I often get questions about stretching. How often should I stretch? For how long should I stretch? So I thought I would summarize the key points of evidence based stretching.
As physiotherapists we differentiate between 2 kinds of muscle stretching.
Rehabilitation stretches and conformed stretches.
Rehabilitation stretches are when you hold the stretch longer that 16 seconds. We often tell the client to slowly count to 20 ensuring that 16 seconds have passed. The reason for holding the stretch this long is that research has documented that within the muscle tendon, there is a receptor called the Golgi Tendon.
This tendon is activated once the muscle has been stretched for 16 seconds and it sends a message to the brain that the muscle in being stretched and the brain replies back that the muscle should relax. It does, which influences the tensile tension of the muscle by adversely affecting reaction time and force output. This effect is known to last for an hour.
Rehabilitation stretches are therefore NEVER advised before physical activity, but instead AFTER activity and as part of a program to become more flexible.
The stretch should be held for the count of 20-30, repeated 3 times with a 30 second rest in between. (1 set)
This kind of stretching is done as part of your warm down or your treatment regime if your physiotherapist has advised you to.
Research advocate 3-4 sets of stretching daily for maximum effect.
Conformed stretches you hold no longer than 10 seconds.
The reason is to get a sense of stretch but without activating the Golgi tendon receptor and thus affect the reaction time and force output of the muscle.
This stretch is perfect to do prior to physical activity, as it will give you a sense of loosening up without affecting your performance.
So stay safe – remember to stretch the right way!