Improving flexibility isn’t that much of a stretch: all it takes is eight minutes per week

Improving flexibility isn’t that much of a stretch: all it takes is eight minutes per week

Skip intense stretch sessions and forget pushing past pain barriers – when it comes to maximising flexibility, groundbreaking new research from the University of South Australia shows that stretching takes as little as eight minutes per week to optimise progress.

The study found that holding a stretch for up to three minutes – or eight minutes accumulated over the course of a week – was the optimal amount of time required to maximise improvements in flexibility.

Importantly, the study found that stretching beyond three minutes per muscle within a single session (or eight minutes per muscle per week) returned no further meaningful benefit in flexibility. And that stretching to the point of discomfort or pain was entirely unnecessary, as it added no further benefit.

Infographic

UniSA researcher Dr Lewis Ingram says this is the first study to identify optimal parameters for stretching.

“Static stretching - where you lengthen a muscle and hold this position for a predetermined amount of time - is the most common type of stretching and is considered a very safe and effective form of stretching,” Dr Ingram says.

“It is used extensively by sports medicine practitioners and coaches to improve flexibility for rehabilitation and performance, but despite this, there is no consensus about the optimal dosage parameters for increasing flexibility.

“In this study we wanted to find out how long, how hard, and how often should someone stretch to increase their flexibility?

“By systematically reviewing and meta-analysing data from 188 studies consisting of 8095 adults from 25 countries (representing six of the seven continents), we found that a single session of static stretching leads to a moderate increase in flexibility; and that longer-term static stretching training – regularly undertaken over a few weeks or more – leads to a larger increase in flexibility.

“These improvements occurred irrespective of the specific muscle group, the intensity of the stretch, the person’s sex, their health or training status, and the frequency of weekly stretching sessions or overall length of the intervention.

“But the surprising factor was that improvements in flexibility ‘maxed-out’ at three minutes per muscle per session, and at eight minutes per muscle per week.

“Specifically, in the case of the latter, it doesn’t seem to matter how often a week you spend stretching, so long as you accumulate eight minutes over the week.”

The researchers hope that the findings will provide simple and practical guidelines to help prescribe static stretching to improve flexibility.

Media contact: Annabel Mansfield M: +61 479 182 489 E: Annabel.Mansfield@unisa.edu.au
Researcher: Dr Lewis Ingram E: Lewis.Ingram@unisa.edu.au