What is the Best Length of Time to Hold a Stretch?

Group Stretching

Have you been told that you should hold each stretch for 30-60s? Well, it is time to discard this outdated rule. Let's embrace a different concept  developed by Ann and Chris Frederick at Stretch to Win known as the "Stretch Wave." Basically, as stated in a previous post, the length of time depends on whether or not you are warming up for an activity of cooling down. 

Duration of Stretch Depends on Goals

The length of time you hold each stretch depends on the goals you have for that stretching session. First ask yourself what the session is for: is this session before an activity, after an activity, for recovery or to gain lasting improvements in your flexibility?Before a run or golfing session it is appropriate to warm up the fascia, muscles, mind and nervous system. In this case, your focus is the elastic range.

However, at night or after a light cardio session when your goal is to improve your flexibility, you want get into the plastic range. Think of the each fascial line like an elastic; when you go through the entire golf swing you want to be able move from your stance to follow-through easily and with control. Then you are going to set up for your next swing. In essence, when you pull the elastic and let it go, it returns to its resting length.The plastic range is when the fascia is actually going to change its shape in a more permanent way. This is similar to heating a piece of plastic, bending or reshaping it, then letting it cool. It will stay in this new shape. If you have scarring due to a previous injury or surgery, the plastic range will take longer to get into, so be patient.

Speed of Stretch Depends on Goals

There are several Stretch Waves. Very Slow — three slow breaths per stretch per position; Slow — two slow breaths per position; Fast — one regular breath per position; Very Fast — one fast breath per position (Stretch To Win, 2007). Warming up, go from a Very Slow to Very Fast. If you are cooling down and recovering, progress from Very Fast to Very Slow.The length of time you need to hold each stretch to gain flexibility depends on your age, current level of flexibility training and any previous injury or surgery in the fascial line. As you age, the ratio of elastin to collagen changes. With increasing collagen our fascia has less stretch. Scar tissue forms after injury and surgery; it is primarily made of collagen that is laid down in a random matrix which is tougher to stretch.Take your time when you are stretching to gain flexibility. Remember to breathe; if you are not breathing the stretch is too intense. Listen to your body, it will tell you when it is “loose”. Don’t get hung up on the amount of time. Finish the stretch when you are no longer gaining length for that session.

Alfred Ball

CEO | Practicing Kinesiologist | Certified Fascial Stretch Therapist. He founded Lifemoves in 2007. He has been a Practicing Kinesiologist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach with the NSCA for over 15 years. When he isn't helping people regain their strength and confidence to move with ease he is hanging out with his wife and young son, writing, or training for his next endurance running race. His big audacious goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

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