Stretching is a type of exercise, which involves the deliberate stretching of specific skeletal muscles. Stretching the skeletal muscles greatly improves their elasticity and to maintain a comfortable muscle tone. Stretching greatly increases the range of motion, flexibility and muscle control, which contribute to overall improved physical functioning.

Aside from the improvement of muscle performance, stretching can also be used for therapeutic purposes such as in the management of cramps. Stretching the area affected usually relieve muscle cramps immediately.

Since increasing the flexibility is one of the tenets of fitness, athletes usually perform stretching before and after an exercise or sports activity. People who work out or engage in any exercise or sports for that matter also need to undertake stretching before and after each activity to significantly reduce injuries and improve performance.

With the varied point of view of experts regarding the length of stretches, the question is how long should you hold your stretches?

A basic stretch should be held for at least 30 seconds in order to be effective. A stretch of less than 20 to 30 seconds usually will not make a difference in the muscle fibers; thereby will not contribute to overall physical fitness. However, holding too long may also lead to injuries such as muscle spasticity and muscle strain.

What Experts Recommend?

Orthopaedic surgeons also recommend holding a stretch for 30 seconds and in this line, counting should begin when full stretch is already achieved instead of counting while still achieving the stretch.
The American College of Sports Medicine advises stretching at least two to three days a week in order to achieve overall fitness effectively. In addition, stretching should be done in a smooth, non-jerky manner because jerky motions in the muscles will not lead to improved flexibility and elasticity, instead, may lead to muscle injuries such as strains and spasms.

The Physiology of Stretching
When stretching is done correctly and within a desired length of time, it causes passive muscle tension on the myofibrils or the muscle fibers and not within the surrounding areas of the muscle cells. A skeletal muscle protein called titin is responsible for the development of improved flexibility and elasticity as stretches are performed.

Stretching some muscles to their fullest length is possible; however, most major muscle groups cannot be stretched to their full length without proper training. Muscle antagonists usually play a role in inhibiting stretching to the fullest length due to injury-prevention purposes. In this line, stretching should not only be done in the best length of time, but also using proper training and technique to promote improved range of motion along with injury prevention.

Aside from stretching for at least 30 seconds, it is also essential to perform stretching for 15 minutes before any physical activity or exercise to ensure that the muscles are well-adapted to the rigorous activity to be undertaken.

Despite the various benefits of stretching, it still cannot prevent delayed onset muscle soreness after a strenuous activity. In addition, various stretching techniques should be employed because no single stretching may help gain the full effects of stretching.