Guidelines for Stretching to Increase Flexibility
The benefits of stretching to increase flexibility are well known, but there are a lot of questions when it comes to the ideal way to stretch. This article attempts to address some of these questions to optimise your stretching program.
How Long Should I Hold a Stretch For?
A stretch should be held for anywhere between 15 and 30 seconds. Studies have shown that any less than this has little effect on improving flexibility and holding a stretch any longer than 30 seconds has no further increase in flexibility.
When Is The Best Time To Stretch?
The best time to stretch is when the muscles and body is warm, such as after exercise or following a general warm-up prior to exercise so there is adequate blood blow around the body.
Does Stretching Reduce My Strength?
Stretching has been shown to decrease strength acutely for up to an hour following stretching. However this is more the case when a stretch is held for longer than 60 seconds. Therefore it is recommended that if stretching is required prior to exercise it should be held for 15 – 30 seconds as this is beneficial at increasing flexibility and won’t compromise performance through loss of strength.
Will Stretching Prevent Muscle Soreness?
Stretching after a workout will not prevent muscle soreness the next day as some people believe. Soreness following intense exercise is actually the result of micro tears in the muscle fibres which are then repaired during recovery, which is how muscle mass and strength is increased.
For more on the benefits of stretching and flexibility please refer to our previous blog post on this topic:
Written by Jack Hickey
Exercise Physiologist at MD Health
Flexibility- Correct Stretching Techniques Benefits and Myths
Flexibility refers to a joints ability to move through its full range of motion. Both muscles and ligaments, which attach around a joint, can influence a person’s ability to stretch into different positions. Now don’t compare yourself to the person next to you who is able to touch their hands on the floor without any warm up, as some people due to laxity (stretchiness) in their ligament are genetically advantaged. However, that’s not to say that correctly stretching over a period of time can’t change your current flexibility.
Being more flexible has many benefits.
- Joints that can be worked through their full range of motion allow increased biomechanical performance and decrease the risk of injuries.
- Can reduce muscle soreness and fatigue, especially after one of our tough sessions!
- Aid in promoting better posture, especially after those long days at work.
- Allows greater health of your muscles and joints; stretching assists by increase the amount of blood to that area which contain vital nutrients that keep muscles healthy, and lubricate your joints.
The Flexibility Program at MD Health is tailored specifically to stretching major muscle groups in your body in the most efficient and effective way. In order to get the most effective stretches there are a couple of guidelines that need to be followed.
- Never stretch when the body is cold!
- Studies have shown that when a muscle has not been subjected to a correct warm up, it can in fact make them more susceptible to injuries such as muscle tears.
- It should never be painful!
- Stretching to the point where “you can really feel it” can also increase your change of both damaging the muscle and the joints themselves. A great analogy is referring to an elastic band. If you take muscle being the elastic band and you stretch it really quickly and tightly, when letting go it actually contracts at a faster rate and is more likely to get even tighter than it already was. The same works with your muscles. It can also put great stress on the ligaments that surround your joints, which once stretched and loosened cannot be made tighter!
- Stretching should be GENTLY held from anywhere between a minimum of 20 seconds to 2 minutes.
- Going back to the elastic band analogy it is a lot better to slowly stretch it over a long period of time. Muscles react in the same way. A prolonged period of gentle and stained stretch will allow the muscle to loosen without cause unnecessary stress or unwanted damage.