Before I get into it, I hope you all aren’t annoyed or bored by my fit­ness posts! As I work towards a health­ier, stronger me, fit­ness and health has started to become a much big­ger part of my life. Since my blog is where I talk about what I love, this new inter­est is only going to con­tinue leak­ing in with my beauty posts… and I have no inten­tion of chang­ing that! You’re all stuck with it now, hehe. So, the actual post: I don’t need to tell you all the ben­e­fits of stretch­ing your mus­cles, you’ve prob­a­bly heard it all before. If you engage in any sort of phys­i­cal activ­ity: walk­ing, danc­ing, jog­ging, you name it — you need to be stretch­ing to pro­tect your­self from injury. Even if you would just like to increase your flex­i­bil­ity, learn­ing to stretch cor­rectly is a must!

Lately I’ve been try­ing to improve my flex­i­bil­ity some­what, as well as my usual stretch­ing before exer­cise, and it got me won­der­ing, why 30 sec­onds? I’ve had 30 sec­onds float­ing around my head ever since I was told in pri­mary school P.E, but I’ve had a habit of hold­ing for about 10 sec­onds and leav­ing it at that. Now that I’m putting more effort into doing it cor­rectly, I thought I’d do a lit­tle bit of research into it. I’m the sort of per­son that needs to know the rea­son behind it in order for it to stick in my head and con­vince me not to cheat!

It turns out, the safest and most ben­e­fi­cial way to stretch is pretty time con­sum­ing com­pared to my 10 sec­ond “cheat stretches.” We have sen­sory recep­tors in our mus­cles called mus­cle spin­dles. These act as a kind of built-in pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism. When you stretch a mus­cle past it’s com­fort­able limit, the mus­cle spin­dles inside send a mes­sage to your brain via the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem. They let it know that this mus­cle is being stretched and that we need to be care­ful to pre­vent injury. In response, you brain tells your mus­cle to con­tract to pro­tect itself. This is why you feel that tight pain when you’re stretch­ing. So if you hold a stretch for a measly 10 sec­onds (bad bambi!) all that hap­pens is you expe­ri­ence some dis­com­fort from the con­trac­tions and that’s the end of that.

And that’s when another sen­sory recep­tor, the Golgi Ten­don Organ (GTO) comes into play. If you’ve held a stretch for too long, the GTOs pick up on it and tell your brain to let the mus­cles relax to pro­tect your­self from tear­ing any­thing. This takes some time to react though, which is the whole idea behind hold­ing it for 30 sec­onds or more. Once this mes­sage has been relayed you can feel your mus­cle relax­ing a lit­tle and the dis­com­fort goes away.

To simplify:
1. You begin a stretch
2. Mus­cle spin­dles say “CAREFUL, CONTRAAACT!”
3. Con­tract­ing mus­cles = discomfort
4. Time ticks by…
5. GTO recep­tor thinks ‘Hang on, if you keep this up you might hurt some­thing! Relax, man…”
6. Your mus­cle relaxes finally. Only after this point can your mus­cle lengthen and gain any­thing from the stretch.

So the safest way to stretch it to go right up to the point where you feel some ten­sion — DON’T try to push as far as you can — hold the stretch for 30 sec­onds at a min­i­mum (some doc­tors rec­om­mend up to 60 sec­onds) and then slowly release. You can repeat this a few times if you like, but don’t push your­self too far and def­i­nitely don’t flash­back to ‘Flash­dance’ and bounce into the stretch, that’s bad news! If you want to lengthen your mus­cle you need to get past the con­trac­tion stage so for each rep­e­ti­tion hold for 30–60 sec­onds for best results. Always go up to the point of ten­sion but no fur­ther, I’ve over­stretched plenty of times when I thought fur­ther was bet­ter and I was left with razor blade pains in my mus­cles for days after­wards! Ouchies.

Inter­est­ing, huh? So now I know why we should stretch for 30 sec­onds and you do, too. Happy stretch­ing! And one last dis­claimer, don’t for­get to warm up the mus­cles pre-stretching or you might hurt your­self. You can eas­ily warm up with about 40 jump­ing jacks or a quick jog around the room.
  • Renee

    Great post! should stretch more but I always for­get too!

    • Bambi

      Thanks! I keep try­ing to improve my flex­i­bil­ity but it just takes up so much time and effort, phew!