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Should you stop stretching?

What happens when you stop stretching? On this website I discuss why it's important to stretch, how long to stretch, how often to stretch, the benefits of stretching, when you should stretch, etc.

But what happens when you stop? Do you lose all the benefits?

If so, how quickly?

stop stretching?

Skeletal muscle consists of a parallel elastic structure with viscoelastic properties that lend it the ability to lengthen and also provide resistance to stretching.  The lengthening that occurs can be described as elastic or plastic.

Elastic stretching that occurs is reversible. Like an elastic band the stretched structures bounce back to their original length once the force is removed. Plastic stretching causes permanent lengthening and tissues do not return to their original length. We know that stretching that occurs over long periods under low load is more likely to result in plastic stretching and elongation, but static stretches held for 30 to 60 seconds are more likely to result in lengthening that lasts a short period.


Because of the viscoelastic nature of muscle tissue we can predict that it will likely shrink to accommodate its new functional length.

After taking part in a 6 week stretching program studies have examined what happens when one stops stretching:

One week after subjects had stopped stretching the loss of range of motion in subjects that took part in the study was 27.7%(1)

After four weeks losses were as high as 77.7%.(2)
 
A study looking at subjects who stretched for 6 weeks then stopped stretching for 4 weeks and then resumed for another 6 weeks showed that gains that were lost during the 4 week period were recovered in the following 6 weeks. (3)

If you stop stretching you can be sure to regain that flexibility within 6 weeks.

 
References:
1. D Turner Starring, MR Gossman, GG Nicholson, J Lemons. Comparison of cyclic and sustained passive stretching using a mechanical device to increase resting length of hamstring muscles. Phys Ther 68(3),314-320.
2. R Willy, BA Kyle, SA Moore, GS Chleboun. Effects of cessation and resumption of static hamstring muscle stretching on joint range of motion. Orthop Sports Phys Ther 31(3),138-144.
 
3. RW Willy, BA Kyle, SA Moore, GS Chleboun. Effects of cessation and resumption of static hamstring muscle stretching on joint range of motion. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 31(3), 138-144.