Stretching is Dead: A Better Method

by Dr. John Rusin

The Next Big Thing in Mobility Training

Regular stretching and mobility drills have nothing on this. Stretch with weights and you'll not only increase mobility, you'll get stronger. Here's how.

Reduce chronic tightness and get bigger and stronger at the same time. Place an emphasis on slow, controlled movements that lengthen muscles under loading. Weighted eccentrics (negatives) lengthen contractile tissues. It's called accentuated eccentrics and it's the next big thing in the mobility game.

This method is better than the foo-foo static stretching routine your former physical therapist had you doing. It relieves overly tight local contractile tissues, enhances joint positioning and torque recruitment, and improves movement patterns in the process.

Target the hamstrings, pecs, and lats. Why? Many of the larger, more superficial muscles shorten over time, placing stress on joints and structures. That means rounded shoulders, hunched upper back, forward head position, and tight hamstrings. These three muscle groups are a good place to start when implementing mobility work while still throwing around some significant iron. Here's how to properly perform accentuated eccentrics for these specific areas.

The 3 Best Moves For Loading Up Eccentrics

1. Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

No more complaining about tight hamstrings! Using a traditional hip hinge like the RDL or the stiff-leg deadlift, work the descent of the movement with increased time under eccentric loading. Your spinal positioning needs to be perfect on these to be effective, so keep that in mind and don't let your back start to round.

Keep your feet hip width apart and toes forward. You're using the hip hinge for accentuated eccentrics and loaded mobility work targeting the hamstrings, so try to keep as neutral a foot position as possible. Deviating away from it can overload the medial or lateral hamstring groups and limit the carryover into overall hamstring mobility. Remember, we're working mobility, not using linear periodization to jack up your numbers.

2. Close-Grip Lat Pulldown

The close-grip lat pulldown machine is also a great tool when it comes to opening up the lats and improving your overhead positioning at the shoulder girdle. Getting into a stable position with the legs under the pad is important for maintaining leverage and allowing a non-compensated stretch through the lats. Once your knees are locked in, and your spine is in a semi-neutral position, let the cable bring you up into a fully overhead stretched position while you maintain integrity in your shoulder and thoracic spine positioning.

When you're under 100% control of the eccentric portion of the movement (when the handle is going up), allow your shoulder blades to elevate a bit so you can accentuate the top-end stretch and really tap into more range of motion little by little. From the fully stretched position, pull down the attachment to your sternal notch and pause for a split second before letting your arms slowly extend into that overhead position again. A little momentum and backwards torso can be used in order to get out of the vertical orientation of the pull, but do it under control. Remember, repeatability is huge when it comes to progressions.

For advanced lifters that need something extra special, increase your mind-muscle connection through the lats by manipulating your neck and head position as you pull and stretch. As you ride the eccentric contraction up with the V-bar, slowly bring your neck into a flexed position as your arms extend overhead. This will really open up some of the gnarly tissues inserting onto the superior and medial portions of the shoulder blade and feel amazing. As you pull down, your neck should remain neutral.

3. Dumbbell Bench Press

Use the traditional dumbbell bench press to gain some transferrable mobility into the anterior upper body and chest. Before you start, pay attention to the bench setup to avoid any unwanted impingement during this movement. Incline the adjustable bench slightly (a notch or two) to avoid crunching the shoulder into internal rotation at the bottom portion of the press. Use this setup for any variation of the dumbbell bench press. It works well for those who have front-sided shoulder pain from years of doing the barbell bench press.

Once you're set up, use a hand position halfway between the traditional pronated grip and the neutral grip – we'll call this the 45-degree hand position. This position opens up the anterior shoulder girdle just enough to avoid irritation to some of the more acute structures that we aren't necessarily targeting with accentuated eccentrics.

Drive the dumbbells up directly over the shoulders under control and maintain torque and tension through the shoulders. Don't lose tension throughout the movement. It's easy to lose it at the top lockout. Slowly and evenly control the dumbbells down into a nice stretched position at the bottom portion of the movement. You should feel a huge stretch there. You need rock-solid form for this. Work your weights up slowly and make damn sure you don't compensate with any ugly reps.

The Fine Points of Accentuated Eccentrics

  1. Use Full Range of Motion. Accentuated eccentrics must be executed as close to full range of motion as possible to have any transferrable benefit to mobility and flexibility. The goal is to move into a deeper range of motion on each set of a specific movement and unlock your tissues for continued progression over time. We're talking millimeters here, so a little deeper range each rep goes a long way.
  2. Maintaining Stability is Crucial. Because this method works best for larger muscles, the mastery of proximal core and pillar stability is pivotal. This is an advanced training technique and you must earn the right to add these movements into your program. The ability to maintain optimal stability through the abdomen, hip, and shoulder complex is a prerequisite. The inability to do so may predispose you to injury due to being under tension for increased durations.
  3. Tempo Must Be Consistent. Adhering to the specific prescription of tempo is mandatory. One of the most difficult things for most lifters to do is sacrifice load for form, but that's exactly what accentuated eccentrics will entail when properly executed. When you start to feel failure coming on, keeping your tempo consistent and locking-in your proximal core and pillar stability is crucial for long-term mobility success.

How to Program Accentuated Eccentrics

High rep ranges and 3 to 8 second eccentrics work well. Try for a total set time of 60 seconds and work up to 120 seconds.

The negative or eccentric contraction of a lift should be anywhere from three to eight seconds. As with any movement, loading schemes should be dependent on your ability to maintain crisp, clean, technique throughout every rep of a set. Cheating reps and using momentum and jerky movements will defeat the purpose, so keep that in mind when your ego starts driving the weights up.

Accentuated eccentrics have been shown to be devastatingly effective in higher rep ranges that would most commonly be associated with muscular hypertrophy and endurance. The more reps you're able to do, the longer the time your muscles spend under tension, thus allowing them to be stretched out by the loads used. Most lifters implementing this technique for the first time do very well having a total set time of around 60 seconds, but with more experience, movement mastery and greater available ranges of motion, this number can sometimes exceed 120 seconds.

As a rule of thumb, if you're completing a movement with free weights, use gravity to your advantage. As for machines or cable setups, be sure you have enough bodyweight and leverage to maintain a neutral position throughout the movement so that you can emphasize the eccentrics instead of allowing nasty compensation or breakdown elsewhere in the body.


How do you feel about PNF stretching?

If there is a StretchLab near you they do PNF stretching.