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?
A recent article in the International Journal of Sports Medicine (2018) looked at the most effective type of stretching to improve range of motion. Guess which intervention won? Sometimes the fanciest stretch isn't always the most effective one. What do you guys think? Do you still use static stretching for your training and rehab? . #physicaltherapy #stretching #yoga #PNF #static @championptp
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?
Big fan of this new article on stretching. I always see so many weird recommendations for duration of stretching without any real reason why. This article was great because it showed what stretch durations, frequencies and types were most effective for improving range of motion. Lucky for us, 30-60 seconds of stretching was as effective as other time durations (60-120 seconds and >120 seconds). Looks like we can stretch a bit less and still get a similar effect. @powermonkeyfitness @championptp #stretching #stretch #yoga #physicaltherapy #exercises
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?
Another cool graph to help people figure out how often they should stretch. This graph shows that more frequent stretching (6 days per week) performed better then 2-3 days per week. It also showed that 7 days of stretching per week was not better then 5 days per week. To recap, this article showed that 5-10 total minutes of stretching per week seems to be the sweet spot for stretching and static stretching tends to beat out other methods of stretching for improving range of motion. #stretch #stretching #flexibility #flexible #yoga #mobility #physicaltherapy
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.
Really enjoyed reading this article. One variable they looked at was how much total stretch time per week was needed to maximize improvements in flexibility. What they found was that a minimum of 5 minutes was needed to cause a significant change. 5-10 minutes was the sweet spot. Stretching greater then 10 minutes per week was no more effective then 5-10 total minutes. Next time you have someone with a flexibility issue let them know that a good dosage to start with is 5-10 total minutes of stretching spread out over 5 or more days of the week. @championptp @powermonkeyfitness #physicaltherapy #stretch #yoga #mobility #flexible #flexibility #stretching
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.
Dan Pope DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF L1