I always decide how long I’m going to stretch for based on the scenario. If it’s the end of a workout class and we have one minute to stretch things out, that’s all I’ll do. If I’m working out on my own, it all depends on my schedule. Ask a physical therapist, though—AKA someone who stretches people for a living—and they’ll have a very specific answer for how long you should stretch for, regardless of the activity.
Meghan King, DPT, a physical therapist with Spear Physical Therapy, bases her stretching routine off of actual studies. The time frame? “It’s at least a 30-second hold for static stretching,” she says, noting that studies have even shown that holding stretches for longer than that don’t give you a greater short-term flexibility boost. “I’ll do multiple holds of 30 seconds, usually three times in a row. That’s what literature says you really need in order to get those long-term flexibility gains,” she says. “Holding it longer won’t necessarily give you any more bang for your buck.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that King is done with her recovery regimen in 90 seconds flat. Her philosophy is to mark off a specific number of minutes minimum to spend stretching out her body. “For me, I tell myself that I’ll do five minutes [of stretching] before I shower,” she says. “Anything is better than nothing, and people have the tendency to hit the shower right when they’re done with a workout, but a lot of times I find that those five minutes will turn into longer once I get going.” So the five-minute time hold ensures she can give her muscles a mini-TLC sesh, even in a time crunch—a trick I’m stealing, ASAP.