Static Stretching Techniques: Guidance from Physical Therapists and 12 Stretches

Discover the benefits of static stretching for flexibility and pain relief. Learn effective techniques and get physical therapist-recommended stretches.

Published Date: Apr 22, 2024
woman-stretching-at-thepark

Static Stretching Techniques: Guidance from Physical Therapists and 12 Stretches

Discover the benefits of static stretching for flexibility and pain relief. Learn effective techniques and get physical therapist-recommended stretches.

Published Date: Apr 22, 2024
woman-stretching-at-thepark

Static Stretching Techniques: Guidance from Physical Therapists and 12 Stretches

Discover the benefits of static stretching for flexibility and pain relief. Learn effective techniques and get physical therapist-recommended stretches.

Published Date: Apr 22, 2024
woman-stretching-at-thepark

Static Stretching Techniques: Guidance from Physical Therapists and 12 Stretches

Discover the benefits of static stretching for flexibility and pain relief. Learn effective techniques and get physical therapist-recommended stretches.

Published Date: Apr 22, 2024
woman-stretching-at-thepark
Table of Contents

There are multiple ways to stretch, but static stretching is likely the one you’re most familiar with. You probably started doing static stretches like bending forward and touching your toes in gym class in elementary school. And you may have continued performing static stretches, like the quad stretch or knee to chest, before or after working out. 

No matter which static stretches you’ve done,static stretching increases flexibility and range of motion, according to research. Static stretching can also reduce tension, promote relaxation, and relieve pain. While it may seem like there are a lot of rules about stretching, static stretching doesn’t have to be complicated. Any amount of stretching — even a few moments here and there — can be beneficial.

Read on to learn more about static stretching, including its benefits and how to do it effectively, and get Hinge Health physical therapist-recommended static stretches for every part of your body.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Vanessa Matos, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Matos is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in treating orthopedic injuries in athletes and patient education.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

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What Is Static Stretching?

Static stretches are exercises that increase flexibility by lengthening soft tissue like muscles and tendons so you have full range of motion in your joints. What characterizes static stretching, or separates it from other types of stretching, is that you’re holding the stretch without moving for a longer period of time — usually about 30 seconds. “Holding takes advantage of a physiologic principle called creep, which is basically a slow change in muscle flexibility over time when the muscle is held under light tension,” says Vanessa Matos, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.

Static stretching is most often recommended after a workout. “When you're done exercising, your muscles are warm and receptive to stretching,” says Dr. Matos. “You can get deeper into a stretch.” But any stretching, even if your muscles aren’t warm, can be beneficial. You can do static stretches anytime to release tension or ease stiffness. A few stretches in the morning can help you to get moving. During the workday, a stretching movement break can counteract the effects of prolonged sitting. And it can also help to ease pain or soreness.

The Benefits of Static Stretching for Your Body

Stretching does more than increase flexibility, and flexibility is about more than just being able to touch your toes. When you make static stretching a regular part of your routine, here are some of the benefits you can reap.

  • Better range of motion. The more flexible you are, the easier it will be to bend over and tie your shoe, reach overhead to put towels away on a top shelf, or twist to unload the dishwasher. Being able to move through a full range of motion without pain or restriction will also make activities like hiking, pickleball, frisbee, and playing with your kids more fun.

  • Reduced muscle tension. Stretching releases tightness and stress that build up in your body and can contribute to achiness and pain. It’s particularly effective if you sit a lot during the day. “You want to do movements opposite of what you spend all day doing,” says Dr. Matos. “If you’ve been sitting with your hips bent, do something that extends your hips. If your shoulders are rounded forward over a computer, do something that opens your chest.”

  • Improved relaxation. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths as you stretch to increase the calming effect of stretching. It’s a great way to relax before going to bed.

  • Enhanced muscle recovery. “When you exercise, you're breaking down muscle fibers that then heal and make you stronger,” says Dr. Matos. “Stretching can help the healing process.”

  • Decreased pain. Tight muscles can contribute to pain, but stretching helps distribute forces in the body more equally to minimize tension and pain. Research also shows that stretching can increase your pain tolerance.

  • Improved mobility. Flexibility tends to decline as you age, but static stretching can help keep you limber and more active as you get older.

How to Do Static Stretching

Here are some tips from physical therapists to keep in mind when doing static stretches.   

  • Be consistent. “It takes time to increase flexibility, so it's important to have stretching be part of your daily routine,” says Dr. Matos. “You’re not going to increase your flexibility in one session.”

  • Warm up first. “It’s not essential, but warming up the muscles first can make stretching more comfortable,” says Dr. Matos. You can warm your muscles up before you stretch by doing some light aerobic exercise, going for a short walk, marching in place, taking a shower, or using a heating pad.

  • Keep it gentle. Stretch only to the point of mild discomfort or tension, never to the point of pain. “If it’s more than a mild discomfort, you're probably doing some muscle guarding or tensing, so you're not getting the full benefits of stretching,” says Dr. Matos. “Relaxing the muscle you’re stretching is essential to get the benefits.”

  • Don’t hold your breath. This creates tension in the muscle, so you’re not getting a good stretch. Breathe normally or practice relaxation breathing, focusing on taking full inhalations and exhalations through your nose.

  • Do what feels good to you. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all recipe for hold time and repetitions for stretching,” says Dr. Matos. “Start with a couple of 10-second holds to see how your body responds and then, as your body adapts, build over time to a couple of 30-second holds.” If you already stretch regularly and aren’t seeing progress, try holding your stretches for longer or doing more reps.

Stretches for Your Neck and Shoulders

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  • Standing Chest Stretch
  • Doorway Stretch
  • Seated Deep Levator Stretch

The above stretches target the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Tightness in these muscles can contribute to headaches and neck and upper back pain. Keeping these muscles flexible also helps improve your posture, which can prevent aches and pains.

  • Tricep Stretch
  • Double Wrist Flexor Stretch
  • Wrist Extensor Stretch

The above stretches target muscles in your upper and lower arms. Keeping these muscles flexible gives you greater range of motion, making everyday tasks easier.

Stretches for Your Torso, Hips, and Lower Back

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  • Figure Four Stretch
  • Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
  • Seal Stretch

These stretches target the muscles near your torso. Keeping these muscles flexible improves mobility during everyday movements like bending, rotating, and reaching. Even when you’re using your arms and legs, the muscles in your torso are active and can affect your range of motion.

  • Seated Hamstring Stretch
  • Quad Stretch
  • Standing Calf Stretch

The above stretches target the muscles in your thighs and lower legs. Keeping these muscles flexible can make getting around during the day easier — including getting in and out of a chair, walking, and climbing stairs.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Differences Between Static Stretching and Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is another type of stretching that looks very different from static stretching because it’s movement-based. Dynamic stretching loosens muscles and joints by taking them through their full range of motion with moves like marching in place, squats, or movements that mimic sports activities. So instead of holding a stretch, you’re doing repetitions.

While the two types of stretches are fundamentally different, some moves can be both static and dynamic, depending on how you execute them. For example, instead of holding a calf stretch for 30 seconds, you could move in and out of the stretch every few seconds to make it a dynamic stretch.

Dynamic stretches are more commonly recommended before a workout or playing sports because they have been shown to be more effective at improving performance and reducing risk of injury. Dynamic stretching increases circulation, warms up muscles, and improves mobility, preparing your body for more activity. Static stretching more often follows a workout to increase flexibility and help your body recover, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do static stretches before a workout. “Static stretching can be beneficial before an activity that requires flexibility, like yoga, martial arts, or even some workout classes,” says Dr. Matos. If it feels good to you, static stretching can be a component of a pre-workout warmup, though it’s most effective if you warm up first.

PT Tip: Consider Alternatives

“All bodies are unique, and not everybody needs to or should be stretching in the same way,” says Dr. Matos. “Feeling tight doesn’t necessarily mean a muscle needs to be stretched. Feeling tight is a sensation that can come from a number of different sources. Tightness can be due to decreased muscle length, but it can also be due to muscle imbalances, muscle weakness, or an acute injury like a sprain or strain.” For example, if your hamstrings feel tight, but you can bend over and touch your palms to the floor, there’s likely something else going on. In situations like this or when dealing with musculoskeletal pain, stretching may not be helpful, or you may need a more comprehensive program that includes strengthening, mobility, and balance exercises. A physical therapist can help you determine the source of your tightness and develop a personalized plan to help you address it.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional

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References 

  1. Bryant, J., Cooper, D.J., Peters, D.M., and Cook, M.D. (2023). The Effects of Static Stretching Intensity on Range of Motion and Strength: A Systematic Review. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 8(2), 37. doi:10.3390/jfmk8020037

  2. Støve, M.P., Hirata, R.P., and Palsson, T.S. (2021, January 11). The tolerance to stretch is linked with endogenous modulation of pain. Scandinavian Journal of Pain, 21(2), 355-363. doi:10.1515/sjpain-2020-0010

  3. Herman, K., Barton, C., Malliaras, P., and Morrissey, D. (2012). The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. BMC Medicine, 10(1).doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-75