The Science of Stretching

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Huberman Lab #76 Improve Flexibility with Research Supported Protocols


Along with my twice weekly yoga at Yyoga, I have also been focusing more on stretching in general. If there is something I would want to ingrain into any young athlete, it would be the importance of stretching after your workout.

I am convinced that one of the reasons I am so inflexible is due to a lack of stretching when I was younger after any athletic activity. A quick quad stretch along with a speedy touching of the toes, was about the limit of my stretching after a 90 minute football match.

As we get older, we are hit with the realisation that our bodies do not move like they used to. I would suggest that most people in their fifties are acutely aware of their limited range of motion. The good news is, according to scientific research, this can be reversed.

Andrew Huberman as always explains in great detail the science of stretching, backed up with multiple research papers. And as with many health related topics, there are a lot of nuances to unravel. This is why he and his ilk are so valuable, as he helps the layman untangle the deluge of data.

Types of Stretching

There are four types of stretching:

  • Dynamic: This is active movement which continually moves the muscles and joints through a full controlled range of motion.
  • Ballistic: Similar to dynamic stretching, but using momentum to bounce in and out of a stretched position.
  • PNF: This is more of a static hold, while using muscle contractions and relaxing to activate the muscles.
  • Static: Stretching the muscle in a single position and holding that position.

Best Stretch to Improve Flexibility

The question therefore is; what type is best for improving flexibility, and what is the protocol for this? Fortunately Andrew disentangles all of the data to conclude that the best stretch for improving flexibility is actually static stretching. 

Dynamic and ballistic stretching are the best forms of stretching prior to exercise as part of your warm up routine. But for a pure stretch session, or post workout stretch, studies show that static stretching is the best.

Stretching Protocol

Further good news is a science based protocol which returns the best results. Which for ease of reference is:

  • Hold each stretch for 30 seconds
  • 2 to 3 sets of stretches per muscle
  • It is assumed approximately 60 seconds between stretches
  • 5 days per week
  • 5 minutes per muscle per week

How to Stretch

This is something which I have not read in many places, but makes so much sense. Something which is almost certainly intuitive when you are young, but disappears as we age. 

And that is the importance of flexing the opposite muscle to the one which is being stretched.

As an example; when stretching the hamstrings, you should flex your quads.

Learning this again was a little frustrating as I had always struggled to find the stretch in my hamstrings. It just always felt like the stretch was at the back of my knees. But with this simple change, I begin feeling my hamstrings stretch, and have noticed a difference in a rather short period of time.

As well as the above invaluable information which Andrew explains in deep clear detail, you will also learn:

  • How flexibility improves physical movements and helps prevent injuries.
  • Why stretching decreases inflammation and improves exercise recovery.
  • Why improved flexibility could potentially slow the progression of certain diseases.
  • The biology of flexibility including the neural mechanisms that sense stretch and load.
  • How this stretch and load coordinates with the brain to control limb range of motion.
  • Why micro stretching is more rewarding than full range of motion stretching.
  • And as always, much much more……..

Get stretchy everybody. It could very well add years to your life, and will for sure make your body feel more comfortable.

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