Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific exercise. This month we’re taking a look at a recent debate on the issue of static stretching – how long should you hold a stretch for and does static stretching have a negative impact on your athletic performance?

How Long Should You Stretch For?

There are many, many benefits to incorporating a flexibility training concept to part of your workout routine (shoot, if you’re not aware of them by now, it’s time you read up on it. There’s also several different stretching techniques that all have their own special benefits. We’ve already covered all of the different types of stretching in another post, so you can read about that here.

As far as stretch time is concerned, we’re going to be talking about how long you should hold a stretch for when it comes to the method of static stretching. Static stretching is the type of stretching most of the general public probably thinks of when it comes to stretching: taking a position (as reaching down to touch your toes) for a fixed amount of time – but how long should you hold that stretch for?

How Static Stretching Works

Static stretching works by using a concept of autogenic inhibition. When a muscle is held in a stretched position for a fixed amount of time, a part of the muscle called the golgi tendon organ is activated and causes the muscle to “relax.” To get even more benefit from a static stretch, a person can contact the opposing muscle groups, and illicit an even better stretch of the focus muscle group. For example, while holding a kneeling hip flexor stretch, you can contract your glutes (your butt) to allow for more of a stretch within your hip flexors – but that’s not really what you care about. You’re here to find out how long you should hold a stretch for.

How Long Should You Hold A Stretch?

There have been quite a few studies done on the duration of how long a stretch should be held for and overall the consensus seems to be for at least twenty seconds. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) conducted a review of over 4,559 articles pertaining to stretching duration. Of their stringent criteria, 106 studies were selected and four different subcategories were created:

1. Static stretching for less than thirty seconds
2. Static stretching for thirty to forty-five seconds
3. Static stretching for one to two minutes
4. Static stretching for longer than two minutes

The Findings Based On Research On The Time Spent Holding A Stretch:

1. Holding a stretch for less than thirty seconds did not have a negative impact on speed, strength, or power.
2. Holding a stretch for thirty to forty-five seconds also did not have a negative impact on speed, strength, or power.
3. Holding a stretch for anything longer than one minute did have a negative impact on speed, strength, or power.

The Bottom Line On Holding A Stretch

When it comes to holding a stretch for a specific amount of time, aim for holding a stretch for a specified amount of time between thirty to sixty seconds before exercise. Anything longer than that can effect your athletic performance. On a side note, it’s also important to take into consideration which muscle groups you are stretching – holding a stretch on muscle groups that are already in a lengthened state can impair performance. Which is just another reason to see a fitness specialist for a proper body mechanic evaluation.

Sources:

1. Blazevich, A. Kay, A. “NASM Research Update. Effect Of Acute Static Stretching On Maximal Performance: A Systematic Review.” National Academy Of Sports Medicine. 2012. Web. 1 January 2015.
2. What Are The Different Types Of Stretching?
3. Clark, M., Corn, R., Lucett, S. NASM Essentials Of Personal Training. National Academy Of Sports Medicine. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2008. Print. 144-148, 153-154.