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Stretching is one of those things that many of us were made to do before gym class in elementary school, and then again before required sports in middle school.
By high school many dropped out of sports and never stretched again, unless they were involved in extracurricular activities like dance or running, biking or karate.
And then as we reached college and then adulthood we found ourselves sitting and sitting and sitting some more while studying, reading, working, driving, and relaxing. We soon came to experience the loss of elasticity in our legs and tightening of our hips and shoulders…
And pain soon followed.
If this sounds familiar, you may have even tried to get back into exercise to be more active, to burn off stress or have a good time. But the weekend warrior exercise routine only brings frustrations. That’s because you’re not as limber as you used to be, and when you push too hard — you pay for it with pulls, strains and sprains.
Well, fear not because a recent study shows how stretching a few times per week can garner some pretty solid results that will last…
Study: Stretching method and frequency
The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research published the results of a randomized single-blind longitudinal study on the effects of different stretching programs on men and women. The study looked to assess the “Effect of stretch frequency and sex on the rate of gain and rate of loss in muscle flexibility during a hamstring-stretching program.”
For the study 53 healthy individuals (ages 18-46) were divided into four different weekly stretching protocols and a control group for an eight-week period. They wanted to see the rate of gain or loss in hamstring flexibility across the different groups, and genders.
The control group did nothing different than usual. The stretching groups either stretched: 1) every day, once per day; 2) every day, twice per day; 3) three days per week, once per day; or three days per week, twice per day.
They stretched their hamstrings the same way in each of the stretching protocol groups, for a total of four weeks. Each week they were measured for hip range of motion (ROM). Weeks five through eight saw no additional stretching, but the ROM measurements continued.
The results of the stretching groups were fantastic…
While the results showed no difference between men and women or the rates of ROM gain or loss, the six-days-a-week stretching group saw greater flexibility gains (24%) than the three-day-per-week groups (16.8%).
Each of the four stretching protocol groups showed gains in range of motion in their hips from day one through end of week four. What’s more, after eight weeks all four groups saw the same amount of ROM loss. However, all four group saw a sustained ROM improvement at week eight, even after not stretching for a month.
This lead researchers to conclude: “Stretching appears to be equally effective, whether performed daily or 3 times per week, provided individuals stretch at least 2 times each day.”
What to do
Based on these results, we can see that it is important to stretch at least twice per day, three days per week for sustained results. But these don’t need to be marathon sessions. And while the study only looked at hamstring ROM, for best quality of life results, you should stretch your whole body, from neck to calves.
There are many different approach to take when stretching, which you can read more about in “The Stretching Dilemma,” “Get up and S-T-R-E-T-C-H,” and “9 upper body stretches that relax and rejuvenate.” Here is a fun video for lower body stretching. Or try a yoga series for total body stretching.
Whichever stretching program you decide to use, make sure you do it consistently. Repetition changes your body and creates new muscle memory. Stretch one in the morning before work and again at night while watching television. Super easy!
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