How long should you stretch for to see improvement?
Firstly, I think we should start with defining flexibility, in particular, compared to the word mobility.
Flexibility is the range of motion (ROM) that your body can move through.
Mobility is the control or strength you have within that ROM.
So now, understanding this, what we will discuss is going to include stretching techniques including static, PNF and ballistic stretching and how they impact flexibility as opposed to Functional Range Conditioning and using strength training to improve mobility.
I believe there are 2 main aspects to improving flexibility. That is duration of stretch and how often you should stretch.
In a systematic review of variances in stretching there was shown to be a significant difference in the increase of ROM between static based stretching (20.9% increase), PNF (15% increase) and ballistic stretching (11.4% increase) long term. There was no statistically significant difference in short term ROM gains (short term meaning within the stretching session itself).
In short, this means that static stretching still plays a major role in improving flexibility, particularly long term.
“So if static stretching plays a vital role, how long should we hold it for each time?” I hear you ask… Good question.
The review found that there was no statistical advantage to how long you held the stretch each week. ROM increased approximately the same amount between 30-60 seconds holding the stretch and saw no advantage to holding it for longer than 60 seconds. (under 30s showed less ROM achieved).
What was found to be of great importance was the duration of time spent per week on the muscle groups being stretched.
The review split the study’s durations into 1-5 min/week, 5-10 min/week and 10-15 min/week. There was a significant difference in ROM achieved over a 4 week period between the 1-5 group and the 5-10 group. However there was no significant difference between the 5-10 and 10-15 group.
So what does that mean and how can YOU apply it?
To improve your hamstring flexibility or front rack position for example, you need to hold a stretch for between 30-60s each time you stretch and you need to accumulate between 5-10 mins on that stretch each week. I’ll share an example flexibility rep scheme below using a standing hamstring stretch (leg up on the box in front).
Monday – 3 x 45s each leg.
Your rest should be 60s between stretches, so the time spent stretching the opposite leg and then changing sides is the rest.
Wednesday – 3 X 45s each leg.
Friday – 3 X 45s each leg.
This creates a total of 6 minutes and 45s working on your flexibility, doesn’t take long right?!
Follow this format for 4 weeks and you should see on average a 20% increase in ROM. This can be applied to any static stretching you want to do and see an improvement in.
If you’re not sure what stretches you should be doing, please, ask myself or one of the coaches here at BODICOMPLETE.