Illustration of a man doing chin-ups.

What is Stretch-Mediated Hypertrophy? A Quick Research Breakdown

For at least a few decades, bodybuilders have been known for favouring exercises that challenge their muscles at long muscle lengths. “Go deep and feel the stretch.” For instance, bodybuilders used the pullover to stretch out their lats (and triceps) under load, ostensibly to help them build muscle faster. The mechanisms weren’t known, and the results weren’t proven, but it was a popular idea nonetheless: to gain muscle faster, train your muscles at longer muscle lengths.

Now the research is starting to validate what the best bodybuilders have known all along. A systematic review of 26 studies found that isometric lifts that challenge our muscles at longer muscle lengths stimulate nearly three times as much muscle growth. For instance, holding the bottom position of a dumbbell fly (with our chests stretched) stimulates more muscle growth than holding the top position of a cable crossover (with our chests contracted). This is a bit counterintuitive because the cable crossover gives a better pump and burn. But it’s the deep stretch that actually builds more muscle.

So, why is stretch-mediated hypertrophy so powerful? And how can use it to build muscle faster?

Illustration of a man doing a sumo deadlift

Introduction

The Groundbreaking Study

The study that opened the floodgates was this systematic review: Isometric Training and Long-Term Adaptations: Effects of Muscle Length, Intensity, and Intent. It showed that training at long muscle lengths could double or even triple muscle growth.

Diagram showing the muscle-building results of a stretch-mediated hypertrophy study.

The first thing to note is that this is a review of isometric lifts. An isometric lift has zero range of motion. Think of how a plank trains our abs or how a deadlift trains our spinal erectors. In fact, if you loaded up a deadlift a bit too heavy and weren’t able to pull it off the floor, that’s an example of an isometric deadlift. But most people don’t use isometrics for anything aside from their spinal erectors and abs, and there’s a simple reason for that: they aren’t very good at stimulating muscle growth.

You might wonder, if isometrics aren’t good for building muscle, then why are we looking at research on isometrics? There’s a good reason for that. Isometrics aren’t all that great at stimulating muscle growth, no, but they’re absolutely fantastic for studying muscle growth.

With isometrics, there’s quite a bit less skill involved. That’s good. It makes it easier to measure exactly how much force someone can exert at any part of a range of motion. In this case, we can also measure which parts of the range of motion are responsible for stimulating the most muscle growth.

So what we can do with this study is look at which isometrics were the best at stimulating muscle growth, determine what made them more effective, and then use those same principles when choosing traditional lifts with a larger range of motion.

Supporting Research

We don’t just need to rely on the results of this systematic review. We have other studies confirming these findings. For instance, this study measured hamstring activation when training at different degrees of stretch. It found that the more we stretch our hamstrings, the more muscle activation we see and the more strength we gain.

Study results showing far faster muscle growth when training at long muscle lengths (stretch-mediated hypertrophy).

Another study came out a few months later, again comparing seated vs lying hamstring curls. What’s neat is that the different areas of our hamstrings are stretched to different degrees when we bend at the hips. The areas that got the greatest stretch (such as the biceps femoris) saw the greatest growth. The areas that were unaffected didn’t see a difference in muscle growth.

Finally, a 2021 study by Sato et al. found that doing just the bottom half of a preacher curl stimulated around 3x as much muscle growth as doing just the top half.

The Other Effects of Training At Long Muscle Lengths

Challenging Our Muscles While Stretched Stimulates More Muscle Growth

The main finding of the study, as we’ve mentioned above, is that challenging our muscles in a stretched position stimulates nearly three times as much muscle growth as challenging our muscles in a contracted position:

Training Muscles At Longer Lengths Yields More General Strength

Challenging our muscles in a stretched position also resulted in greater improvements in general strength, explosiveness, and athletic performance. Bigger muscles are stronger and more powerful, so training in a way that builds more muscle will also yield greater overall improvements in muscle function.

But it also seems that developing strength at long muscle lengths transfers better to our strength at shorter muscle lengths, which is neat.

Attempting to Accelerate the Weight Increases Muscle Stimulation

Another interesting finding was that ballistic intent (trying to accelerate the weight) nearly doubled muscle activation. That’s a well-known phenomenon, and it’s why we recommend trying to accelerate our weights through the range of motion before lowering them back down under control.

For example, when doing a bench press, lower the weight down slowly until it touches your chest, then explode it back up, trying to accelerate it through that bottom part of the range of motion. If the barbell is heavy, it might not move quickly, but all that matters is that you try to move it quickly.

For more on this, we have a full article on lifting tempo here.

Moderate-to-Heavy Loads Stimulate More Muscle Growth

There also appeared to be no difference in muscle growth between people training with heavier versus moderate loads. This lines up with previous research on traditional hypertrophy lifts, too, showing that sets of 6–20 reps stimulate similar amounts of muscle growth (study).

In fact, according to experts such as Mike Israetel, PhD, the hypertrophy rep range may be as broad as 5–30 reps. Or if you ask Greg Nuckols, MA, perhaps all the way from 4–40 reps. The most important factor seems to be how many challenging sets we do within an effective rep range.

Moderate-to-Heavy Loads Improve Our Tendon Health

Moderate and heavy loads produced better improvements in tendon thickness and strength than lighter loads. This is important because improving the strength of our tendons makes us stronger and tougher, including helping us avoid and recover from tendinopathy—tendonitis and other forms of chronic tendon inflammation.

To get those benefits, it seems like we need to lift weights that we can’t lift for more than around twelve reps. If we’re also eager to grow our muscles, that might be a reason to bias our training in favour of, say, 6–12 reps per set, at least on our heavier compound lifts.

Constant Tension Improves Muscle Growth

Finally, uninterrupted time under tension improved muscle growth. This makes sense mechanistically. Keeping the tension on our muscles restricts blood flow, reduces muscle oxygen saturation and increases metabolite concentrations in our muscles, stimulating more hypertrophy. This lines up with previous research (study).

For example, when doing a bench press, instead of resting the barbell on our chests at the bottom or pausing with our arms fully locked out at the top, it’s better to keep the tension on our muscles throughout the entire set. For a more controversial example, we may also want to keep tension on our muscles when deadlifting, meaning that we want to lower the barbell down slowly and under control instead of dropping it, and we don’t want to release any tension between reps.

Why Do Stretched Muscles Grow Faster?

We now have dozens of studies showing that challenging our muscles in a stretched position yields the greatest amount of muscle growth. But why is that? The nuanced answer is that we don’t know yet. The mechanisms are still being studied. We can make some educated guesses, though.

One simplified explanation is that the more tension we put on our muscles, the more muscle growth we stimulate (up to a point). Stretch-mediated hypertrophy is a way of increasing total tension. This example is simplified, but if you follow where it leads, you wind up with extra growth.

Another possible explanation is that stretch-mediated hypertrophy does a better job of stimulating the distal portions of our muscle fibres. The extra growth comes from those distal portions, helping us build longer, fuller muscles. This is validated by almost every study so far. This doesn’t rule out the extra growth coming from extra tension. It may just be that the extra tension on those distal portions is helping them grow.

Either way, I think it helps to understand a few principles.

The Sticking Point

If one part of the range of motion is especially hard, creating a sticking point, then that’s the point where our muscles contract the hardest, producing the most mechanical tension.

Diagram showing the resistance curve of the biceps curl.

On most lifts, the hardest part is when the limb that serves as the lever is horizontal, creating a longer moment arm. For some examples, the hardest part of a barbell curl is when our forearms are horizontal, the hardest part of a bench press is when our upper arms are horizontal, and the hardest part of a squat is when our thighs are horizontal. That’s where the weight is the heaviest on our muscles, where our muscles need to contract the most forcefully, and where mechanical tension is the highest. This is where most of our muscle growth comes from.

Resting Length

The next thing to consider is that our muscles are able to produce the most contractile force at their resting length—the length of our muscles when we’re standing in a relaxed position. So if the sticking point of the lift is around that point, we’re stronger, able to lift more weight, and able to generate more mechanical tension. That’s great for building muscle.

Illustration of a man doing the barbell bench press.

If we consider a lift like the bench press, the sticking point is when our upper arms are horizontal, which puts our chests at resting length, which is where it’s able to generate the most contractile force. That’s great. That’s a great strength curve for building muscle.

Passive Tension

But there’s another key factor at play here, too. As we’ve just covered, the main way that we produce force with our muscles is by actively contracting them, producing active tension. But our muscles also behave somewhat like elastics. When we stretch them, they pull themselves back towards their resting length.

This extra tension is called passive tension, and it means that we’re also quite strong when our muscles are stretched. Perhaps more importantly, when we combine active tension with passive tension, then we have more overall mechanical tension on our muscles, stimulating more muscle growth.

Greg Nuckols, MA, did a good job of explaining the mechanistic evidence in Monthly Applications in Strength Sport:

“While active contractile tension of a muscle tends to be highest at around resting length, passive tension from non-contractile elements (the tendons and muscle fascia) increases as muscle length increases, such that total muscular tension is generally highest when muscles are in a stretched position. Tension primarily seems to matter for hypertrophy because tension is sensed at costameres (where muscles attach to the surrounding fascia), which activate a protein called focal adhesion kinase (FAK), which then triggers the mTOR pathway, which is primarily responsible for exercise-induced hypertrophic signaling. In exquisitely controlled rodent research (study), it’s been shown that tension itself, not just active tension generated by muscle contraction, is what kicks off this pathway. Thus, even though active tension drops off, the disproportionate increase in passive tension, which leads to more total tension, should also lead to more hypertrophic signaling.”

Active + Passive Tension

So mechanical tension is the main driver of muscle growth, and mechanical tension is highest if we have overlapping passive and active tension. That overlapping tension happens when we challenge our muscles in a stretched position.

Diagram showing the moment arms of the dumbbell fly.

For example, if we fully stretch our chests out at the bottom of a dumbbell chest fly (maximum passive tension), and that also happens to be our sticking point (maximum active tension), then we have a maximum amount of overall mechanical tension on our chests.

However, to take advantage of this added passive tension, it needs to help us overcome the sticking point of the lift. Otherwise, the active and passive tension won’t overlap. They won’t be adding to one another. Overall mechanical tension won’t be higher.

Illustration of a man doing a squat with a resistance band.
The resistance-band squat.

For example, if we’re doing resistance-band squats, say, then the load is light when our quads are stretched at the bottom and hard when our quads are contracted at the top. We’re getting a full stretch, but the stretch doesn’t overlap with the sticking point. This is why we specify that we need to challenge our muscles in a stretched position. And this is why challenging our muscles in a contracted position doesn’t stimulate as much muscle growth. (And why free weights and bodyweight exercises tend to be better than resistance bands for building muscle.)

Illustration of a powerlifters using accommodating resistance
The banded barbell back squat.

That brings us to accommodating resistance. Accommodating resistance is where resistance bands or chains are added to barbell lifts to make them more challenging at the top of the range of motion. The bands and chains don’t make the bottom harder, just the top. Since most of our muscle growth comes from challenging our muscles at the bottom, it makes sense that making the top harder wouldn’t help very much.

Which Lifts Challenge Our Muscles in a Deep Stretch?

The Big Three Lifts

Okay, so now that we’ve covered that challenging our muscles in a stretched position produces more muscle growth and why that’s the case, we can talk about choosing lifts where our muscles are challenged in a stretched position. Fortunately, that’s not all that difficult:

  • The squat challenges our quads in a stretched position, especially if we “sit down” instead of “sitting back” into our squats. This benefit is even more exaggerated if we do front-loaded squats with a lot of bend at the knees, such as deep front squats.
  • The bench press challenges our chests and shoulders in a stretched position, especially if we bench deep (without an excessive arch). If we bench with a wide grip, the load is greatest on our chest. If we bench with a close grip, the load is greatest on our shoulders.
  • The deadlift challenges our hips, hamstrings, and traps in a stretched position. The Romanian deadlift does an even better job of specifically loading the hamstrings in a stretched position.
Illustration showing a powerlifter doing a low-bar back squat.

So what we’re seeing is that the “Big Three” barbell lifts that are so popular in strength training, powerlifting, and bodybuilding are also great for challenging our muscles in stretched positions. We can emphasize the stretch a bit better than powerlifters would by squatting with more knee bend and benching with less of an arch, but the Big Three lifts all have great strength curves for building muscle.

The Big Five Lifts

The Big Three are well and good for powerlifting, but we generally recommend the “Big Five Hypertrophy Lifts when training for muscle size, general strength, and aesthetics. By switching from a back squat to a front squat, and then adding in the chin-up and the overhead press as main lifts, we gain much more upper-body size and strength.

By adding in chin-ups as a foundational lift, we now have a main lift for our upper backs and biceps. By adding in the overhead press, we have a lift dedicated to building bigger, stronger, and broader shoulders. By giving them equal priority to the squat, bench press, and deadlift, we have a good base for a hypertrophy routine.

So let’s talk about the chin-up and overhead press, too.

The Chin-Up

The chin-up has a reasonable strength curve. Any lift that challenges our lats while our arms are in front of our bodies is challenging them in a stretched position, and the chin-up does that. It’s hardest on our lats in the middle of the range of motion, when our upper arms are still quite far in front of our upper bodies.

Illustration of a man doing a chin-up.

If we compare that against the barbell row, which is most challenging at the very top, we see why chin-ups tend to be a better bulking lift than rows. However, if we wanted to really train our lats under a heavy stretch, we could follow our chin-ups up with some pullovers.

But when we’re doing chin-ups, we aren’t just trying to stimulate our lats and upper backs, we also want to stimulate our biceps. And that’s where things get tricky.

The long heads of our biceps connect at our shoulder joints, and so when we raise our arms above our heads, they become shorter. As we pull ourselves up, we bend at the elbow joint, cancelling out the lengthening at the shoulder joint. That means that the chin-up is perfectly fine for the short head of our biceps, but we aren’t doing the best job of stimulating the long heads.

That’s not a huge problem. The chin-up is an extremely heavy lift, putting a fair amount of mechanical tension on our biceps all through the lift, and so it will still stimulate quite a lot of biceps growth—especially in the short heads. But if you want to fully maximize your biceps growth, I’d recommend including some biceps curls in your routine as well. Speaking of which…

The Biceps Curl

For biceps growth, we have a study directly comparing muscle growth from doing cable curls, which are harder in a contracted position, with preacher curls, which are harder in a somewhat stretched position (study). The study found no significant differences, although it’s worth noting that the group doing preacher curls did indeed see more muscle growth, just not to a statistically significant degree. I take a few things from this:

  • The most important thing is training hard and challenging our target muscles. So any lift that does a good job of stressing our biceps will be able to cause a good amount of growth.
  • It does seem that challenging our biceps at somewhat longer muscle lengths stimulates either equal or slightly more biceps growth.
  • The preacher curl may not be the absolute best exercise for getting an edge on your biceps training, since our biceps aren’t actually in a stretched position, even at the bottom of the movement.

That final point is the tricky one. Our biceps are a bit hard to train in a stretch position. If we let our arms hang naturally at our sides, that’s the natural resting length of our biceps. That’s a rather long resting length, and it just so happens to line up with the bottom of a barbell curl. That means that the barbell curl starts at resting length. There’s no stretch.

Illustration of a man doing dumbbell biceps curls.

Now, is challenging our muscles at their resting length a problem? Not really. It’s not quite as good as challenging them in a stretched position, but it’s still much better than emphasizing the contraction. But the barbell curl has another problem: it’s relatively easy at the start of the range of motion. The sticking point is in the middle, when our forearms are horizontal. We’re challenging our biceps in a contracted position.

Illustration of a man doing a preacher curl for his biceps.
The preacher curl.

As a result, there are two lifts that are often used to challenge the biceps at longer muscle lengths: the preacher curl and the incline curl. The preacher curl puts our arms in front of our bodies, which gives us less of a stretch at the bottom of the biceps curl. However, the preacher curl does do a good job of making the bottom portion of the curl harder.

So that gives us the incline dumbbell curl, which is done by sitting on an incline bench and letting our upper arms hang down behind our torsos. By bringing our arms behind our bodies, we succeed at stretching our biceps, which is perfect. However, there are two slight issues: 1) the short heads aren’t stimulated very well, and 2) you need an incline bench and dumbbells.

Illustration of a muscular weight lifter doing the lying dumbbell biceps curl exercise.

That gives us a fourth variation of biceps curl that we can use: the lying biceps curl. This works your biceps at both the elbow and shoulder joint, challenging your biceps under a deep stretch.

So to summarize, if you have an incline bench and dumbbells, you could combine the chin-up and incline curl to get fairly balanced overall biceps growth. Or, if you have just a barbell, combining the chin-up with the sissy curl should help you accomplish more or less the same thing.

The Overhead Press

The overhead press is a great lift in the sense that we need to transfer strength from our toes all the way to our finger tips. Like the deadlift, it’s a true compound lift, building strength all through our bodies. However, it’s a shoulder lift, and our shoulders are notoriously hard to stimulate in a stretched position.

Illustration of a man doing a barbell overhead press

One trick to getting more muscle growth out of the overhead press is to explode out of the bottom. That way we’re working our shoulders as hard as possible right from the get-go. But it’s not a perfect solution. We still aren’t training our shoulders in a stretched position.

As I’ve tried to mention at every opportunity, that’s not the end of the world. It’s a big heavy compound lift that will stimulate a ton of overall muscle growth. Plus, we’re also doing the bench press as one of our main lifts. If we bench with a moderate or close grip, we’ll be working the fronts of our shoulders hard in a stretched position. And for the backs of our shoulders, we’re saved by the chin-up. The chin-up workouts our rear delts in a stretched position quite well.

But that doesn’t help our side delts, and it’s our side delts that give us broader shoulders. For our side delts, we turn to the lateral raise.

The Lateral Raise

So we’re trying to challenge our side delts in a stretched position, and neither the bench press nor the overhead press is very good for that. But we have lateral raises for that, right?

Illustration of a man doing dumbbell lateral raises.

Not quite. The lateral raise starts at resting length and only gets challenging in a fully contracted position. That may explain why your side delts never get sore and grow rather slowly.

I need to do more testing on this, but one solution I’ve found is to do lateral shoulder raises while lying on a bench. That way I can bring my arms across my body at the bottom of the lift, putting them into a stretched position. Perhaps more importantly, the sticking point of the lift is when the upper arms are horizontal, which is right at their resting length. If we lift explosively out of the bottom of the lift, that gives us a near-perfect strength curve for building muscle.

I didn’t expect these to work very well, but no other lift has worked my side delts as hard or made them as sore afterwards. Those aren’t perfect proxies of muscle growth, but they’re good signs.

The Triceps Extension

The bench press is an amazing lift for stimulating growth in our chests and shoulders. It loads them extremely heavy in a stretched position where they also have great leverage to press from. No wonder it’s such a popular lift.

However, the bench press is also notoriously poor for bulking up our triceps. That’s not necessarily a stretch issue. Our triceps are somewhat stretched during the bench press. Rather, it’s because the long heads of our triceps connect at our shoulder joints, so as we press upwards, the shoulder joint lengthens the triceps. This gives them poor leverage for pressing.

Fortunately, that’s where the triceps extension comes in. When we move our arms in front of our bodies, we place our triceps in an even greater position of stretch. This means that skull crushers challenge our triceps in a greater position of stretch than the bench press. And because there’s no movement in the shoulder joint, our triceps grow just fine.

Illustration of man doing the overhead dumbbell triceps extension.
The Overhead Triceps Extension.

We can exaggerate the stretch even more with overhead triceps extensions. Not everyone can do these comfortably. But if you can, they’re a great way to build bigger triceps in a hurry.

The Deficit Push-Up

Even regular push-ups are great for stimulating chest and shoulder growth, stimulating about the same amount of muscle growth as the bench press. But we can make them even better.

Illustration of a man doing a deficit push-up.
The Deficit Push-Up.

If we raise our hands up on handles, weight plates, or speculative fiction novels, we can increase the depth by a few inches, giving our chests and shoulders a maximal stretch at the bottom of the range of motion.

The Dumbbell Fly

The dumbbell fly is another great lift for challenging our chests while maximally stretched. It often gets criticized for not being challenging enough at the top of the range of motion, but that’s not much of a criticism.

Illustration of a man doing a dumbbell fly for his chest.

The dumbbell fly is hard at the part that stimulates the most growth (the stretch), easy at the part that stimulates the least growth (the contraction). That’s the same “problem” that the squat, bench press, and deadlift have. It’s not much of a problem.

Graph showing differences in pec and triceps growth when doing the bench press.

With that said, although the dumbbell fly is a great chest builder, it’s also kind of redundant. If you’re already doing the bench press, and especially if you’re also doing deficit push-ups (or dips), then your chest is already being challenged in a stretched position by several different lifts (study).

Graph showing differences in chest and triceps growth when doing the bench press and triceps extensions.

If we look at muscle growth from doing just the bench press, we see that it’s the triceps that lag behind, not the chest. Unless your chest is stubborn or lagging behind, it’s probably better to choose triceps isolation exercises over chest isolation exercises.

The Problem (and Power) of Partial Reps

If we don’t sink deep into our lifts, we won’t stimulate as much muscle growth. If we don’t squat deep, our quads won’t be as stretched. If we don’t bring the barbell down to our chests when bench pressing, or if we use too big of an arch, then we won’t get a good stretch on our chests and shoulders. If we do above-the-knee rack pulls instead of deadlifts, we won’t stretch our hamstrings or glutes.

But if we cut the top part of the range of motion off, there’s no problem. In fact, if we don’t fully lock out our squats or bench presses, we can keep constant tension on our muscles throughout the entire range of motion, which may even increase muscle growth. The same is true with biceps curls, triceps extensions, and dumbbell flyes. These are called lengthened partials.

You can also choose lifts that use a full range of motion but that emphasize the stretch, such as:

  • Wide-grip deadlifts instead of rack pulls
  • Front squats instead of half squats
  • Deficit push-ups instead of diamond push-ups
  • Incline curls instead of spider curls

Summary

When we challenge our muscles under stretch, there’s a combination of both passive and active tension, raising overall mechanical tension. Since mechanical tension is the main driver of muscle growth, challenging our muscles in a stretched position stimulates quite a bit more muscle growth—up to three times as much. As a result, when possible, we should choose lifts that allow us to challenge our muscles in a deep stretch.

Fortunately, many of the most popular lifts are already fairly good at working our muscles hard under stretch, including deep squats, the bench press, the deadlift, the chin-up, the pullover, the skull crusher, and the overhead triceps extension.

Other lifts emphasize the contracted part of the lift and thus tend to be less good for building muscle. Examples include spider curls, hip thrusts, glute bridges, half squats, rack pulls, and resistance-band exercises.

Finally, we should be able to improve the growth stimulus of some lifts by making them more challenging at the bottom of the range of motion, such as doing deficit push-ups instead of regular push-ups.

Cover illustration of the Outlift intermediate bulking program for naturally skinny guys.

If you’re eager to gain your first 20–30 pounds of muscle, check out our Bony to Beastly (men’s) program or Bony to Bombshell (women’s) program. We’ll walk you through the entire process. If you’re an intermediate lifter, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program. All of our programs build these principles into the workouts.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified conditioning coach with a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 70 pounds and has over a decade of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

How to build 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Even if you have failed before

25 Comments

  1. Giovanni on July 31, 2020 at 6:32 am

    What about using cables for lateral raise? A cable coming from the low side will be more challenging when the lateral deltoid is stretched and will be easier when it is contracted.

    • Shane Duquette on July 31, 2020 at 9:42 am

      Yeah, totally! That gives the lateral raise a much better strength curve 🙂

  2. Joe on November 9, 2020 at 9:23 am

    This article specifically points out rack pulls as an inferior movement because of how it emphasises the wrong part of the range of motion — the top. What’s the reasoning behind using rack pulls and raised deadlifts in Phases 1&2 in the main b2B program?

    • Shane Duquette on November 9, 2020 at 7:54 pm

      Hey Joe, that’s a good question.

      I’m pointing out the flaws of above-the-knee rack pulls here, which are the more common type of rack pulls that are used by intermediate and advanced lifters. In the Bony to Beastly Program, we use below-the-knee rack pulls. It’s sort of a Romanian deadlift but done from a dead stop. There’s full range of motion for the hips there, just a bit less movement at the knees, less involvement from the quads. So there isn’t really a range of motion issue there. It also makes the lift a bit simpler to learn, helping beginners transition to doing deadlifts from the floor.

      The other thing is that the main downside to rack pulls is that they generate a lot of fatigue for the benefit you get. That can become a real problem as you get stronger. But for a beginner, it doesn’t really matter. If a beginner is doing 3 full-body workouts per week, they aren’t strong enough or training rigorously enough to run into those problems. They’re more likely to run into problems with a sore and fatigued lower back, and below-the-knee rack pulls aren’t too bad for that.

      Plus, we also use Romanian deadlifts. So even then, we’re mixing in a less fatiguing lift with a deep stretch and a full range of motion.

      The same idea is true with raised deadlifts. Very similar to below-the-knee rack pulls.

      Finally, after those initial b2B phases, we transition to deadlifts and never look back. We don’t really use rack pulls anywhere else after that.

      • Joe on November 10, 2020 at 8:35 am

        Thanks for the detailed response, Shane 🙂

        I had figured it was only to do with helping to transition to deadlifting from the floor, as you said. However the other aspects you describe have made me realise that I’ve been doing my rack pulls in phase 1 from too high of a start position — not above the knee, but very much at the knee.

        I know I should be asking this on the B2B forums (I haven’t gotten round to making a progress thread yet — I’ll get to it!) but do you have any recommendations for my transition to full deadlifts? I almost feel like I’m behind in my progression– the program is asking for:

        (below the knee) rack pulls –> raised deadlifts –> deadlifts.

        Whereas having started at the knee I wonder if I shouldn’t go:

        rack pulls at the knee –> rack pulls below the knee –> raised deadlifts –> deadlifts

        but then I’ll be a phase behind. Do you think it’s worth it or should I just start doing raised deadlifts in phase 2, ignoring that it’s a bit more of a jump in terms of the range of motion?

        • Shane Duquette on November 10, 2020 at 11:07 am

          You could do some Romanian deadlifts, see how deep the barbell goes at the bottom of the lift, when your hips and hamstrings are fully stretched, and then set up raised deadlifts or rack pulls from that position. Do that until it feels natural, and then drop down to the floor the next phase, adding in the knee bend to turn it into a full deadlift. The main thing is just to make sure that you’re deadlifting with a fairly neutral spine, that your brace is feeling good, and that the movement is coming from the hips. Once that feels natural, you should be able to deadlift from the floor without issue. And, I mean, some beginners can deadlift from the floor when first learning the movement. It’s not like these introduction steps are even mandatory. And the reverse can be true, too, where some people have a really hard time deadlifting from the floor. So you’ll have to play it by ear, seeing how it goes for you.

          Don’t worry about falling behind. There’s no rush. All of the movements build muscle and strength 🙂

  3. Marcus on November 25, 2020 at 6:32 am

    Hi Shane, thanks for a very interesting article.

    Your variation on the lateral raise works my shoulders very well for me. I was wondering how much it works your rear delts relative to your lateral delts, since the end of the motion seems to resemble a face pull? I’m unsure as to whether this might interrupt rear delt recovery if I’ve trained them hard the day before. And would bending your arm more shift the emphasis at all (my ‘bench’ is lower than yours)?

    Re triceps, I understand that overhead extensions are ideal for stretching the long heads – but what about challenging the medial and lateral heads in a stretch? I have shoulder impingement and my elbows are prone to flare up, so I’m stuck with cables. Would pushdowns be a good choice, or would it be better to start with my elbows pushed back and turn it into more of a kickback movement?

    Many thanks,
    Marcus

    • Shane Duquette on November 25, 2020 at 10:11 am

      I’m glad that the weird lateral raises are working for you! They hit my side delts so hard, and it’s such a stubborn muscle for me, but I wasn’t sure how well it work for other people.

      Bending your arms will shorten the lever, allowing you to lift more weight or get more reps. Should still work the same muscles to the same degree, though.

      This exercise might work the rear delts, yeah. You’ll have to see how sore they get. For me, that wasn’t the case, but it’s certainly possible.

      All triceps isolation exercises involve bending the elbows, which stretches the triceps. You’ll get a maximal stretch on the long head with an overhead position, but all triceps exercise will stretch your triceps. Don’t worry about that. Choose the exercise that feels best on your elbows and shoulders.

  4. Denzel on December 13, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Cheers
    So deadlift, once mastered, is a superior movement to romanian deadlift in terms of hamstring development or just as an overall mover, because you can move more weight with DL and have a deep stretch on more involved muscles?

    I mean, if you could do only one (maybe alternate weekly DL and RDL), which would you do?

    Its a bit hard to fit both movements in 3 x week full body routine.

    I get very sore hams with RDL’s, with DL ‘s I get sore lower back, lats (if correctly presqueezed), upper back.

    • Shane Duquette on December 13, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      Hey Denzel, that’s a good question.

      So, the thing with the conventional deadlift is that you typically bend a fair bit at the knees, which releases some slack from the hamstrings. Not a big deal, but it’s the Romanian deadlift where you get the slightly greater strength on your hamstrings. I’d say the Romanian deadlift is a better hamstring lift, but both are great.

      I think it’s nice to have both in a workout routine, at least at some points in your training. Maybe spend some months training the deadlift, some months training the Romanian deadlift. When you’re focusing on a given lift, try to make progress, try to get stronger. And then when you switch to the other, it should be enough to at least maintain your strength. The two are very similar, all things considered (especially if you’re doing them for hypertrophy, with a slower lower).

  5. Kunmi on October 9, 2021 at 11:48 pm

    Your side lying lateral raise is a great exercise that I’m surprised isn’t more common. Even if we didn’t know about the specific benefits of training muscles at long muscle lengths, at the very least it offers a different strength curve than the traditional lateral raise.

    With that being said, thanks to that I’ve also started implementing a side lying rear delt version where I fly the weight out but in a reverse fly motion. Not only does it give a huge ROM and a decent stretch at the bottom, but it also minimizes the work the mid/lower traps can do in the movement too.

    • Shane Duquette on October 12, 2021 at 11:23 am

      Hey Kunmi, I love that idea of a lying rear-delt raise! That sounds awesome 🙂

  6. Vinny on October 13, 2022 at 4:17 pm

    Hi Shane,

    What would you think of your lying lateral raise version being done with a 45 degree incline on the bench?

    This seems to gravitationally line up with the angle of stretch for the side delt (https://exrx.net/Stretches/DeltoidLateral/SideDelt) whereas the one you demonstrated seems to be better for a rear delt stretch (https://exrx.net/Stretches/DeltoidPosterior/RearDelt).

    • Shane Duquette on December 8, 2022 at 12:07 pm

      That sounds great to me. I’ve tried it, and I like it. Give it a try and see how you like it. If it feels better, go for it.

  7. Regjoe on April 4, 2023 at 11:48 am

    It has been suspected from other previous articles related to this topic.
    I’m surprised though, that no die hard band supporters came out to tell others that ” I built more muscle than ever once I started training with bands”. We’ve all heard them ( Not ‘seen’ them for our surprise).
    Band training has its merits for sure but mass building isn’t one of them as this article and the article this article referranced about how muscle builds a lot more efficiently when it’s stressed at stretched positions.

    • Shane Duquette on April 10, 2023 at 6:33 pm

      It’s because the band supporters are commenting on our article about resistance bands. I enjoy when people disagree, and I like that some people seem to get good results from using bands. I agree with you, though. I don’t think resistance bands are ideal for gaining size or strength. Not awful, but not ideal, either.

  8. Prospero on August 3, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    Hey, I was curious about what evidence you’re using for your claims about isometrics being poor for hypertrophy. I have been exploring isometrics at long muscle lengths and have had mixed results, but my confidence about investing more time into them wavers with all the mixed info on them. The company behind a product I use, the Dragon Door Isochain, claims dynamics and isos are roughly equivalent for muscle growth, but they’re clearly somewhat biased.

    Do you have any info on exactly how much worse they are compared to dynamic exercises for hypertrophy?

    There seems to be a fair amount of conflicting info on the web about this, but Isometrics are very niche and I wonder why.

    Many thanks

    • Shane Duquette on August 12, 2023 at 11:52 am

      Hey Prospero, that’s a really good question. All of the top hypertrophy researchers recommend lifting through a deep range of motion to stimulate muscle growth instead of doing static holds. That includes researchers like Dr. Brad Schoenfeld. All the top natural bodybuilders and strength athletes over the past hundred years have included plenty of lifts done through a deep range of motion as well. You’re right that isometrics are fairly niche, and there may be good reason for that. However, I wonder if isometrics done in a lengthened position rival exercises done through a deep range of motion. I can take a look into this.

      At the moment, if it were me, I’d use a mix of approaches. I’d add the lengthened isometrics to a more traditional hypertrophy training routine. Also keep in mind that most hypertrophy training routines already include a good bit of isometric work. Think of how push-ups and chin-ups train the abs, deadlifts train the spinal erectors and back, and so on. Most guys with big traps and spinal erectors got them from doing deadlifts, training them isometrically.

      At the moment, I’m most excited by deep partials. I think that’s the most promising “new” muscle-building technique. The research is fast becoming overwhelming, and it also has a long tradition in the bodybuilding community. Many top bodybuilders have avoided locking out their exercises, staying in the deeper part of the range of motion. And even with lengthened partials, I’d incorporate it into a more traditional hypertrophy routine.

      Really good question. Thank you for asking it.

      • Prospero on August 12, 2023 at 5:47 pm

        I see. Yeah, partial reps in the ‘stretch/deep/lengthened’ range (quite a few names for it apparently) seem like they could be more efficient than full RoM for hypertrophy, but I barely know what I’m talking about. The isochain has been interesting and confusing. With it, I’ve put on about 20lbs of mass in 1.5 years, of which roughly 11 is muscle if my scale is to be believed. Mostly been doing 6 sets of 6 second holds (strength), 3 sets of 20 seconds and 2 sets of 45-60 second holds (hypertrophy) in the lengthened positions. Another even more obscure device that I’d be curious about opinions on is the Isokinator, which is technically dynamic, but whose movements seem borderline alien. It has worked for me, to an extent, but it suffers from ergonomic issues (it uses straps) and the leg exercises are wonky.

  9. Jim B on October 14, 2023 at 5:42 pm

    Hi Shane,

    Great website. I’ve been studying several of your write-ups, specifically the ones regarding stretch-mediated hypertrophy and strength curves. I’ve been using a popular elastic band training system that utilizes a bar and ground plate for just over 2 years. I travel quite a bit so the band system is easy to carry with me and helps me to be consistent with my training. I have made good progress but have plateaued on several movements. I recently turned 65 and have worked out most of my life and am always looking for an edge.

    Recently, based on the studies you have mentioned and your descriptions, I have added movements that incorporate loading muscles in stretched positions mostly using bands to the standard band program movements. Example: Added standing banded preacher curls (with close grip on the bar and elbows supported on my lower rib cage and abs) to the banded drag curl.

    Instead of doing full reps followed by partial reps to full fatigue on the regular banded drag curl, I do as many full reps as I can (around 20 for current bands on the drag curl) then immediately move to the preacher curl. I max out around 10 partial reps (from elbows nearly straight to the point where band force is just past perpendicular to my forearms, which turns out to be a pretty strong sticking point with the band I’m using).

    My thinking is that I can benefit from both loading the biceps near full contraction with the drag curls and then in stretch with the preacher curls. This is essentially using 2 partial ROM movements: Initial and final phases of two different bicep curl movements.

    I have added other exercises to improve the chest press (added banded deficit pushups), overhead press (added stretch-mediated banded lateral raise), tricep press (added dumbell overhead tricep press), calf raise (added heel-drop single-leg calf raise), bent row (added full-hang pull-up) and split squat (added deep bodyweight single-leg eccentric squat and deep bodyweight sumo squat).

    I added the above squat “finishers” several months ago and increased the number of banded split squats I can do from 15 to 26 full reps with the heaviest band I have after having plateaued at 15 reps for several months before adding them. I have also noticed increased hypertrophy in the area of my quads closer to my knees, much like the researchers had found. I didn’t know about loading muscles in stretch but after becoming aware of and studying it, I now attribute the gains to that.

    I have also added reps on many of the other standard band exercises after incorporating the stretch-mediated movements just a couple of weeks ago. I have noticed that my chest and shoulders are becoming fuller (shirts are fitting tighter) so it seems that I am making progress there, too.

    Thanks again for your very useful information.

    Jim B

    • Shane Duquette on October 15, 2023 at 12:02 pm

      Hey Jim, that sounds great! That’s exactly what I would do if I were using bands. It sounds like you’re doing a great job of taking advantage of their strengths while minimising their weaknesses.

      I’m not sure if there’s a benefit to doing variations that emphasise the contraction (like drag curls). So far, all of the research looking at exercises like that have found less muscle growth than when training at longer muscle lengths. It could be that training at both long and short lengths has some sort of advantage, but nobody has been able to find that advantage yet. On the other hand, there’s little harm in it. Plus, many classic bodybuilders built great physiques by choosing some exercises that emphasise the contraction.

      Sounds like it’s working, too! That’s awesome how your chest and shoulders are becoming fuller, filling out your shirts. That’s always a great sign.

      Also, I love how you’re 65, with a lifetime of lifting under your belt, and you’re still making progress. You’re killing it 🙂

      • Jim B on October 18, 2023 at 12:40 am

        Hi Shane,

        Thanks for your reply. I’m starting with the movements recommended by the system’s workout instructions for the contracted exercise then adding a stretched version. Kind of a way to build on their basic method. That’s where the drag curl comes from.

        I’ve tried more of a standard barbell curl with bands but didn’t seem to find any benefit. It’s a bit difficult to tune the resistance with the bands compared to small-increment dumbbells. So it’s been easier to use the drag curl.

        If you have some other bicep movement that I can do with bands, I will certainly study them.

        Thanks for the kind words. Like I jokingly tell my friends, “My plan is to live forever or die trying.”

        • Shane Duquette on October 18, 2023 at 12:36 pm

          Hah! That’s a great plan!

          You could try setting up the resistance band behind you, doing a sort of banded Bayesian curl. That way, you’re stretching your biceps at the shoulder joint. You’d want to make sure you have plenty of tension at the beginning of the range of motion. It’s okay if you can’t bring it through the entire range of motion. No need for a full contraction at the top.

          And then you already have the banded preacher curl. Those can complement Bayesian curls well. The long head of the biceps isn’t stretched at the shoulder joint, but you already have the Bayesian curl for that, so no worries.

  10. Jim B on October 18, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    That makes a lot of sense. Ok, the Bayesian curl is now on my pull-day workout ticket.

    I’ll give it a go starting tomorrow.

    Thanks again.

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