How Long Should I Hold A Stretch?

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When people think of the word ‘stretching’, they generally associate it with holding an uncomfortable position for some period of time. This is what we call static stretching. The intention of static stretching is usually to relax the tissue and improve your range of motion. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes it helps, sometimes it’s painful.

As an organization of certified Fascial Stretch Specialists, we’ve learned that it can be more beneficial to utilize slow-moving dynamic stretching while focusing on the breath. No pain. No discomfort. The result is immediate change in range of motion (potentially).

Why doesn’t static stretching typically work well?

While there can be some benefits to static stretching, we’ve actually found that holding a stretch in one position may not be the best approach and may actually prevent you from making gains in movement. Why?

  1. You target individual muscles and stretch in only one plane of motion. This is not how the body functions.

  2. You hold on to a position too rigidly which creates tension in your your body making it difficult for the tissue to relax. 

  3. You hold your breath or don’t utilize your deep breathing. Breathing should be relaxed, easy and intentional.

  4. You stretch a region that won’t let go because of protective neural tension. If you’re pelvis doesn’t feel stable, those hamstrings aren't going relax regardless of how much you crank on them.

  5. Stretching is not the solution to your problem. A thorough assessment may be necessary instead of just guessing. Just because a muscle feels tight, doesn’t mean it needs lengthening.

If stretching IS the right solution for you, try using a more dynamic approach.  

Guidelines for dynamic stretching success include:

  1. Synchronizing your breath with the stretch, for as many breaths as it takes to get the tissue to let go. Instead of counting the time, count your breaths.

  2. Stretch without pain. If you can’t keep a relaxed breath cycle, you are pushing too far. ALWAYS keep it pain-free.

  3. Target the fascia (not just the muscles - your body works as a unified network).

  4. Use traction (to create space in the joints and increase the stretch potential).

  5. Stretch in multiple planes. This is how the body works in real life.

  6. Stretch within the stretch. Use micro-movements at the end range to open up those stubborn areas.

  7. Re-test your original range of motion. You need to know if it’s actually helping or not.

  8. Train in the new range. For change to stick, your brain needs to feel safe with its new access to greater range of motion. Movement integration is often the biggest factor for lasting change and often gets overlooked.

So how long should you hold a stretch?

Let’s stop thinking about stretching for time. It’s about pairing the movement with the breath. Stretch as long as you need for the tissue to let go and relax. If it doesn’t relax, it’s probably not the right stretch for you or maybe it’s not stretching that you need.

If you’re uncertain and need some help, we can help. Book here for a thorough movement and postural assessment.

There are certainly other factors (sleep, hydration, lifestyle, etc.) to consider when trying to improve your flexibility, but this is a good start!

Always remember, motion is lotion. We encourage you to Move well. Live well. TM