Bodywork

Q:

How Long Should I Hold a Stretch?

I have super tight hamstrings. How long do I have to hold a stretch to fix the tightness? Do people even static stretch anymore?

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A:Thirty seconds. That’s how long the National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends holding a static stretch to lengthen a tight muscle, says Mike Fantigrassi, the NASM’s director of professional services. But like all things sports related, timing is everything.

Hold a static stretch longer than 45 seconds before you workout, and your strength, speed, and power may suffer. Why that happens, no one knows for sure, though researchers believe stretched muscles are “less able to store energy and spring into action,” writes Gretchen Reynolds on the New York Times’ Well Blog. So if you like to static stretch before working out, keep it to 30 seconds. “You get the relaxation of the muscle and some loosening without the negative effects of decreased performance,” Fantigrassi says.

Post-workout, around 30 seconds is still the sweet spot for enhancing flexibility, Fantigrassi says. Hold it longer, and researchers have conflicting views on what will happen. Some believe the benefits stop at 30, so holding the stretch longer is simply a waste of time. (Unless you’re older than 65, in which case you’ll want to hold that stretch for 60 seconds to achieve the same benefit as your younger counterparts.) Others say better flexibility and decreased stiffness come only after holding a stretch for three minutes.

It doesn’t appear that there are any negative consequences to holding a stretch, post workout, for up to five minutes. Just remember: It is possible to be too flexible. “Muscles function best at their optimal length,” Fantigrassi says. “If they’re too short, they’re weak. If they’re too loose around a joint, the muscle support isn’t going to be there for that joint, so that joint gets beat up.” So unless you’re gunning to join Cirque de Soleil, don’t stretch that hammie past its optimal length. A certified fitness trainer or coach can help you figure out your sweet spot.

The bottom line: The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends holding a static stretch for about 30 seconds to achieve better flexibility.

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