How Often Should I Stretch?

By djpope

July 18, 2018

ballistic, dynamic, flexibility, mobile, mobility, range of motion, static, stretch, Stretching, yoga

Stretching is a pretty complex topic lately.  I think this is mostly because we’re figuring out that stretching doesn’t really do what we once thought it does.  For example we’re learning now that stretching isn’t really the best tool for reducing your risk of injury.  We’re also learning that stretching generally isn’t changing the structure of our muscles and the changes are more likely due to adaptations in our nervous systems.

We’ve also figured out that holding a static stretch (especially >60 seconds) will actually decrease strength and performance.  This has led people to start using more dynamic warm-up and foam rolling in their flexibility routines as an alternate.  Alternatively, ballistic stretching has been shown to help improve vertical jump performance when performed prior.  You can see it starts getting a bit complicated…

In reality, stretching is still effective for getting more flexible.  If you need more flexibility in your life, stretching is still appropriate (and as we’ll see maybe the most appropriate thing).

I think what’s important to first understand is whether or not you actually have a need for stretching in your current training program.  I tend to work with a lot of Olympic weight lifters and CrossFit (TM) athletes.  These folks need to be able to get into deep squats and have excellent overhead mobility in order to perform the demands of their sport efficiently.  A lot of individuals have major difficulty getting into these positions and because of this, their performance suffers.  On the flip side of the coin, large flexibility deficits can lead to a variety of compensations when performing major lifts. These compensations shift stress to different parts of the body and can potentially lead to injury.

I recently read a great article that went through our current literature on stretching to help us come up with some parameters for stretching.  It answered a bunch of great questions like, what form of stretching is most effective for gaining range of motion?  How often should I stretch?  How long should I hold a stretch for?  Here’s what was found:

1: What form of stretching is most effective for gaining range of motion?

I thought this little tidbit of information was the most fun.  Despite all of the hatred towards static stretching right now in the blog-o-sphere, static stretching still outperformed all other forms of stretching including ballistic (dynamic stretches) and PNF (contract / relax) stretching.

Now, it’s important to understand that this is mostly for longer term changes in flexibility.  If you start looking at research comparing a static stretch vs. a dynamic stretch for immediate changes in flexibility, the outcomes are pretty similar.  If we’re looking for longer term changes in flexibility, static stretching might be the way to go.

2: How long should I hold a stretch for?

The next parameter they looked at was the effect of duration on changes in flexibility.  They found that 30-60 seconds gave the same results as stretching for 1-2 minutes as well as durations longer then 2 minutes.  This probably means we don’t need to be stretching for longer then 60 seconds in a single bout of stretching for a particular muscle group.

3: How often should I stretch?

This study also took a look at how often per week was most effective for improving long term flexibility.  They found that consistency was important.  Adding more days of stretching to the week resulted in better improvements in flexibility.  What was interesting was that 6 days was the optimal dosage and greater then 6 days per week were not more effective.

This study also looked at total time spent stretching per week.  As shown below the sweet spot for changes in flexibility was a total of 5-10 total minutes of stretching per week.  More than that wasn’t more effective and less then 5 minutes per week did not lead to significant changes.

Hopefully this article can help you out the next time you have an athlete that needs more flexibility.  I think we all know that stretching can be helpful for those that need it but with this information we can be a bit better at delivering the right dosage of stretching to get the improvements we want.

Stretch on,

Dan Pope DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF L1