How Long Should You Hold Stretches?

Q I was told to hold stretches for up to 15 minutes. I was surprised by the length of these stretches, as I’ve always been told that you should do stretches in three sets of 30 seconds. Which is this right?

A Of all exercises, stretching is most open to interpretation. People can be told to hold stretches from “a few seconds” to “a few minutes”, and very definite time periods in-between. There is a body of evidence that suggests stretch receptors disengage after approximately 30 seconds of stretching. The standard 3 x 30 seconds on that basis is therefore well considered. There are also some experts who suggest that if the muscle is to be stretched more specifically, then the stretch can be held for longer – up to two minutes.

It is somewhat unusual, though, to hold stretches for 15 minutes, and there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to support this idea. Indeed, it may be argued that holding a stretch for so long may actually precondition nerves (which is a bad thing) and lead to muscle spasm, which would obviously be counterproductive. So unless there is a body of evidence to support this claim, 30-second stretches may well be more appropriate.

Martin Haines is a physiotherapist and sports injury specialist

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