It’s important to stretch to maintain healthy joints and appropriate mobility for physical activity. But how long should you stretch for? And should you always stretch before exercise?
1. You have to stretch before exercise
Many people believe that if you stretch before exercising, it will reduce your risk for injury. However, there is no evidence to back up that claim. A good warm-up has more value to reduce risk of injury.
You should instead focus on stretching consistently—not just before an exercise. Try doing dynamic stretching or moving while you stretch. These stretches will not only keep muscles loose but can also increase range of motion and improve body awareness.
2. You should hold a stretch for 30 seconds
You can hold a stretch for 30 seconds, but you don’t have to. The truth is, there is no exact amount of time that you should be holding your stretch. The American College of Sports Medicine’s exercise guidelines recommend holding a stretch for 10-30 seconds, two to four times, and to stretch two to three days a week. While stretching, you want to feel moderate discomfort but not pain.
3. You can never stretch enough
Yes, you can actually stretch too much and possibly irritate your muscles. If you’re experiencing pain and stretching provides some short-term benefit but your pain doesn’t improve over time, you may want to focus on strengthening those areas instead.
It’s true that you need to have adequate flexibility for the activities you participate in, and regular stretching can help you maintain that flexibility.
4. Stretching will lengthen your muscle tissues
When you stretch, your stretch tolerance increases, but your muscle tissues are not lengthening. For example, imagine the simple hamstring test. When you sit on the ground and reach for your toes the first time, you may not be able to reach. After each attempt to touch your toes, you will get closer. This is because your tolerance of the stretch has improved—not because you have longer hamstrings. In fact, certain types of resistance training can potentially lengthen your muscle tissues more than stretching.
“Stretching can be an important component of your physical activity and well-being," Jarvis says. "Just remember to stretch consistently. When you stretch, you want to feel a moderate stretch discomfort and figure out what works best for you.”