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For other uses, see Stretching (disambiguation).
A stretching Siberian tiger

Stretching is a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle's felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone.[1] The result is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion. Stretching is also used therapeutically to alleviate cramps.[2]

In its most basic form, stretching is a natural and instinctive activity; it is performed by humans and many other animals. It can be accompanied by yawning. Stretching often occurs instinctively after waking from sleep, after long periods of inactivity, or after exiting confined spaces and areas.

Increasing flexibility through stretching is one of the basic tenets of physical fitness. It is common for athletes to stretch before and after exercise in an attempt to reduce risk of injury and increase performance,[3] though these practices are not always based on scientific evidence of effectiveness.

Stretching can be dangerous when performed incorrectly. There are many techniques for stretching in general, but depending on which muscle group is being stretched, some techniques may be ineffective or detrimental, even to the point of causing tears, hypermobility, instability, or permanent damage to the tendons, ligaments, and muscle fiber.[4] The physiological nature of stretching and theories about the effect of various techniques are therefore subject to heavy inquiry.

Although stretching is part of some warm-up routines, a study in 2013 indicates that it weakens muscles in that situation.[5]


Studies have shed light on the function, in stretching, of a large protein within the myofibrils of skeletal muscles named titin.[6] A study performed by Magid and Law demonstrated that the origin of passive muscle tension (which occurs during stretching) is actually within the myofibrils, not extracellularly as had previously been supposed.[7] Due to neurological safeguards against injury, it is normally impossible for adults to stretch most muscle groups to their fullest length without training due to the activation of muscle antagonists as the muscle reaches the limit of its normal range of motion.[4]

Types of stretches[edit]

Football player Luis Suárez stretching prior to a match
Assisted stretching may be performed when the athlete is unable to stretch optimally unassisted. For example, during cramp of the calf muscles assistance in stretching out the muscles may help.

There are four different types of stretching: ballistic, dynamic, SMF stretching, PNF stretching, and static stretching. Ballistic stretching is a rapid bouncing stretch in which a body part is moving with momentum that stretches the muscles to a maximum. Muscles respond to this type of stretching by contracting to protect itself from over extending. Dynamic stretching is a walking or movement stretch. By performing slow controlled movements through full range of motion, a person reduces risk of injury. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is a type of stretch for a particular muscle and its specific job, so resistance should be applied, then the muscle should be relaxed. Static stretching is a type of stretch whereby a person stretches the muscle until a gentle tension is felt and then holds the stretch for thirty seconds or until a muscle release is felt, without any movement or bouncing.[3]


A roller derby athlete stretching.

Although many people engage in stretching before or after exercise, the medical evidence has shown this has no meaningful benefit in preventing muscle soreness.[8]

Stretching does not appear to reduce the risk of injury during exercise, except perhaps for runners.[9] There is some evidence that pre-exercise stretching may increase athletes' range of movement.[9][10]


Main article: Flexibility (anatomy)

Some people are more flexible than others as defined by individual body flexibility score; this includes sex differences where females are generally more flexible than males.[11]


  1. ^ Weerapong, Pornratshanee; Hume, Patria A.; Kolt, Gregory S. (2004). "Stretching: Mechanisms and Benefits for Sports Performance and Injury Prevention". Physical Therapy Reviews. 9 (4): 189–206. doi:10.1179/108331904225007078. 
  2. ^ Dagenais, Marc (December 2011) Softball Training Tips – Do you know how to stretch?
  3. ^ a b Prentice, William E. (2003) Principles of Athletic Training, McGraw Hill, ISBN 0071092552.
  4. ^ a b Tsatsouline, Pavel (2001). Relax into stretch: instant flexibility through mastering muscle tension. Dragon Door Publications. ISBN 978-0-938045-28-1. 
  5. ^ "Stretching before workout may weaken muscles, impair athletes: studies | Health | Life | National Post". Retrieved 2013-05-21. 
  6. ^ Molecular origin of the hierarchical elasticity of titin: simulation, experiment and theory. Jen Hsin, Johan Strümpfer, Eric H. Lee, and Klaus Schulten. Annual Review of Biophysics, 40:187-203, 2011.
  7. ^ University of California Regents > Muscle Physiology – Types of Contractions.
  8. ^ Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ (2011). "Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise". Cochrane Database Syst Rev (Systematic review) (7): CD004577. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3. PMID 21735398. 
  9. ^ a b Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, McHugh M (2016). "Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review". Appl Physiol Nutr Metab (Systematic review). 41 (1): 1–11. doi:10.1139/apnm-2015-0235. PMID 26642915. 
  10. ^ Page P (2012). "Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation". International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 7: 109–19. PMC 3273886Freely accessible. PMID 22319684. 
  11. ^ [medical citation needed]"11 Tips for Safe, Efficient & Effective Stretching". Retrieved 17 February 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Andersen JC (2005). "Stretching Before and After Exercise: Effect on Muscle Soreness and Injury Risk". Journal of Athletic Training. 40: 218–220. 
  • Anderson, Bob. "Stretching: 30th Anniversary Edition". Shelter Publications (2010)
  • Cheung Karoline, Hume Patria A., Maxwell Linda (2003). "Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Treatment Strategies and Performance Factors". Sports Medicine. 33 (2): 145–164. doi:10.2165/00007256-200333020-00005. 
  • LaRoche D, Connolly DAJ (2006). "Effects of Stretching on Passive Muscle Tension and Response to Eccentric Exercise". American Journal of Sports Medicine. 34 (6): 1000–1007. doi:10.1177/0363546505284238. 
  • Shrier, Ian. "When and Whom to Stretch?" Physician & Sportsmedicine 33.3(2005): 22–26.