How long to hold a stretch?

I commonly get asked the question, “How long should I stretch for?” and “What type of stretching should i do?”

While the research is still out on whether or not stretching is “good” for you, it isn’t a bad thing to do.  There are two types of stretching; Static and Ballistic.  Static stretching is a held stretch, like bending over and touching your toes.  Ballistic is a bouncing type stretch, like bending over to touch your toes and bouncing to try and reach them.  The Ballistic stretch can cause injury so be careful when trying that out.

The following will explain how Static stretching works and how Ballistic stretching can be dangerous:

The AnatomyMuscle Stretching

  • Muscle
  • Golgi Tendon Organ
  • Muscle Spindle

It is important to understand how these three components of a muscle work together.

Static Stretching

First: Stand up and bend over, stretching your hamstrings (the muscle group on the back of your leg)

Second: You should feel a point where it starts to hurt (that stretching feeling).

During this moment your Golgi Tendon Organ goes into protection mode.  It is basically telling your brain that you need to stop stretching.  This signal forces the Muscles to contract, thus giving you the sensation of pain.

Third: Hold this position, where you feel a little “stretch” for at least 6 seconds.  Stand up and then bend over again.  You should notice more flexibility in yr .

If you hold this position for longer than 6 seconds the Muscle Spindle, a group of mechano receptors (receptors sensitive to change in distance) surrounding the muscle fibers, messages the Golgi Tendons Organ to relax a bit.  The Golgi Tendon Organ agrees and then allows you to stretch further.

Forth: If you keep repeating step three hold the stretch for 6 seconds and then stretch further, hold, stretch, hold.  You will see how much more “flexible” you are from when you started.


Ballistic Stretching

If you did the ballistic stretch mentioned earlier, bending over and touching your toes while bouncing, you may have noticed you stretched further than when you did the static stretch.  Knowing what we know about how the Golgi Tendon organ is suppose to signal to you to stop stretch why does it not activate in the Ballistic Stretch?

The answer to this is that we don’t give it time to react.  By bouncing you don’t give the Golgi Tendon Organ time to protect you.  This is why some people have been injured during this type of stretch.  They basically bounced to far!

An interesting example of how strong the Golgi Tendon Organ response can be: On occasions when people roll their ankle the muscle known as the Fibularis (Peroneus) Brevis tries extremely hard to keep you from rolling.  This reflex fires so hard that it can rip a piece of your bone off the head of the fifth metatarsal, the top of the pinky toe bone. This is known as an avulsion fracture.

I hope this has helped you understand how stretching works.  If you have a favorite stretch, please let me know by commenting below.  We will work it into one of our videos.

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