Stretching 101

Stretching 101 

Do You Need to Stretch at All? 

It's a good idea, says the American College of Sports Medicine. The ACSM recommends stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week for 60 seconds per exercise. 

Staying flexible as you age is a good idea. It helps you move better. 

For example, regular stretching can help keep your hips and hamstrings flexible later in life, says Lynn Millar, PhD. She's a physical therapist and professor at Winston-Salem State University. 

Two methods of common stretching are static and dynamic.  

Static stretching is holding a muscle in a given position for a set amount of time.   


Dynamic stretching is an active form of stretching using functional movements to actively stretch your muscles and joints. 

If your posture or daily activities are a problem, make it a habit to stretch those muscles regularly. 

If you have back pain from sitting at a desk all day, stretches that reverse that posture could help. 

An example of this is the following back stretch you can do at your desk. 

"Standing Cat-Camel"  

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent slightly. 

  • Lean forward, placing your hands just above your knees. 

  • Round your back so that your chest is closed and your shoulders are curved forward. 

  • Then arch your back so that your chest opens and your shoulders roll back. 

  • Repeat several times 



So if your job keeps you in the same position all day, try doing 2-minute stretch breaks to reverse that posture at least every hour. It will refresh you and your back will thank you for it! 


How long do you need to hold a stretch to get the benefits?  

Long term research has shown that people who stretch 30 seconds per muscle every day for 6 weeks were able to increase their mobility more than the people who stretched for 15 seconds per muscle for 6 weeks.  

That being said, other studies have shown that people can increase their range of motion using only 15 second stretches. 

How long to stretch appears to vary depending on which muscle groups are being stretched. 

Stretching a muscle to the full extent of your ability, and holding it for 15 to 30 seconds is 

called a static stretch. There's no harm in stretching that way as long you don't stretch 

until it hurts.  

That being said, everyone has a different interpretation of pain. Stretching feels  

good to some people and painful to others (like me). A stretch for me is uncomfortable, but  

not really painful. When stretching use common sense, try to stretch into an uncomfortable  

range, but not a painful one. 

Here's a static version of the Cat-Camel: 

  • Lace your fingers together and turn your palms to face outward in front of you. 

  • Reach your arms as far as you can, curving your back and shoulders forward. 

  • Hold for about 10 seconds. 

  • Now release your fingers, and grab your wrists or fingers behind your back. 

  • Raise your arms as high as you can behind your back without releasing your hands so your chest opens and your shoulders roll back. 



With any stretch, static or dynamic, you should feel a stretch, but you shouldn't feel pain.  

Uncomfortable, yes but not pain.  


Should You Stretch Before Exercise? 

Static stretching before exercise can weaken performance, such as sprint speed, in studies. The most likely reason is that holding the stretch tires out your muscles. 

But, you should warm up by doing dynamic stretches, which are like your workout, but at a lower intensity.  ImageImage

A good warm-up before a run could be a brisk walk, walking lunges, leg swings, high steps, or "butt kicks" (slowly jogging forward while kicking toward your rear end). 

Start slowly, and gradually ramp up the intensity. 


Should You Stretch After Exercise? 

Yes, this is a great time to stretch. 

You are more flexible after exercise, because you've increased the circulation to those muscles and joints and you've been moving them. 

If you do static stretches, you'll get the most benefit from them now. 

After you go for a run or weight-train, you walk around a little to cool down. Then you do some stretching. It's a nice way to end a workout. 


Can You Stretch Anytime? 

Yes. It is recommended that you stretch before exercise by incorporating dynamic stretches in your warm-up (as described above), and stretch after your regular workout with static and/or dynamic stretches.  

Most importantly it is important that you stretch throughout your day. 

This can be when you wake up, before bed, and during breaks at work. 

Stretching for flexibility should be a part of a regular program.

Eleanor M. Hagan, PT, MPT, GCS, CEEAA