Straight from the Stretching Experts

Our pros give no-nonsense answers to all of your stretching and flexibility questions.
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Are some people naturally stiff?

“Yes,” says David Ishii, DPT, owner of Synergy Physical Therapy & Sports Performance in Huntington Beach, California. He says that even though we are all built differently, everyone benefits from regular moderate stretching to optimize their individual range of motion.

What time of the day is better for stretching?

“Later in the day is always best,” says Suzanne Martin, DPT, author of Stretching (DK Publishing, 2005), adding that “you'll also get a better stretch after a cardio workout or strength-training session, when your body is warm.” If you stretch in the morning, be sure to warm up with easy, small-range repetitive motions (also known as dynamic stretching) before progressing to the deeper stretches.

How often should I stretch?

Two to three times a week will do the trick. “You begin to lose muscle memory after about three days,” says Martin. “If you can find a way to make stretching a part of your daily routine, that would be ideal.”

Can stretching help me improve my cardio fitness?

This is a tricky one. There simply has not been a lot of research that has looked at this correlation. Common sense suggests that, if a runner, for example, had such tight hip flexors that it caused a shortened stride, an increase in her range of motion through stretching would improve her efficiency, and she could feasibly run better and longer.

Can stretching make me stronger?

In at least one recent study, women and men who were new to weightlifting experienced strength gains when they included static stretching (holding a position for 30 to 90 seconds without moving) in their training.

How can I assess and track my flexibility?

It seems that whenever people talk about how inflexible they are, the first thing they say is “I can't even touch my toes!” — and then they demonstrate by bending over and dangling their arms over their legs, fingers wiggling in the air several inches above the ground. This is actually a variation on the good old “sit and reach” test to assess flexibility. The idea is that you sit on the ground with your legs extended, and reach forward to see where your fingers land. Make a note of your range of movement and repeat the test in a few weeks to see if you've made any gains.

Keep in mind that this measures mainly your lower-body flexibility, but it's a starting point. Chances are that, over time, you'll notice simple, everyday activities becoming easier, such as bending over to tie your shoes or reaching behind you to zip up a dress. What better “test” could you want?

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