How long should I hold a stretch?

This seems like a simple enough question right?  

Yes and no.  As a general rule you should hold a stretch for as long as the muscle takes to react to the stretch.  This can vary based on how often you stretch and what your goal is when stretching.  

There are a lot of stretching techniques out there : Plyometric stretches, Dynamic Stretches, Ballistic stretches, PNF stretching, Static stretching, etc.  

What we are discussing here is the classic static stretch, where a position is held putting a muscle on tension to the point of a stretching sensation.     

Before participating in a sport you should hold a stretch less than 15 sec, so dynamic stretches are best.  If you hold the muscle for a long stretch this causes the muscle to relax, which is good for improved flexibility, but you also cause the muscle to be less reactive for sports and sports performance can be affected by this relaxation of the muscle.

For a static stretch to gain muscle length when you are not about to participate in a competitive sport:  The greatest change in ROM with a static stretch occurs between a 15-30 sec hold.  However there is research that states individuals over 60 should hold a stretch for 1 min or longer since the muscle can take longer to react.  

According to Harvard Health 

  • For optimal results, you should spend a total of 60 seconds on each stretching exercise. So, if you can hold a particular stretch for 15 seconds, repeating it three more times would be ideal. If you can hold the stretch for 20 seconds, two more repetitions would do the trick.

Stretching is a very important part of injury prevention.  Adults and teens should incorporate stretching into their routine at least 2-3 times per week to prevent injury.

To simplify all this information:  

If you are warming up for an athletic event you should keep your stretching under 15 seconds. 

As a general rule when stretching try to hold the stretch between 15- 30 sec for 2-4 repetitions.  

There is benefit to be had from stretching for 1-2 minutes especially after the age of 60 but if you are stretching more often you will not need to hold the stretch as long to get the muscle to react.  

Our Injuries & Conditions resource is for informational purposes only.  Do not diagnose, self treat, or attempt any exercises from the content on this site without contacting Ability Physical Therapy, your physician or a qualified specialist first.