Stretching – how long should we hold it?
by Raymond –
How long we hold stretches for optimal results is a great question! My take is very personal, it is rooted in mindfulness and listening to the wisdom withinn. This view may not be widely shared, but it has worked well for me and I invite you to consider it.
First, a tiny bit of anatomy: muscles are made up of thousands of bundles or parallel fibres (actin & myosin) that give shape and bulk to a particular muscle. They do two simple things – contract and relax – and by doing so, via the pull on their tendons, they create movement by approximating the bones to which they attach.
When we stretch after exercise, we:
- help the muscles to release & lengthen back to their physiological resting state – the Goldilocks effect: not too tight, but too lose either!
- help maintain their flexibility and range of motion, preventing undue stress on the joints;
- help shift metabolic by-products, avoiding its build up, which may cause the soreness we feel after a work-out;
- maintain an effortless posture against gravity’s pull.
What happens if we don’t stretch?
Continually contracted muscular fibres would eventually become chronically shortened and lose their elasticity and fluidity over time. This creates extra tension on the tendon of that muscle, which has no option but to transfer that pull onto the bone. This is not a healthy situation as it can cause irritation, inflammation, or full-blown injury. Ouch – that’s you back on the couch, spending money on physio and rehab!
So… how long, I here you say?
My answer, finally, is … for as long as it takes!
How do you know when it’s enough?
Listen to the stretch – hah! If you practice mindfulness, you are likely to know what I mean by this vague reply. Our lives’ daily interactions tend to happen mostly in our heads or with external devices. We use apps to dictate what, how, when, counts, reps etc… rather than tune in to what our body dictates is good for us. When you stretch, instead of looking for external “expert advice”, tune-in to your body’s innate wisdom:
Listen to your senses, fine tune your focus and breath into your belly; feel the fibres gently stretch, giving you that much-needed release. Maybe count to five very slowly, back off a little, or lean in a touch, then count to five again, listening carefully to your own body’s instructions.
Consider these two important points:
The more contracting you do, the more mindful stretching you may need to do.
The benefits of stretching do not last! According to research1, a break of 4 weeks completely abolishes the gains of 6 weeks of stretching! In other words:
USE IT OR LOSE IT!
- Willy RW, Kyle BA, Moore SA, Chleboun GS 2001 Effect of cessation and resumption of static hamstring muscle stretching on joint range of motion. Orthop Sports Phys Ther 31 (3): 138-44
- Harvey L, Herbert R, Crosbie J 2002 Does stretching induce lasting increases in joint ROM? A systematic review. Physiother Res Int. 7 (1): 1-13
15th March 2020