness passions, and now he is international public speaker and educator, writer and published scientist.
Before we wade into it, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, then you will probably like my award-winning fitness books for men and women of all ages and abilities, which have sold over 2 million copies, have received over 15,004 and five star reviews on Amazon, and which have helped tens of thousands of people build their best body ever.
Now a caveat. My books and programs cannot give you a lean and toned Hollywood body in 30 days, and they are not full of dubious diet and exercise hacks and shortcuts for gaining lean muscle and melting belly fat faster than a sneeze in a cyclone. But they will show you exactly how to eat and exercise to lose up to 35 pounds of fat or more if you need to lose more or want to lose more and gain eye catching amounts of muscle definition and strength and even better.
You will learn how to do those things without having to live in the gym. Give up all of the foods or drinks that you love or do long grueling workouts that you hate. And with my books and programs, you will do that. You will transform your physique faster than you probably think is possible, or I will give you your money back.
If you are unsatisfied with any of my books or programs, the results, anything for whatever reason, just let me know and you will get a full refund on the spot. Now I do have several books and programs including Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, Thinner, Leaner, Stronger, and Muscle for Life. And to help you understand which one is right for you, it’s pretty simple.
If you are a guy aged 18 to let’s say 40 to 45, bigger, leaner, stronger is the book and program for you. If you are a gal, same age range, thinly or stronger is going to be for you. And if you are a guy or gal, 40 to maybe 45 plus muscle for Life is for you. Hey, Mano. Hey, good to see you again. Yeah, good to see you again.
Thank you for taking some time outta your evening to, to do this. You’re six hours ahead or is it more?
Menno: It’s currently 10 plus 7:00 PM here.
Mike: Okay, so you’re five hours. Cool. But yeah, thank you for taking the time to, to do this. As always, I’m looking forward to the discussion, which is stretch, mediated hypertrophy, big words, and people are immediately wondering what does that mean and what am I supposed to do with that?
And I think we should start this discussion really at the top, because this is not something I maybe have commented on it tangentially, but I’ve not spoken or written about it in any detail. So a fair amount of listers probably. Have never even heard of it. Or if they have, they don’t know even what it means.
Let alone what to do with it.
Menno: Yes. I think stretch me it hypertrophy is one of the topics that is currently the most promising and something that we don’t yet fully understand. We’re getting more and more research on it, both mechanistically as well as in terms of actual empirical studies showing differences in muscle growth.
We have multiple studies now that show very compelling differences in muscle growth between muscles being trained at different lengths or emphasizing different lengths and stretch media. DPH is the most likely mechanism I would say, to explain these findings. Generally, the finding is that training muscles at longer lengths, all else being equal, results in significantly more muscle growth than training them as shorter muscle lengths.
And this ties in with range of motion. Most people are aware that you generally should train your exercises through a full range of motion, if safely possible. And we are now basically finding that the mechanism for that is primarily stretch media. So which is catch all term for the processes that explain this finding, that explained why muscles grow more when they are more stretched compared to when they’re less stretched.
So stretch media basically just means we are seeing additional hypertrophy that is the result of the muscle being stretched. And I think we can break that down into two factors, which are pan of tension and an increase in muscle length. And those together are, I think, currently the most likely mechanisms for why this seems to be the.
Mike: And can you explain what those two things mean?
Menno: Let me start with active tension. When you’re training a muscle, it produces a certain amount of tension, and that’s governed in part by the length tension relationship. So a muscle at any length, it has, it can produce a certain amount of tension. Most muscles have an optimum curve, which means there is a certain length, typically that’s an anatomical position or close to it where they’re the strongest.
And it’s because of the act my in cross bridges, which is how it muscle contracts. If you want to shorten your contractor biceps, it shortens. It’s like pulling the act, Myosin, crossbridges into each other. And he does that in series, but that’s the how you can visualize it.
And at that length, it, the ec myosin are kind at the ideal distance from each other to form cross bridges and therefore to produce force. Whereas if the muscle is too long, the sine is sort of too far apart. And you can even go into passive insufficiency where the muscle is so long that, that no effective crossbridge formation can occur anymore.
And you cannot produce any force that can occur. For example, with the hamstrings, when you stretch them both at the knee and the hip maximally, then you are super, super weak to the point that many of the muscle fibers are basically not producing any force. Now at that point, active tension may be very long because the cross base formation is impaired, but passive tension can be very high.
So passive tension is basically just the tension from the stretch, like an elastic pan. If you’re pulling on the muscle and that itself is a form of tension and it’s even more so when you are also performing dynamic. Muscle contractions because especially during the eccentric phase, so when the muscle’s lengthening under load, under tension, so like a bicep curl, you’re lowering the weight, then the tighten filaments, so active myosin, the only myofilaments filaments that help muscles contract, there’s also, which is kinda arain.
So when it’s lengthening, it’s spring loaded, and then it helps during the subsequent concent contraction when typically when you’re raising the weight or formally when the muscle is shortening. So it’s like your muscles have some spring loads in them that when you’re lowering the weight, they’re being spring loaded.
And then when you are lifting the weights, they help generate force. Now, expansive tension is also mechanical tension, and the primary mechanism of how a muscle grows is it’s, it responds to tension on the muscle and that is the primary signal for it to adapt in structure. And one of the primary adaptations is that it gets bigger and it can get bigger in two ways.
It can get bigger by the addition of SARMs in parallel, which is basically muscle thickens. So you’re just, adding more layers of muscle fibers or mys SARMs are essentially the unit around the my filaments. You’re just stacking more on top of them and that’s why muscle gets thicker, which is how most muscle growth occurs.
But you can also stack more sharp mirrors in series so behind each other, and that’s how a muscle can long get longer. You actually increase the muscle fac muscle PA was a bundle of muscle fibers. You can actually make the whole bundle longer, actually get a longer muscle, which is typically more associated with flexibility training, which you can also do it by training muscles at long lengths, and especially with eccentric muscle contractions.
Overfil raised motions and that also contributes to muscle growth. Yeah, those are the two primary pathways, I would say, where by which the stretch of a muscle can actually make it bigger. And we now also have studies, including from this year. So most of this research is quite new, that show that just static stretching, we now have quite compelling evidence that just static stretching can directly cause muscle growth without any active possible contraction.
Now you need pretty heinous protocols to achieve this. It’s not like your typical yoga session is gonna cut it. In fact, most studies use an or I think it’s called, where you are basically putting the muscle on the calves. You put the ankle in a brace, and then when you just can tolerate the stretch, it’s pulls up the foot a little bit more.
And then after like you’re accustomed to Oh, okay, now I think it can go I’m getting a bit more relaxed. It’s like a little bit more. And then they do that for long periods of time. And then you see okay, you can actually put enough seemingly passive tension on the muscle to. Make it bigger, or
Mike: you could do some cal phrases, but
But the mechanism is interesting and obviously contributes to this understanding of the importance of passive tension, that point of muscle length is interesting to me because I distinctly remember reading some research this was years ago that indicated that muscles could not get longer, could only get bigger.
So that I misunderstand something or has the understanding of that point evolved over the last five years
Menno: or so? The thing is, it’s unclear. To what extent you can meaningfully learn from a muscle, especially in the trained individual. It’s not disputed.
Mike: And just to give context, this was in the context of, I, I remember the reason why I was referring to some of that research is helping people understand muscle insertions, right?
So think of a bicep and how the insertion affects the peak and how many fingers can you put between, your flex bicep and your forearm. And that gives you an idea of your insertions. And my kind of takeaway, I was giving people with the context of you can’t meaningfully lengthen that is, you just need to understand that there are some things about how your muscles form that you really can’t change all that meaningfully, but you can make your biceps bigger, that’s gonna help with peak, blah, blah, blah.
Menno: Yes. So you’re absolutely right. A muscle is fixed between the origin and the insert. And, the bones and tendons are pretty fixed in place. For, maybe you could also learn from the tendons, but at some point this is like the space you have. And then if you make the muscle even longer, it becomes like a flap of useless tissue.
So it wouldn’t be useful anymore to contract.
Mike: Some people though, they’d reach out and they’d be like I have, two almost three, right? And so they’re like maybe I can turn that to one. And That’ll look cooler. I
Menno: mean it, it would only be functional up to a certain point to get longer.
So the body only does it up to a certain point. Yeah like I said, it would be, it would start drooping down or something because there’s no more space. So yeah, you can only lengthen the muscle up to a certain point and that also puts a big damper, I think, on the utility of just going for the stretch, like just stretching for muscle hypertrophy and just had a post on Instagram, for example, where I said Look, most stretching protocols, they don’t do anything for your muscle life.
Which is true. But yes, these, some of these extreme protocols in a few studies have been found to actually lengthen the muscle. Even if you can do that, it’s very questionable if you actually want to implement that in terms of muscle hypertrophy program design, because for one, you can also do it for your exercises and probably much more efficiently.
And two, it’s probably mostly gonna be relevant for novis Chinese. That’s also the stretching between sets and all these things. I’m very skeptical of any. Real utility of that and trained individuals. In fact, the last study we have by, I think Wadi Atal from 2000 this year, I think from this year 22, they were the first to look at this effect of just stretching between sans inter stretching.
They did cable flies stretching in between a cable machine in between sets of bench crisis. And even though they were clearly doing a lot more work because you’re also doing kinda a wave stretch and for most people that’s not gonna be completely passive. They didn’t grow more. There were no increases in strength gains or muscle growth compared to just doing the bench pricing.
Mike: And was it a long
Menno: enough study? Yeah, I think it was a good study overall. Similar to the other studies where we do see growth and that’s, or increases in muscle length. And I think two big factors are, the other studies are untrained individuals. And secondly, they’re almost all, I think literally all of them involve the caps.
And the caps are, Semi-unique as a muscle in that they are bi articulate and can reach very long lengths. So the gastro anemia is in particular of the calves, it crosses the knee and the ankle, which means you can lengthen it at two places at the same time. And you can actually go into passive insufficiency like I just talked about.
You can make the muscle so long that it can essentially not generate any force anymore. And the gastros of the calves is uniquely easy to get into passive insufficiency. So its muscle length is actually a limiting factor for stretching and the like. Now most muscles, like the packs in the study by body adult probably, they don’t really reach that length where the passive tension from purely a stretch is really going to be that effective.
I think for most people to get sufficient passive tension, you’re gonna have to rely more on the spring loading of Titan as opposed to like purely just putting passive tension on it and thereby making it substantially bigger.
Mike: Let’s talk about range of motion, right? So I did an interview with Mike is Rael on range of motion and when sometimes it might make sense to try some partial range of motion with certain exercises.
And he mentioned stretch media hypertrophy and I made a mental note. I should do an in depth, interview on that point in particular. And so when people hear that, it would seem that the most. Effective portions of exercises are the portions where the muscles lengthened and under tension. And this is, as part of the discussion.
There are then people saying, then with certain exercises, especially some of these people who do wacky things on Instagram, like that’s part of their shtick is modifying exercises in strange ways to get eyeballs and saying, Hey, with this exercise even some people, I’ve seen people say this with a biceps curl saying, actually just stopping right here, that’s gonna be more effective.
So all you’re doing is that fully lengthened to partially lengthened. You can skip the top part of the rep. What are your thoughts on, there’s that example and there are many other examples of explicitly modifying training to try to rack up more time under lengthened tension, so to speak.
Menno: I think it’s not a crazy idea.
And I do think that most of the benefits we’ve seen with forensic motion training are attributable mostly to stretch media. And there’s actually a metaanalysis that I know is coming out soon. It’s not printed yet to my knowledge at the time. This recording essentially also show that most of the benefits, if you look at compare studies, where they are doing different range of motion, they mainly find the benefits one, one group, the longer or the full raise motion group.
It’s almost rarely actually full raise motion. It’s like the longer range of motion also reaches higher muscle lengths and it’s not necessarily the same, right? You can have the same raise of motion or longer raise motion, but not reach a longer length. It’s only typically when you go like deeper during a squat.
That’s quite well established now that if you go deeper during squat, you get better gains and new metanalysis. Quite relatively clearly shows that most of these benefits are attributable to the longer muscle lengths. I think that makes perfect sense. We actually also have two very cool studies that illustrate this one study, I think, which was an opening to the floodgate of research on this.
They, I think it’s Mao Atal, or I don’t know how to pronounce it. They compared seated la curl to lying la Curl, and the seated la curl resulted in significantly more muscle growth, specifically in the bi articulate heads of the hamstrings, which are the heads that are more stretched, more lengthens when you are seated because you are flexing at the hip.
So if you think of like you’re sitting in a seated LA curl, what you can actually do is you can lean way forward and then you’ll feel the stretch for one. And so you’ll also become a lot weaker. You can. Going to passive insufficiency. Even if the machine is depending on the dimensions of the machine, if you can really straighten the legs and lean way forward, and you’ll see you’re super weak that way, but then you probably get high passive tension.
Now how much do we want to act on that versus active tension? I think it’s definitely possible to go overboard because for one, we don’t know how much passive tension matters, how much is enough. You can just maximize it by just training for a full lines of motion, for example. So I think it’s premature to bank on the stretch as the only thing we should pay attention to.
Remind me after, is to come back to the point of regional activation. But first I should discuss the other study I mentioned. It’s probably the most compelling evidence in favor of the idea that we really just should be banking on the stretch. That’s a new study by Pedroso this. Or last year, I think it’s this year, they looked like leg extensions over four motion only.
The top and only the bottom and full motion did as many other research have already found four. Motion is considerably better than just the top, but it did not do better than just the bottom. In fact, just the bottom result in more muscle growth. Now, I think in this particular study, there are a few things.
They didn’t train maximally. The leg extension machine also wasn’t going through flows of motion, and they trained with a slow cadence. So it’s possible that if you are more, you’re training more hardcore settings, essentially. And they were untrained in participants. Women. It’s possible that if you’re training more harsh core and really maximizing full motion training going close to failure, that you’re already maximizing the stretch media hypertrophy.
Anyway, if you’re, you can. Flex the legs enough, which most people definitely do not do. So that’s, implication number one, during leg extensions, you want to get the, you want to get your legs as stuck as much as possible to really get that good stretch. But then if you do that, I’m quite skeptical of the idea that you can actually get better results by only doing the bottom part.
And it will also depend on the machine. Some leg extension machines are really bad. They’re like, only the top part is clearly the sticking points. And then you could do a million more reps in the bottom right. When you’re, you can’t do, you can’t lock out the knee anymore. You don’t wanna lock out the knee close.
I would generally say,
Mike: yeah, it can matter a lot. The machine can matter a lot, unfortunately. That’s a just worth noting for people cuz if they’re in a gym with a janky machine, they might be surprised to hear that, Oh, that’s a good machine. Like some of them are not so great and the lying might be a better option if this seated is just not set up correctly.
Menno: Yeah, and it’s interesting you mentioned lying, the. Lying leg extensions have fallen outta favor, but actually by virtual stretch media, their pery are probably much better than the current seat at once. And what I typically recommend is that people place their sheets as far back, the back, as far back as they can, and then matrix style, lean all the way back because you are lengthening the recs for Morris, the middle head of the quads.
And you’ll notice you’re stronger when you lean back a bit. Now if you’re fully lying back, it’s it’s gonna be uncomfortable for some people. But just leaning back or reclining in your seats, even if you have a straight back rests you, your lower back won’t be against the back rests. It’s fine. It’s the back’s not doing anything anyway.
It’s just quads. You’re a little more weight for one. More weight, all else. Being equal means more tension on muscle means greater growth typically, and specifically directs. For Morris, the middle head of the quads should grow more from also greater passive tension.
Mike: I find that feels better on my knees too.
Than being more
Menno: upright. Yeah. There is an optimal cause for me, if I go, if I literally line up, then it doesn’t feel so good on my knees anymore, maybe. But you can’t do that anyway in most machines. Yeah,
Mike: exactly. You’re gonna have to invent that’ll have to be the ME extension machine.
Menno: Some of the old school machines are like that, but you don’t see them anymore. Okay. I don’t
Mike: know if I’ve ever seen that
Menno: actually. And regional activation. So the arguments against the ID that, let’s just do the stretch. Let’s do all our training in maximum stretch, just on that and actually two arguments.
The first is that you may software excessive, so the stimulus to fatigue ratio at some points down. For example, hit thrusts are an exercise that probably won’t result in much stretch media atrophy. I’m actually gonna collaborate on a study very soon that CO and squats head to head, so that’s going be very interesting.
But, Until have that data it’s unlikely that the press stimulate a lot of stretch media trophy cuz they don’t lengthen much, but they stimulate a lot of active tension, pretty much as good as it gets. So just to bank on the passive tension and stretch media, I think will not be ideal. And even if it is, you are gonna probably do a lot of muscle damage.
So you may also limit how much money sets you can do. And then the question is, okay, is it really that much better that you have to sacrifice your total volume tolerance for the ability to, really hammer down that stretch? The only argument
Mike: with the work there is if you could do. Significantly less volume, maybe even for the same results than people could say.
It’s more time efficient,
Menno: and I do think if you can only do some work, you should definitely aim for a full run motion and probably emphasizing the stretch. If you can do one set of packs, for example, you have time for one set, you better do an exercise where you can also really get a good stretch.
So I would probably actually not do a bench press for example. I would do something like a deficit pushup, ring pushup, or a 15 degree incline, double bench press. Something that where you can, or even patient fly like cable fly, where you can really get high attention and stretch as well. The second argument against the ID that just the stretch is what matters is regional activation.
And there is somewhat of a trend in the research that when you are training muscles at longer lengths, you’re also growing them at longer lengths or distally specifically. So squats for example, it seems that a full squats result in more growth specifically or primarily near the. And that’s very interesting.
And we also see research that training muscles are different lengths. In part because of the length tension relationship, like a different length, different muscle fibers are more active than others. Also because not all muscle fibers run along the entire muscle fac and different muscle FACS and fibers actually have slightly different length tension relationships.
So at different muscle lengths, you are activating different or preferentially activating different muscle fibers. And it’s quite possible that even if it’s only a few fibers and like on average you gain more from emphasizing the stretch, there are some muscle fibers that do actually grow better from emphasizing peak contraction.
So I think it’s more a question of ratio, like where you’re gonna devote most of your training. And in general, I would say you can’t go very wrong with flooring of motion training, especially if that also means full muscle length excursion, then trying. Will you bank on the stretch exclusively?
Mike: And a third argument that, or at least a point that should be noted is full range of motion training works really well for everyone and for almost every purpose.
Yeah. So you look at, regardless of your goal, even if your goal is to get as jacked as possible, full range of motion training is gonna get you at least most of the way there. But many people listening and many. Out there, just in the fitness space, are not necessarily trying to gain every last ounce of muscle and strength genetically available to ’em.
They’re just trying to get into really good shape and stay that way. And, maybe with three to five hours of training per week, and I’m just mentioning that because I have to remind sometimes people who reach out to me asking about more sophisticated techniques or at least theories like these when, maybe they’re in their second year of training and they’re making progress and everything is going just fine.
And so sometimes, I just have to remind people, let’s not make this unnecessarily complex. Let’s not overthink this for your goals you might not ever have. Make any of these types of modifications to your training. If you just want to for fun to see what happens, that’s fine, but just understand that you’re making good progress.
I promise you it’s not going to change in any meaningful amount by adding some rest pause training or partial range of most training or any other kind of sophisticated technique. Yes, you can get big
Menno: on the basics.
Mike: Hey there, if you are hearing this, you are still listening, which is awesome. Thank you.
And if you are enjoying this podcast, or if you just like my podcast in general and you are getting at least something out of it, would you mind sharing it with a friend or a loved one or a not so loved one even who might want to learn something new? Word of mouth helps really big in growing the show, so if you think of someone who might like this episode or another one, please do tell them about it.
So then I think that’s a good segue to my next question, which is are there certain exercises that you think, again, speaking more to, let’s say we’re not speaking to the natural bodybuilder who has already gained, like the dude who has gained 45 pounds of muscle and he’s just trying to squeeze out those last few pounds, but more of a maybe everyday kind of fitness person who’s just trying to continue getting stronger and continue gaining size and are there maybe some modifications to exercises that are worth considering, at least to try and see how your body responds?
Like maybe you’ve always been doing an exercise a certain way. Maybe if you tried it this way and you might find, Oh wow, I’m actually, noticeably maybe more sore from doing it that way, or I’m getting a really good pump from doing it that way, or some sort of indicator that you’ve made the exercise a little bit more effective.
Menno: I wouldn’t put too much talking to those indicators specifically, but there are definitely a lot of. Exercises that you can tweak by and make at least as effective or probably more effective, which also increases time efficiency,
Mike: like the leaning back on the leg. S that’s a good tip that somebody can think with.
Menno: Exactly. So that’s an example where I think it’s win-win you, you can’t really go wrong with it. We don’t have concrete research yet showing it actually improves muscle growth, but it’s extremely unlikely that it will decrease it and there’s essentially no downside. Another example would be lapras, which is an exercise I coins is basically a full range of motion, straight arm pull down.
For some reason, straight arm pulldowns have traditionally always been done up to 90 degrees and then you go down. There’s no reason to stop there. Like you can go all the way up. The only problem I guess for some people is that if you’re just standing upright, then you don’t get a lot of tension when you go all the way up.
Now the solution for that is that you lean forward. That’s funny. That’s
Mike: how I’ve always done that exercise. But I always thought that was like the way that you did it,
Menno: . Yeah. There quite some people who are like oh, I should, I just, this is the better way to do it. I don’t think anyone’s coined the name differently though, and specifically with the a concept of the lab prior is that you’re leaning into it as you get to get a full stretch and you’re leaning back again.
So you have to move the tors back and forth during the exercise. And if you, I called it a lab because you, when you’re on your knees, that rhythmic motion with your arms up and down kinda looks like a prayer. So being on your knees helps to stay put when you’re using really heavy weights. Now most people actually can do the exercise standing very well, but when you get to really heavy weights than seating helps.
I think that’s also an example where it is just better. Like you’re just doing the same exercise but over full lines motion and specifically adding the ranges of motion that’s likely to induce stretch media trophy. So it’s the most important part of the ranged motion that people were omitting. And another example would be like, we have a lot of cool studies on this now.
I think recent study also from this year, like a lot of this research is really new. They compared essentially push downs for overall tricep extensions in very similar I think you used machines so that the exercise was overall like all the same. It was like double versus cable stuff. Not 100% sure on that.
But I think it was well controlled and they found that the overhead tricep extension resulted in not just more muscle growth in the long end of the triceps, which is exactly what I would’ve predicted. And the researchers also thought based on this exactly everything we’ve been talking about media, the of the triceps is a muscle, it’s also active shoulder like triceps.
And so if you bring the arm overhead, the elbow overhead, and you’re stretching the, and I’ve seen some people say the triceps can’t experience media. I wouldn’t know why that, why they couldn’t. That’s very speculative. At this point, I don’t see any reason, like we’ve seen media hypertrophy in muscles now.
I don’t see a why the tricep wouldn’t be to indeed that the loan experience is graduate growth. Interestingly, the other heads also grew more. And why that is, I won’t be able to tell you. I don’t think anybody currently can tell you that. But it might have something to do with Yeah, no it’s pretty much a mystery ,
Mike: but the takeaway is it’s a good exercise.
Menno: Do it. Exactly. And at a minimum, I would think we can replicate that. The long ads gets more growth. Maybe the other ads also get more growth. That’s even more of a win. But I think most people don’t optimize that part of tricep training. And in general, most people don’t really optimize this part of emphasizing the stretch.
They do exercises that were, that are traditional that most people do. And for the tricep you have push downs. And then all the tricep training they do is in, in this plane. So like push downs, school crushers have some stretch. But you, I think for the long, you have to go pretty much to get like a really good stretch.
Yeah. If you’re not doing that, you’re probably leaving some gains on the table. In fact, in that case, I think the additional SAR ERs in series, just making the muscle longer can actually make a big difference. Because if you never train the triceps at full lengths, probably the muscles not gonna length to its full length.
And that leaves a considerable amount of growth on the table. Probably. Cause if if you think of the muscle as this and then you can make it super thick, but now you can make all of that thickness also. And that increases the total muscle size quite significantly, even if the total increase of muscle an is only 10% or so.
Yeah. And that can
Mike: have a big effect on just the visual size of your arms. Triceps, what, two-thirds of
Menno: Yes. And also it makes it fill up the distance between the origin and the assertion more, which can visually maybe even make a bigger difference. Like what you said, if you have big gaps between the muscles and the joints, then it’s possible that can help fill up that gap at least a little bit.
Mike: Yeah. I personally have always liked overhead dumbbell extensions, similar type of concept. I’ve just found them to be, especially with heavier weights, I’ve found that more comfortable, just been able to perform better than trying to go heavy on the overhead, like a, an overhead rope, for example.
Now you mentioned basian flies or curls, one of the, Could you just explain what both of those are?
Menno: Yeah, so those are two other exercises that I coined, and they’re just modifications of very popular exercises. The most common type of double curl by far, I think is the double curl and otherwise the barb curl.
And what exercise specifically does not do, just like the straight arm pull down, is train the muscle well at long lengths. In fact, when the doble or the garble is at your side, like the arms are vertically done, there is no tension on the biceps, which is probably the most important position for the biceps in particular because the length tension relationship of the biceps is so that in like other muscles, it’s actually strongest not just in passive tension, but also in active tension when the biceps is stretched.
So you’re missing not just passive tension, but also active tension on the biceps. Now you can remedy that with either something like a preacher curl, and I think that’s going to be effective. But the preacher curl typically neglects the top part very much. And also it can be quite hard on the elbows and the muscle damage can be pretty severe.
So what I typically do is a bas curl, which is a cable curl. And when most people do a cable curl, they look at the cable, like they, they stand at the cable. The cable, this is the cable station. They pick it up and they’re like curling like this. But then you have the exact same issue. So if you look the other way so that you’re putting the cable from behind and then doing the curl, then you do emphasize that transposition and you get nice tension throughout the entire his motion.
So you’re not sacrificing the top part and you’re getting good tension in the valid position. And then you can also the laps rhythmically move the upper body where you’re fully upright to getting a good stretch and then kinda leaning into it to get good peak traction as well. And you don’t have to overdo it, you just have to intuitively go by.
Do you feel good tension at the bottom? Do you feel good tension at the top? If not, adjust your body position slightly, just like with laps to make sure that you do. I don’t see any possible downsides of that type of cable curl Eva curl compared to a double curl and a lot of potential upsides. I
Mike: like also that you can get a good training stimulus with less weight, so it’s just easier on your joints compared to say, a barbell curl, which is not a bad exercise, but when you get stronger, I don’t know if I’ve ever gone over 1 55, but that’s a lot.
I mean that’s hard on the elbows. Whereas I’m not as strong now as when I was Barb curling 1 55, but I’m still fairly strong and I was doing, I think I’ve seen them behind, behind the back. Cable curls. You want people listening, you might be able to find that exercise under that name too. So I was doing, I have those in my training block and I have to, I’d have to pull up my spreadsheet, but I think I’m only using, right now, I’m doing sets of eight to 10 and I think I’m only using 35 pounds.
No more than 40 pounds. And it’s nice it’s joint friendly and it’s difficult. Yeah. You
Menno: can also find, cause I have super sensitive elbows, like I have very slim wrists and ankles for for a six, one guy. And with a cable, it’s nice that you can a double is very free, so it’s already quite good compared to a, is very fixed motion trajectory.
But with the cable, you not just determine vertically how you move up the weight, but in, in every possible direction, you can move the cable more out to the side. In fact, I often stand like at a slight offset, so I’m kinda curling like this instead of curling like this. And I find that my elbows like that a lot better and it doesn’t make any difference for the effectiveness of the bicep.
So yeah, you have a lot of more leeway as well in terms of which movement pattern fits your body structure the
Mike: best? Yeah, I find, I like to get into a position just that, cuz sometimes my shoulders will just get a little bit irritated, kinda in the bicipital groove. And so how I position when I’m doing exercises sometimes makes a difference.
And so it’s also nice just for that point where I can get myself into a position where I’m not really feeling it in my shoulder and I can do it without being irritated, .
Menno: Yeah, definitely. And I think the side angle also can help with the shoulder.
Mike: Yeah, that makes sense. Now you mentioned also flies, ba flies.
Menno: that work? Yeah, so a double fly is actually a good exercise in terms of stimulating stretch media trophy, and I probably underrated it in the future, but it’s also quite injurious because it really bangs on the stretch and it also enforces or it incentivizes a give team style movement because otherwise you have to kinda tuck your elbows into it.
Clean most bench pressers and stuff to do that. But many people don’t. And the shoulder is in a quite precarious position when it’s in a full stretch. In general, most joints are in a precarious position at an rays of motion, so that position is also by far the hardest. And then you have almost no resistance at the top.
I think it’s, that’s actually an example of an exercise that banks too much on the. Whereas with that cable, you can spread out the resistance a little bit more and get a bit more of an even resistance curve so that the full contraction still actually has a contraction on the packs rather. Cause normally with a, if the, your arm like this, then there’s no more tension on the packs.
Cause the packs go this way and the resistance goes this way. Whereas with a cable, the resistance goes like in kinda this way. Yeah, it’s always pulling on you. Exactly. So you can still emphasize the stretch depending on how you position the cable and, but you can still also stimulate the top position and it’s much joint trend
And is that something that you’d be doing? Would you bring a bench over or do you like to do it standing or some other?
Menno: There are a few ways you can do it. Typically, if you have two of those cable towers that are very far apart, where all rows are always doing their like diagonal crossovers,
Mike: if you can ever get
Menno: in there.
Yeah. So we can, if you can ever get in there between you guys doing the crossovers where they’re only training the bottom packs, because they’re lifting so much weight, they can barely they’re just doing it like this. You sound jealous, , then you can just position the cable. I would say typically about nipple height, maybe one, I run nipple height typically works well.
You don’t want it to be like a full guillotine like this, so you want the elbows slightly tucked down, not 90 degrees shoulder reduction, and then you wrap the both end of the cable, you step forward and depending on how forward you step, it also determines whether you emphasize the. P contraction or the stretch.
If you step very far forward, then you’re gonna stimulate the stretch board. And if you are only a little bit forward, then you stimulate the p contraction board. So also depending on how well your shoulders tolerates the stretch position, you can also manipulate that, which I think is nice. A lot of people, our shoulder issues, one of the most common injuries for all weights.
And then one more modification of the patient flies is that if your shoulders are happy with it, instead of having a neutral grip like this, you use an internally rotated shoulder. So you just, like with a bench press, at the end of a bench press you can see like all your knuckles in line like this.
Whereas with a cable fly, most people, because of the, they don’t really think about it. It’s just how the cable,
Mike: it’s just how the handles, you just are naturally exactly
Menno: The structure of the handle. But you can also tilt it. In fact, you can even just get rid of the handle or use a row or whatever.
You can inly, rotate that shoulder. And if you look at the fibers of the packs, if you are. If you’re thumb up like this, then these fibers have to run over and they’re going from here to here, which is not a direct line of pull. Now there’s a principle that the body typically recruits the fibers that have the most advantageous leverage for the exercise.
Now this is, this may not matter when you’re training close to failure anyway, but I think it might be beneficial at least to internally rotate shoulder, and that’s what it does. So your hand is not like this. It aligns the fibers directly with the movement, which should result in the body emphasizing the peck fibers and you being slightly stronger.
Mike: And since we’re talking flies what are your thoughts on the lowest position? The highest position? Some people will say, Oh, you should be doing all three positions. You should have that, You should have some of your volume in that middle nipple range, but then you should also at least alternate between that and a low or a high.
Menno: So that’s a similar topic as whether you should do incline in decline pressing, or just horizontal pressing. And research typically finds that due to the structure of the packs. If you’re doing a horizontal type press or fly, then you’re recruiting all the fibers, like all the fibers kind converge towards the middle.
And if you’re doing horizontal flexion or abduction. So bringing the elbow closer to the body, basically, whether it’s a fly, a double bench press, back deck, anything you’re recruiting pretty much the entire arsenal of muscle fibers because they’re all like a fan. Bringing the elbow closer to the body if you’re using an incline.
So the upper fibers of the packs, they also extend, they bring the elbow up, so they’re flexing the shoulder and the lower fibers, they help the LA and they extend the shoulder. They bring the elbow down, which is why during a pull down you can actually stimulate some lower pack fibers. And during a pullover, and with like aase, you also stimulate the upper packs to some degree.
If you’re already recruiting all the fibers with horizontal movement pattern, then that doesn’t leave a lot of room to optimize above that, improve upon that. And that’s typically what we see. So what happens, at least based on EMG research like electromyography, we see that muscle activity does not really increase or only marginally increases if you’re doing like more on incline type fly or CREs in the upper fibers.
So you’re not actually training the upper fibers much more it. There was a recent study in bodybuilders, which found that it doesn’t slightly increase their muscle activity, but mainly what it does, it just decreases the activity of the lower backs. And if you do a decline type press or fly, then it’s not like the lower fibers activates considerably more.
It’s mainly that the upper fibers activate considerably less. So you’re not really improving the muscle growth for the target musculature, you’re just making it more isolated. Now, that might have a place in, people that have an imbalance between Europe are on lower packs, but for most purposes, if you have balance development, time efficiency on the just the horizontal movement pattern covers pretty much all your bases.
And then I think the switching of the angles on the, like incline decline is gonna, yeah, have very little utility for the, like the effort to reward ratio is gonna be quite poor, also
Mike: unnecessary complexity. Yeah, exactly. Another exercise here. The skull over. You wanna talk about
School overs are an exercise that even my clients still confused for skull pressures. I should have chosen a different name for that. Mike Rip is a similar exercise, which he called the PGR pullover, but it’s quite different, It’s different than its nuance, which has a big difference in practical utility.
So during a school crusher, like you’re doing a standard school crusher and you’re lowering the weight on your skull, which is why it’s called school crusher. If you would drop the weight, it would fall on your skull and crush your skull. makes it, gives it a cool name and kinda makes it popular.
However, most people don’t crush their skulls when they’re doing it. They’re crushing their elbows, so you could also call them elbow crushers because many people, like for some people are fine of course. And then, if you have no issues at all going heavy on those, it can be a fine exercise. But for many people that have at least somewhat sensitive elbows, they really wreck havoc on the elbow joints.
For me as well, on the tendons it’s really nasty. So you can actually change the exercise even just a little bit by letting the elbow come up over the body so that you’re literally moving the weight over the skull rather than on the skull. So a skull over rather than a skull crush. And now you are both stimulating more stretch media atrophy because you’re lengthening the long head of the triceps more.
And it’s much, much easier on the elbow joint in particular because that, like I said, most joints are more sensitive for to injury at endra motion. And the peak tension in the skull crusher is exactly in the full stretch. So at endra motion and with a skull over, you distribute the stress a little bit more towards the middle part of the movement being the hardest.
And then you kinda throw the weight over your head, back up to full extension. So it’s just a skull crusher. But you’re letting the weights, you’re letting elbows come up so the weight can go over your head instead of dropping on your head
Mike: skull brusher maybe.
Menno: Yeah. Actually, that, that would be a good name in a sense that you should, it has to go really close over the skull and many people, because you don’t want the elbow to come you, you don’t want the forearm to be vertical in the bottom position because then there’s no more.
In the stretch position, which is where you want high. So you need to let the weight come really close over the skull. And I think for most people, actually it works well to do it on the edge of a bench so that you can move your head up so that you can literally let the weight go over the head. So you’re kind moving the head outta the way rather than the, And that typically requires some coaching and financing and experimentation, but then when you get the groove down, it actually works really well.
It feels good on the elbows, probably net you more stretch media atrophy. So I would say that’s also an example where I pretty much only use school over instead of school crushers with my clients. How
Mike: low are you bringing the bar? Like How far beneath
Menno: it typically goes? Yeah just below the head.
Yeah. But it depends a little bit on someone’s individual structure. Like you want full elbow flexion, so you want the elbow angle to fully close and you don’t want to have that occur when the forearm is completely vertical for some people. For the elbows it’s, that’s the elbows friendly, most elbow friendly.
But for most people you want a little bit more of an angle. Makes
Mike: sense. Are there any other exercises that, or any other modifications that we should cover before this last point?
Menno: There are a lot of exercises that can be modified to some degree and I think you always want to ask yourself, can I increase range of motion?
So one for example, tip that Bradon alerted me to who got it interned from a female influencer, if not mistaken, but I dunno her name. She basically came up with the idea that in a hip abduction machine you can puts to the sides of the. The machine so that you are getting the legs closer together.
Cause most hip production machines when your legs, you open the legs they kinda stop when the legs are kinda in line with each other parallel. And that’s not full stretch. And you also feel it, it’s definitely not a full stretch. So if you put pads on the sides, then you can actually bring the legs, so pads on the, of the on the knees.
Then you can get the knees all the way fully touching each other. You can get a much better stretch and get greater raised motion. That’s probably also a pure scenario. Now, it’s not super practical. You need pads that are just right sized. And then some machines, like if the pads too big, you can’t can’t, the weights in the cable.
So it’s not super practical. But there are a lot of these exercises where you just always ask yourself, Hey, can I increase motion of this exercise? Or hip abs on a bench? Most people stop with when the, or like hip abduction, primarily relevant for female Chinese. They want maximum booty gain and also trained glu medias.
If you’re lying and you’re doing a abduction, then the floor limits how low your lack can go. But that’s not full range of motion. Your feet can dip below your hips, so that’s what you want. And if you’re lying on a bench, then there is no, so the foods can dip below the hips. So the guy would coach those.
Know, and how to teach my students to do them, to let the foods come below, Do it on a bench, get greater ranged. Profit . Question mark.
Mike: Question mark. Profit . Have you with dumbbell pressing have you rotated your hand? Just people listening so you can see this. So palms are facing each other on the way down.
So at the bottom, instead of palms facing a way like a lift, people listening, think of a barbell bench press where you just keep that position. With dumbbells though, you can rotate at the bottom, palms facing and get a little bit more of a stretch. Thoughts on utility of that?
Yeah. So the position of the wrist itself does not determine anything for the packs.
Mike: It’s just the shoulder friendliness of.
Menno: Yeah. So in theory you can even do supernate grip, and it’s the elbow position that determines what happens to the shoulder and the pack activation. But in practice, of course, just like if, when you’re looking down during the squat, you’re more likely to round your back because the typically the rest of the spine follows the neck.
It’s natural to move them into different directions, so to, with the wrists and the elbows. If the wrist move in one direction, it’s very unnatural to move the elbows in a different direction or to not have them go in the same kinda direction. So if, typically if you are rotating grip and making a neutral grip, then the elbows also naturally tend to come towards the midline of the body.
So essentially your, you’re intuitively gonna tuck the elbow, which is more shoulder. Yeah, it depends on how your shoulder health, Cause I think for most people, 45 degrees or so is about optimal. Where you get a good stretch, you want to, you wanna have that, horizontal type abduction slash reflection.
So a guillotine press in that sense would actually be optimal. But you have to balance that with the potential for shoulder injury, which anecdotally tends to be a lot higher with guillotine style pressing then with the elbows a bit more tucked. Yep. Yeah. I
Mike: never particularly like the guillotine press personally.
I know some people recommend it. I just found as I got stronger, I found it not nice to my shoulders.
Menno: Yeah. Only ever do those exercises for one true guillotine, 90 degree almost never do. But I only ever do those exercises with super high reps like Cecil Fur, and then it’s even though it’s a relatively injurious exercise and it goes at least it’s tolerated pretty well as long as you don’t go heavy.
Mike: yeah. You gotta do sets of 30 though, , there’s that . But okay. That’s great. That’s great. On the exercises. Can you, before we wrap up here, can you speak about stretching in between sets? Cause that, that also is always part of this whole discussion and I see some people aggressively stretching in between sets.
Like you had mentioned going from the bench press to the cable fly and, really trying to maximize their rest time, so to speak. So
Menno: there’s been two studies which found that can increase muscle growth. One had serious design flaw in that the reps were equated between groups. And what people don’t realize is that there’s also quite convincing research that excessive static stretching before your workouts, which is why it’s fallen in favor, reduces muscle growth.
Because what static stretching primarily does is it teaches the nervous system that’s okay to relax the muscle, which is kinda the opposite of what you want. So you know, if you’re doing activation drills and static stretching, you’re telling your body to opposite things, right? Your activation drills, they don’t work by the way in most cases, but they’re supposed to help you activate the muscle more and therefore reach higher level of possible activity and get greater gains.
And then static stretching essentially tells the muscle, Okay, relax, don’t fully activate, just chill. Let the lengthening happen and just experience the stretch because it doesn’t lengthen the muscle as we on earlier, at least not permanently, not in terms of muscle passive life. So doing that reduces muscle performance because you’re teaching the muscle to relax rather than activate.
It’s the opposite of an activation drill. And there is direct research showing that reduces strength development and muscle growth. So when this new research came out of static stretching, which is I think 2017, the first study which had. Serious design flaws, like I said. And in 2019, another one, both trained individuals and there they found, if I’m not mistaken, it did help muscle growth and it seemed a bit better controlled, but they were effectively not, this was last year study and they were doing ca phrases, but then adding a stretch after the set.
So basically finishing the set and then adding with a lot of stretch. But that’s like a drop set or just adding more of the set right or isometric contraction in the bottom position. For one, it’s not gonna be fully passive and seconds. Yeah, just adding to the set and then found, okay, yeah, you can stimulate some extra muscle growth potentially that way.
But then the study I mentioned earlier from body all from this year found that in trained individuals for the packs, it didn’t induce any additional muscle growth for strength development. So I think for most individuals, if you’re gonna do something like that, you could just do another shed. Or if you are super time pressed, maybe you could do a drop set or something.
Which I typically, not if I’d rather do my reps or something else, but that’s another topic in India. I don’t think that just a passive static stretch is gonna be the solution because it might reduce muscle activity and subsequent, and the research base for it is not compelling at all. So I think you’re much better off just focusing on sets that also produce active tension rather than, that’s stretching in between sets and a I currently see very little Yeah.
Utility of that. Where it works at all in trained individuals is to be determined because it’s mostly gonna be. SAR in series, so making your muscle longer and that cannot happen after a certain point. And secondly, you’re really banking purely again on the media to per the passive tension, where in that same time you could have also been contributing active tension.
Which probably would’ve resulted in more
Mike: muscle growth, and you quickly commented on this, but set to set performance can drop too with some of the stuff I’ve seen people doing where it’s like a minute or a minute and a half of aggressively stretching their packs, and then I don’t even know if there’s any extra rest in between the sets.
Maybe there’s an extra 30 seconds and then they’re right back to the bench press. And I haven’t done that. Maybe when I was younger, I haven’t done it in a while, so I guess I can’t say that I’ve tried it myself at least recently, but guaranteed performance is gonna be worse on that subsequent set compared to just resting.
And now of course you go back to, okay, so what if you have to take weight off the bar? Or what if you are getting several fewer reps per set now because you did that stretch, Now you have to weigh. You might have gotten from the stretching which is, as you’ve mentioned, partly theoretical, unknown against what we know about.
You could have just used heavier weight on that next set or gotten three or four more reps and that we know matters.
Menno: Exactly. It’s in many of these cases, it’s always, are you gonna bank on the speculative thing or are you gonna bank on what we know for sure is good? And then, yeah, let’s stick with, what we know for sure.
And then maybe modify it slightly rather. Really, you throw the baby out with the bath water.
Mike: I’ve joked that so much of effective strength training is just doing the same boring exercises, variations of exercises, basic types of workouts forever. That’s and I’m exaggerating a little bit for humor, but I think there’s more truth or that’s more right than wrong.
Menno: Yeah. I would say as an educator, like for my PT course and stuff, I would, I steer people a away from complexity, at least as much as I guide them towards, complexity in favor of for optimization. Yeah.
Mike: Yep. That that’s everything that I had on the outline here for this discussion.
We’ve touched on a lot. Is there anything though that I haven’t asked you about or that you just had in the back of your head that you wanted to mention before we wrap up?
Menno: I think we covered the topic pretty
Mike: well. Yeah. Yeah, I think it was great. Thanks again for doing it. And let’s wrap up then.
Let’s let people know where they can find you, find your work, your PT course. If there’s anything else in particular that you want everybody to know about, let’s let them know.
Menno: . Sure. Yeah. I’m on all social media, including YouTube, so I’m doing a lot more video. Are you on? I’m on. Yes. Unbelievable.
I’m on TikTok. It’s not take, it’s not taking off super well yet. It’s not my type of core. You have to get good at
Mike: dancing and voice and voiceovers.
Menno: I think that’s the key. Yeah. That’s not happening . But yeah I’m posting the same type of content there. TikTok, I basically just post what I post on YouTube copies.
And so yeah, YouTube is something that I think I’m gonna be working a lot more on, more video, So that’s nice and all. I still do all my usual social media. My newsletter is good for people that are not on it yet, get like a tour of my most popular contents. My PT course currently sold out, but there’s one next year that’s still available for PT certification.
And I put a, have a new account for the people I are really into, like the more hardcore research updates and the like, really following the latest updates of everything. And yeah, the more serious people really interested in fine tuning in the optimization and. Lots of free stuff. My Instagram as usual.
Mike: Cool. And all the links will be in show notes, but for people who are just listening, they can find you in all of those places by just searching your name.
Menno: My name, . Yep. Yep.
Mike: Yeah, if you put in Meno, he h e n s, it should pop up. But The rest is E L M A N S, just for people wondering how to spell it.
Okay. Great. Thanks again for taking the time, Meno. I always enjoy these discussions and I look forward to the next one.
Menno: Likewise, pleasure as always.
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