Ask a dozen people how long you should hold a stretch for and could get as many different answers – There is a lot of confusion out there as to how to stretch best. So in this post I want to put the uncertainty to rest and give you a good guideline for effective stretching!
I worked with a professional league team last week and most of the answers to that question was 5-10 seconds, which as a heath professional shocked me – because I know you need to hold a stretch for at least 15 seconds to get a good effect. So were a lot of these players wasting their time? In a way, yes, and here is why:
Now just to clarify, I am just talking about static stretching (sustained holds), not dynamic or PNF stretching etc (more about these later).
There is a huge amount of research out there delving into this subject, and fair enough too as stretching is a common practice, all over the world, whether it be used by athletes, older adults, in rahab programs or in a workout session. Human movement is dependent on the amount of range of motion (ROM) we have in our joints and with so many people stretching to achieve better ROM – it is important that it is time well spent.
So, before I tell you what the best hold time is, ask yourself: how long do you think you should hold it for?
Well, the research out there do all vary a little but the message they all have in common is stretching for 15-30 seconds is just as effective as stretching for 1-2 minutes.
As an athlete myself, that is a huge relief! Being a huge believer (and prescriber) of nice long 1-2 minute holds in the past, this is really going to streamline my stretching time!
A study by Bandy and Irion looked at the difference in hamstring length after 15, 30 and 60 second stretches and found that after 6 weeks 30 second holds were more effective than 15 seconds and just as good as a 1 minute hold. In a subsequent study by these two it was also found that there was no difference between stretching 1 times and 3 times daily (I was fairly happy with that outcome!)
Another study found that stretches need to held for at least 15 seconds to have a significant effect, with no difference between 15, 30, and 60 seconds (3).
What these studies show is that static stretches need to be held for at least 15 seconds, and preferably 30 seconds in order to have good effect – I make a general rule to hold it for 30 seconds as most people tend to count a little faster when stretching!
It was also shown that a stretching regime of a 30 second stretch one time daily over 6 weeks had a significant improvement in muscle length! Showing that you really do need to persevere and those tight muscles will give in.
Interestingly a survey of major league baseball strength and conditioning coaches found that on average they encourage their athletes to hold static stretches for just 12 seconds (4). this finding resonates with my experience with high level athletes – Generally not enough time is begin spent stretching. This absolutely shouldn’t be the case as it does not take long to effectively stretch your tight muscles – and feel a whole lot better for it. Just 30 seconds on each muscle, once a day.
I think it is time you started investing that little bit of time in yourself and stretch better!
A quick note: Static stretching is best done AFTER exercise and not before. Dynamic stretching is best done before stretching.
Now get down and give me 30!
Please, share, like and comment as this is important for absolutely everyone to know!
Keep an eye eye on my up-coming posts for more on how to stretch well:
– Does stretching affect performance?