Stretching is always a good thing to do. It helps one feel better, both mentally and physically. Although stretching is usually not emphasized as much as other types of exercises, it is actually a critical part of any exercise program. Why is this, you may ask? Well, most cardio and strength training exercises tighten one’s muscles. Stretching helps loosen these tight muscles and helps keep your body functioning well. Stretching is also known to increase one’s flexibility, which is a good thing not only now but also when you get older. With that said, how often should you stretch?
Types Of Stretches
Before we can answer the question of how frequently you should stretch, it is important to look at the different dynamics of this overlooked exercise. There are different types of stretches. They are:
This type of stretching involves stretching a muscle to the end of its range of motion. Once you get to the end of the muscle’s range of motion, you are supposed to hold that position for about 30 seconds. Static stretches are essential when it comes to increasing the length of a muscle (7). They do this by organizing the muscular fibres in the direction of the stretching force and by relieving tension. It is advisable to do this type of stretches at the end of a workout session as they work wonders for speedy muscle recovery and increase one’s range of motion. It is not advisable to do this particular type of stretches before a workout (6). The reason for this is the fact that they are not very helpful when it comes to boosting your performance during dynamic movements.
This type of stretching involves the use of repetitive movements. They help improve the range of motion by working the muscles and joints that are going to be involved in the workout you are about to do or the sport you are about to take part in (7). This is actually a recommended way of preparing your body for a workout session, and thus one is advised to perform this particular type of stretching before a workout session. Dynamic stretches help increase circulation without really making the muscles too loose. Just like tight muscles can increase the risk of one sustaining an injury, muscles that are too loose can also do the same.
That is not all. Dynamic stretches help to prepare your nervous system by exercising the neural pathways associated with the skill. This makes this type of stretching the most recommended before a workout session, and you should look to add it to your pre-workout routine.
Ballistic stretches use repeated bouncing movements to stretch the targeted muscle groups (7). Although the bouncing aspect of this particular type of stretching may cause an increased risk of getting injured, when done properly; this is doing them from a low-velocity to a high-velocity, and doing static stretches before, it helps reduce the likelihood of an injury occurring (7). This particular type of stretches is also referred to as bouncing stretches (2).
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How Long Should You Hold Your Stretch?
Before we can answer that, there are things you need to consider before we can determine how long you should hold a stretch. The first thing to consider is knowing your limits. The body has a way of telling you if you have gone past your limit. When it comes to stretching, if you feel too much pain after stretching, just know you’ve held your stretch for too long. Knowing your limits helps you prevent doing too much as when it comes to exercises, doing more than your body can handle is an easy way of sustaining an injury (5).
Another thing to consider while stretching is giving your body enough time to relax in the stretched position. What this does is it makes your body realize you can actually do the exercise without getting hurt. It also helps lengthen your tissues safely which in turn helps increase your range of motion.
To answer the question on how long you should hold a stretch, anywhere between 10 seconds and 3 minutes is okay (5). Of course, the time differs for different people due to either different fitness levels; one might be recovering from an injury and so on. That is why we started by emphasizing the importance of knowing your limit. You don’t want to do too little or too much. You need to do what is enough for you. Doing too little means you might not enjoy the benefits of the exercise while doing too much might cause an injury.
How Often Should You Stretch?
Knowing how often to stretch is essential for your health. A randomized study was done on the Effect of Stretch Frequency and Sex on the Rate of Gain and Rate of Loss in Muscle Flexibility During a Hamstring-Stretching Program (3). The study was aimed at evaluating the effects of different weekly protocols on the rate of gain and decline in hamstring flexibility. This study took 8 weeks, and it involved participants from both genders. The study had 53 participants who were healthy and were of ages 18 to 46. The participants were each randomly assigned a stretching routine group, and some were taken to the control group.
The people in the first group were to stretch daily, two times a day. The people in the second group were to stretch daily, but once every day. The participants of the third group were to stretch twice each day for 3 to 4 days a week, and the people in the fourth group were to stretch once a day for 3 to 4 days a week. The last group, which is the control group, did not allow the participants to do any stretching (3). The stretching exercise used in this study was one-legged standing hamstring stretch. The stretching position was to be held for 30 seconds with a 10-second rest before doing another 30 seconds.
The Total Stretch Time
The total stretch time for each session was 1 minute. The participants were to stretch for only the first four weeks and were measured weekly for their hip range of motion. They did not stretch for the final weeks, but measurements were still taken during the last four weeks. The reason they did not stretch during the last four weeks was so that the study could measure the rate of flexibility decline. Hence the first four weeks were for measuring the gain in flexibility and the last four for measuring the decline in flexibility (3).
From the results, it was seen that there were no significant differences in the rate of flexibility gain and the rate of flexibility decline in all groups except the control group, of course (3). All four groups increased their hip flexibility in the first four weeks, and all had a similar rate of flexibility decline in the last four weeks. All groups were able to retain significant gains at the end of the study.
It goes without saying but the people who were stretching at least 6 times a week gained more than those who were stretching at least 3 times a week. The gender of the people did not influence the rate of the changes in flexibility. From the results, stretching was equally effective for those who stretched daily or three times a week, provided they stretched at least twice in a day. There was also no difference in terms of the stretching response across the genders even though women are said to be more flexible than men (3).
To answer the question on how often one should stretch, from the study as long as you stretch at least six times a week, you’re good. It doesn’t matter if you stretch every day or on some days.
Benefits Of Stretching
Since now you know how often you should stretch, what are the benefits of stretching?
Stretching Helps Increase Your Range Of Motion And Flexibility (5)
Being flexible is always a good thing. When you are flexible, you reduce the risks of getting back pain. Flexibility also helps treat back pain. When you have an increased range of motion, your body is able to be more effective at performing all your daily normal activities. You are also inclined to perform better in sporting events. When you have an increased range of motion, your chances of getting injuries are reduced.
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Stretching Promotes Better Posture (5)
We all want to have a good posture. A good posture helps with confidence as well as reduces the chances of getting complications like back pains.
Stretching Helps Improve The Circulation Of Blood Throughout Your Body (5)
When you stretch, blood is able to move to all the muscles, and this enables blood to provide the muscles with the oxygen they need. This helps with the overall functioning of your body. Improved blood circulation may also be important in speeding the recovery process of your muscles.
For one, while stretching, you need to make sure you target all the major muscle groups (4). Another thing you should do is to warm up first before stretching (1). This is particularly important if you are going for static stretches. Stretching while your muscles are cold can increase your chances of getting injured.
Another thing to note is that for stretches to be effective, you need to hold them for at least 30 seconds (1). It takes time to lengthen a tissue safely. You should not bounce while stretching. When you bounce you remove your muscles from the stretch position, and this prevents you from enjoying the benefits associated with stretching as well as increases your chances of getting injured (4).
The Bottom Line
How often should you stretch? As long as you stretch at least six times a week, you are on the right track. Always remember that stretching is an important exercise that you should incorporate into your workout routine. If you have a history of getting injured or are currently injured, you should consult an expert before testing the limits of your flexibility.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 6 Common Ways You May Be Stretching Wrong (n.d., aaptiv.com)
- Do I need to stretch before exercising? (2018, nhs.uk)
- Effect of Stretch Frequency and Sex on the Rate of Gain and Rate of Loss in Muscle Flexibility During a Hamstring-Stretching Program: A Randomized Single-Blind Longitudinal Study (2012, journals.lww.com)
- Flexibility: Stretch your way to better health (n.d., mayoclinic.org)
- How Long Should You Hold a Stretch? (2019, healthline.com)
- The Best Stretches for Warm-Up, Cooldown, and Everyday Flexibility (2020, openfit.com)
- Why You Should Do Stretches Every Day (And The Right Way To Do It) (2020, forbes.com)