Almost everybody knows the importance of stretching. Unfortunately, few people know how to do it properly.  Specifically, how long should you hold a stretch for?  The answer is that it depends on why you’re stretching. Here are two stretching rules to keep in mind.

Rule One – Stretching Before A Workout

It’s highly recommended to give your body a warmup before engaging in strenuous activity of any sort.  In this case, you’re limbering up your muscles, not trying to improve long-term flexibility.  Given that, relatively short stretches are superior.  Don’t hold any given stretch position for more than twenty seconds.  That’s enough to bring your muscles to attention without overdoing it.

Rule Two – Stretching To Improve Flexibility

The other common reason people do stretching exercises is in a bid to improve their flexibility over the long term.  Here, short duration stretches don’t really offer you much in the way of a benefit.  Ideally, for this purpose, you’ll want to hold your stretch for as long as a minute or two. Although if that’s impractical, try to maintain the stretch position for at least thirty seconds. Done consistently and over a period of time, this will vastly improve your body’s flexibility.

The bottom line then, is that you need to tailor the stretching you’re doing to the task at hand.  There’s not a one size fits all solution and engaging in the wrong type of stretching will either not see you gain much benefit in the best case. In the worst case, it could significantly hamper your performance and increase your risk of injury.

Whatever type of stretching you engage in, it’s always important to be mindful of your body and the signals it’s sending you.  A bit of discomfort while stretching is to be expected.  If that turns to outright pain, ease off.