Stretching has a wealth of benefits, making it a valuable addition to your workout routine. However, once you get started, questions may arise.
You may wonder how long to hold a stretch, how often you should stretch, and when’s the best time to stretch. You may also want to know how to personalize your routine to suit your individual needs and goals.
This article takes a closer look at the ins and outs of stretching. Read on to discover how long and how often you should stretch, how to avoid overstretching, and the many benefits stretching can offer.
Between 10 seconds to 3 minutes
Dynamic or active stretching uses movement to lengthen muscles and get your blood flowing. Static stretches are held for a set time, which can range from 10 seconds to 3 minutes.
If you go into a stretch and get the feeling that you want to release immediately, it may be a sign that you need to spend some more time stretching this area. It’s fine to ease your way into it.
According to Joely Franklin, a Level 3 personal trainer and sports therapist, “If you can bear it, even though it may be a bit uncomfortable, go ahead and hold the stretch for 45 seconds to a minute.”
Give your body time to relax into the position
She explains that this gives your body a chance to relax into the position and lets your brain realize that you’re not going to get hurt. Your muscles may spasm a bit in the beginning, but this is natural, especially if you’re not used to stretching.
Franklin advises holding a position for up to 3 minutes if there’s an area of your body you’re working to open due to tightness, an injury, or to achieve an intense goal, such as the full splits.
Know your limits
However, you also want to make sure you’re not holding the stretch for too long. Franklin explains, “If it’s too painful when you’re coming out of the stretch, you’ve held it too long.”
She stresses the importance of understanding your limits for flexibility by intuitively connecting to your body so you know when you’ve done too much.
Stretch your body when your muscles are already warm, either after a warmup or at the end of your workout as part of a cool-down routine. Or, you can do a simple stretching routine on its own.
Doing stretches after you warm up and before you start a high-intensity activity can cause your heart rate to drop. Make sure your heart rate is elevated again before moving into your workout.
Usually, your muscles will be more open and flexible toward the end of the day, so if you’re used to working out in the evening and switch it up with a morning stretch, don’t expect to have the same amount of flexibility.
As long as you’re not overdoing it, the more regularly you stretch, the better it is for your body. It’s better to stretch for a short time every day or almost every day instead of stretching for a longer time a few times per week.
Do a 20- to 30-minute session at least three times per week. On days when you’re pressed for time, do this 5-minute stretching routine.
Increases flexibility and range of motion
Regular stretching can increase flexibility and improve your range of motion. Improving your flexibility opens up your body, releasing stress and tension. It also helps to treat and prevent back pain.
Increasing your range of motion allows your body to work efficiently and effectively, so you can:
- go about your daily activities with less effort
- perform at a higher level during sports
- reduce your chance of injury
Boosts blood flow and circulation
Getting the blood flowing to your muscles supports your body’s overall function by reducing stress and delivering oxygen throughout your body. This is especially important if you spend a lot of time sitting or have a sedentary lifestyle.
Boosting your blood flow may even start or speed up the recovery process and prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). In addition to exercise, include some of these foods in your diet to improve blood flow and circulation.
Enhances mood and well-being
Touching on the mind-body connection, Franklin emphasizes the opportunity to use a flexibility routine to tune in to yourself. She encourages her clients to “allow it to be a meditative experience, disconnect from external distractions such as your phone or the television, and tune into yourself.”
She recommends entering a rest and digest state, from which you can allow yourself to process any emotions that arise and move forward. Franklin inspires her clients to practice acceptance and forgiveness to be fully present in each moment.
Helps balance and align your body
While a perfectly symmetrical body isn’t possible, stretching can make your body more balanced, which may improve your posture and reduce your chance of injury.
Franklin explains that while you’re never going to achieve full symmetry, you don’t want one side to compensate for the less flexible side. She recommends spending some extra time on an injured or nondominant side to rehabilitate it.
As a general rule, go only to your edge and remember it can vary daily. This means that you should go to your point of sensation so that you’re feeling the stretch, but not overdoing it.
Don’t force yourself into any position. Also, bouncing while doing a stretch can cause tightness and injury. Franklin points out that “you shouldn’t feel soreness from a stretch the next day, so if you feel sore the next day you know you’ve done too much.”
Don’t bounce into a stretch — this can cause tightness and injury.
Stretching before a high-intensity event, such as a sprint, could decrease your power output and hinder your performance. However, research surrounding the effects of stretching before exercise varies, so it’s important to take an individualized approach and do what works best for your body.
Stretching is almost always a good idea, even if you only have a few minutes. You’ll feel better mentally and physically, which may inspire you to be more active. Check in with a fitness professional or friend every so often to make sure you’re stretching safely and effectively.
Change up your routine from time to time to give your body a chance to get used to different stretches. Include a few stretches that you naturally shy away from. Chances are, they target areas of your body that need a bit of extra attention.
Be careful if stretching could interfere with your injuries or health conditions, and take time to fully recover when your body needs a break. Touch base with a doctor, physical therapist, or fitness professional if you have any specific questions or concerns.