Stretching is a well-known type of moving done for many different goals. There are a variety of statistics and facts about the subject.
Stretching is a form of exercise where you stretch out muscles or tendons with a variety of movements. These types of movements are also just instinctive actions in both humans and animals.
Below you can find some of the most popular findings and statistics about this physical habit and where this data comes from.
Keep in mind that the figures below are often estimations from smaller studies and surveys. These things generally come with a lot of biases, suboptimal sample selection, and measurement errors.
In reality, some numbers will likely vary for the overall population, sometimes by a lot. Stretching is currently not the most precisely investigated area of exercise.
1. Increases flexibility
Flexibility is a fitness component that comes down to the range of motion specific joints or joint groups can do. By pushing these boundaries with exercises like stretching you can increase this range of motion (1, 2, 3, 5, 6).
In one study participants were divided into 4 groups that did different types of stretching. The group that did proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation had flexibility increases (10.6 degrees) 312% greater than the control (3.4 degrees) (7).
In another study, they compared no stretching with static stretching and dynamic range of motion stretching of the hamstrings. These last two types were done for similar amounts of time.
They measured that both the static stretching and dynamic range of motion stretching improved flexibility in hamstrings but the static stretching did so 268% more (11.42 degrees gain vs 4.26 degrees) (8).
One study implies that you generally want to aim for at least 5 minutes of stretching done at least 5 days a week to improve your range of motion (2).
Another study suggests that not resting between stretch exercises can improve the maximal range of motion more than resting 30 seconds between repetitions (9).
2. Stretching can reduce pain
One study with 96 subjects with neck pain looked at the impact of stretching exercises 2 times a day for 5 days a week for 4 weeks.
In the group that stretched they observed a significant decrease in neck and shoulder pain and improvement compared to the group that did not stretch (15).
This can be helpful in a variety of situations including if you have any muscle pain from working out, any conditions that cause pain, or just a stiff neck after a night of sleep.
3. Reasons why people stretch
Many people stretch but they do not always do this for the same reasons. As you can conclude from the previous two statistics, there are many ways stretching can improve your life.
One survey looked at 3546 submitted questionnaires. The goal was only to gather responses from individuals who were being active and regularly practicing sport or physical activities.
Of the individuals who stretched, 74.9% said they did so for recovery. 57.2% of the participants said they (also) stretched for improving flexibility (16).
4. Stretching is not always beneficial
Many people agree that there is at least potential for stretching to improve physical health. Even so, it is a myth that all types of stretching are always beneficial.
For example, long-duration static stretching (60+ seconds) seems to result in significant strength and power performance reduction (17).
Even shorter duration static stretching before a workout could have negative effects on performance, even though it is generally less than the longer duration versions and in some studies even disputed (18, 19).
On the other hand, warming up your muscles before a workout with for example dynamic stretching has been scientifically proven to be able to improve performance (20, 21). Especially in resistance training and more explosive cardiovascular-focused exercises.
5. How often do most people stretch
Finding out the exact number of individuals who stretch and how often they do it is challenging but there are some statistics available to get a better idea.
The online survey with 3546 submitted questionnaires from active individuals again offers some interesting data.
About 89.4% of the participants mentioned they did stretching in the last two years (16).
Of the participants who stretched, about 9.7% did so every day, 26.5% did so every training, 43.4% did so 1-5 times per week, 15.6% did so 1-2 times per month, and 4.9% did so 1-6 times per year.
On January the 9th, 2022 we even conducted a quick 24-hour poll on our own Instagram page with the question “Do you stretch regularly?” that could be answered with “Yes” or “No”.
184 people responded to this poll. 33.2% of these people answered yes, 66.8% of these people answered no.
6. Calories burned with stretching
For most people this next statistic is not the main goal but stretching is generally more intense than just sitting down.
This makes it so stretching burns more calories than sitting down.
The number of calories burned with stretching depends on a variety of factors. One estimation is that a 155-pound (70 kg) individual who does mild stretching for 15 minutes burns around 42 calories.
Using up more calories can help you with things like losing or at least controlling your body weight. In turn, these things can offer a wide variety of other benefits.
7. At least 5 types of stretching
Stretching is used as the name for one category of movements but there are actually a few different ways to do this activity. Some of these include:
- Static stretching: This type involves moving into a position where your muscles get stretched and then holding this position for about 15 – 20 seconds. Static stretching is generally done after workouts and can be done with or without stretching equipment.
- Dynamic stretching: As the name implies, dynamic stretching is where you do certain active movements that stretch your muscles. Examples include arm circles, leg circles, deep squats, etc.
- Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching: A type of stretching where you stretch a muscle, contract the muscle against something without moving it, stretch a little further. Usually done with a (professional) partner.
- Active stretching: Hold a body part into a stretch position by activating the opposite muscle. For example, hold one foot in the air and raise your toes to stretch your calves. This is usually done after a workout and held for about 15 – 20 seconds.
- Ballistic stretching: Ballistic stretching uses the momentum you create to stretch certain muscles. For example arm swings, leg swings, ballistic toe touches, etc. This is not always safe to do.
These are some of the most common types of stretching. What is to be considered a separate type is somewhat subjective in some cases but this does give you a better idea of the options out there.
The number of different types does make the scientific research more elaborate.
8. Most popular types of stretching
With all these different options, you may wonder what types are the most popular.
In general, most people stick to dynamic stretches like arm circles, leg circles, deep squats, etc. to warm up their muscles before exerting them.
After a workout performance, static stretching can be used to improve flexibility.
The online survey with 3546 submitted questionnaires from active individuals again offers statistics on the subject.
They measured that static stretching was primarily used (88.2%). However, to warm up, 86.2% of the participants reported doing dynamic stretching (16).
When not making the distinction between different stretching goals they found static stretching was the most popular, after that, passive, dynamic, active, contract-relax, hold-relax, ballistic, oscillations, and PNF in that order.
9. Mental benefits of stretching
Another often-overlooked benefit of stretching is that it can have an impact on your mental health too.
One study with 134 individuals looked at the impact of a 10-minute stretch session after work for 3 months. Half of these participants did the stretching, the other half was the untreated control group.
They measured a reduction in levels of anxiety, pain, and exhaustion, and an increase in levels of vitality, mental health, and flexibility in the stretching group (22).
Part of the mental benefits of stretching could be because of the impact on sleep. Another study found that stretching improved the sleep of individuals with chronic insomnia compared to doing nothing (23).
10. You can have asymmetries in flexibility
Similar to muscle strength, you can have asymmetries in flexibility. In simpler words that means that for example, your calf muscles on your left side could be more flexible than your calf muscles on the right side.
This can increase the risk of injuries and is something you generally want to avoid. Make sure you stretch each side to about the same extent.
If you do currently have any flexibility asymmetries you can resolve this by stretching one side more than the other.
11. Stretching can increase blood flow to muscle
Your blood circulation transports both good nutrients to where they can be used and waste substances to where they can get removed from your body.
One study suggests at least 5 minutes of passive static stretching for reducing stiffness, physical rehabilitation, and enhancing recovery (27).
This increase in blood flow can be beneficial but one area where it is possibly a myth that it helps is muscle soreness.
12. When do people stretch
Current general guidelines when it comes to stretching are more dynamic before a workout to warm up your muscles and after a workout if you want to increase flexibility.
The online survey with 3546 submitted questionnaires from active individuals asked their participants to get more specific statistics about this.
These respondents generally did stretching after their training (72.4%). Of the participants, 49.9% also reported stretching as a warm-up routine (16).
When you should stretch depends on a variety of factors like your workouts, workout goals, age, etc.
13. Stretching can improve your balance
Another interesting side effect of stretching is that it can improve your balance (33).
One study with 42 college students and 10 surfers observed that stretching helped the students increase their balance time by 11.4% (2-second increase). The surfers did not see any significant increases (34).
The authors note that this increased balance time could be because of the balance training in the stretching exercises and not due to any flexibility changes.
Even if that is the case, this means that you can train two fitness components with one activity.