Muscle Lengthening vs Stretching: What’s the Difference and Which is Better?

Understanding Muscle Stretching

Did you know that you’re probably stretching wrong?

Muscles function by providing both passive and active tension throughout the body. Active tension requires energy and results in what most people would be familiar with as flexing. Whereas passive tension happens most of the time without any energy input at all and results in the muscle lengthening, typically seen in stretches.

Therefore, it would seem intuitive that to build muscle you would need more active tension and to become more flexible, you would need more passive tension, however this is not the case. In truth you need both types all the time for any type of muscle movement (1). 

Muscle Pairs

This is because many muscles in the body act in pairs with parts known as the agonists and antagonists. To take the arm as an example, when the bicep muscle creates active tension as it does when pulling something up, the triceps muscle must be experiencing passive tension, subsequently lengthening and allowing the arm to move effectively around the joint.

If both the agonist and antagonist muscles are experiencing active tension at the same time, this will result in a very slow, stiff movement that can sometimes be very painful. It is only through the give and take between the agonist and antagonist muscle groups that functional movement around a limb joint can be generated (2).

The Change in View on Stretching

Over the years there have been a wide range of recommendations relating to the best way to stretch both for flexibility and for recovery. However, as more and more studies have been done, certain types of stretching that were once considered the norm are no longer suggested for a wide variety of reasons.

One of these reasons is that certain techniques such as bouncing in a stretch were shown, through research, to be associated with an increased risk of injury. Another major reason is that it has become very apparent that stretching in the traditional sense does not wield the long term results that it was originally thought to (3). 

Why Muscle Lengthening Is Better Than Stretching

This is where “muscle lengthening” comes in. Muscle lengthening, unlike stretching, is considered to be an “eccentric muscle contraction”. Essentially, when force is applied to a muscle that exceeds the force produced by that muscle, it will cause that muscle to lengthen (4). In many studies it was found that while stretching wielded only temporary results, muscle lengthening through eccentric contractions produced a shift increasing muscle length long term.

Working with eccentric contractions however, does require a certain level of understanding and respect for what the body was built to do. If pushed too far, eccentric contractions can cause injuries (5), which is where the ARPwave Lengthening Protocol comes in. 

Every device created by ARPwave Technologies utilizes electrostimulation that encourages muscle lengthening without the increased risk of injury associated with high force exercises. This protocol is suggested both for individuals experiencing pain and people just looking to keep their muscles lithe. Muscle lengthening is invaluable and often a fantastic first step for anyone looking to begin their fitness journey as well as individuals experiencing daily pain.

Self improvement doesn’t have to be painful and can happen quicker than you think. To get more information on muscle lengthening and how you can get started today, give us a call and set up an appointment with one of our therapists. 

Article References

1 Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation

2 Muscle agonist-antagonist interactions in an experimental joint model

3 Stretching versus strength training in lengthened position in subjects with tight hamstring muscles: A randomized controlled trial,to%20increases%20in%20stretch%20tolerance.

4 When Active Muscles Lengthen: Properties and Consequences of Eccentric Contractions 

5 Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Risks and Benefits 


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