“Go hard or go home!”
It’s a common belief that to improve ourselves in anything, we have to push ourselves to the limit constantly, seeking the next inch of progress no matter how much discomfort and pain it gives us.
And frankly, in general it’s not a bad attitude to have.
After all, most of the sales pitches promising quick gains and effortless results are horrible marketing ploys that distract us from the reality that hard work is necessary to be successful.
But just like a lot of life, there’s more to it than one extreme or the other.
This intense approach, characterized by an emphasis on effort and a relentless drive, does indeed work really well… Some of the time and usually for very short periods.
But it’s not always the most effective, especially in regards to getting more limber and moving better, and is definitely not the most sustainable. Particularly for the 95 percent of us that aren’t elite athletes, who just want to feel better in our regular busy daily lives.
Overly intense stretching often leads to frustration and setbacks rather than progress.
Which is Better – Infrequent and Intense or Frequent, Shorter Stretching Sessions?
Just as in many aspects of life, balance and understanding the nuances are key to long-term success. In this article, we’ll delve into the nuances of stretching and explore two distinct approaches
- Intense, less frequent stretching sessions
- Gentler, more consistent stretching routines
We’ll address common misconceptions and highlight the importance of personalization. As always our goal is to help you determine which method aligns best with your personal needs, lifestyle, and objectives.
Whether you’re an athlete looking to enhance performance or someone seeking to alleviate the stiffness of sitting around too much at work, understanding the right stretching strategy for you is key to achieving lasting flexibility and comfort in movement.
Edit: Just about an hour after I published this article, one of our members posted the following comment, which illustrates exactly what I’ll cover below:
Remember that just because half the internet says you have to stretch a certain trendy way doesn’t mean it’s the best approach for you.
Let’s look at why that is and what might work better…
Stretching To The Max: Effective Gains vs. Potential Strains
In physical training, it’s hard to get away from the heavily entrenched “bodybuilding” model that hinges on the concept of breaking down and building up.
No pain no gain isn’t just a mantra, it’s the very foundation of this line of thinking.
And again, it’s not wrong. To elicit significant changes in our body’s tissues (muscle, bone, tendon) there has be an intensity of stimulus that surpasses a certain threshold. And the easiest way to know you’ve done that is to go as hard as you can.
It Can Work For You If:
- You are a Type A person that thrives on intensity and pushing
- You want full days “on” and full days “off”
- You really need that 3 percent extra gain in flexibility
This approach also resonates with those who thrive on the feeling of rigorous exercise, where pushing the limits makes it feel more like a “workout”. If you know that about yourself, that you need this sensation to be motivated and be consistent, then this method just might be the ticket for you.
Do you like a structured training schedule with clearly defined on and off days? Then this can integrate well with what you are already doing, pairing intense lower body stretching with leg days, and coupling upper body strength training with equally demanding stretching exercises. It allows for focused, intense sessions followed by periods of rest and recovery, both physically and mentally.
This can strike a good balance for a lot of people.
High-intensity stretching is especially relevant for those engaged in activities that demand exceptional levels of flexibility and mobility, such as dancing, acrobatics, gymnastics, and martial arts. These disciplines often require ranges of motion that go beyond the practical, making intense stretching not just beneficial but necessary for peak performance.
However, it’s important to tread carefully here. While increasing the frequency of intense stretching sessions can be tempting, it can also lead to repetitive strain and other issues if one’s body isn’t conditioned to handle such stress.
It’s crucial to recognize your own physical limits and adapt accordingly. For some, adopting a short cycle of intense stretching—perhaps a few weeks to a month—can serve as an effective “peaking” program, pushing your flexibility to new heights in preparation for a specific event or goal.
An intense stretching regimen can be a powerful tool, particularly when aligned with specific training goals and personal preferences. It’s not an easy path though, it demands a keen understanding of one’s own body and the discipline to balance intensity with adequate rest and recovery.
Relax To Reach Further: Sustainable Gains From A Foundation Of Comfort
Now we’re into what you’ve probably guessed is the approach we prefer. 🙂
What we’ve found over the years with our clients, is that it’s best to start from a base of comfort first. This method leverages the principles of practice and habituation.
We need to teach our bodies to respond differently, to relax into stretches rather than tensing up against them.
There’s a phenomena where we tighten up when we go past our normal habitual ranges of motions. At the micro level it’s the “stretch reflex” response in the muscles themselves, where they contract as a protective mechanism. It does this to guard against forces which may injure tissue. It’s a reasonable and beneficial response when necessary, but it can be overactive and that instinctual response can hinder our attempts to become more flexible.
Globally, we can have our own instinctive reaction to stretching. If there is too much discomfort or even pain, we tense up, hold our breath and just overall not have a good time. This in turn can lead to negative associations with stretching and mobility exercises.
You’re essentially fighting yourself and there’s no winning here!
It helps so much to not get trapped in that cycle in the first place. Start with the goal of learning to develop a relaxed approach to entering a stretch. Have your main goal be relaxation and figuring out what you need to do to make that happen.
Have a conversation with your body, ask it for a bit more space and movement. Start with gently nudging right to the edge of the stretch sensation, maintain steady even breathing, and focus on letting go of tension.
This foundation of relaxation sets the stage for more intense work later if you need it, though we have found that most people don’t!
Forget skipping ahead trying to shortcut your way to more flexibility, you’ll just end up stuck on the side of the road.
Start Now And Maintain Your Momentum
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For those who prefer incorporating physical activity into their daily routine, this approach is ideal. It requires less time per session and doesn’t demand an extensive warm-up. This makes it easier to integrate into a busy schedule, ensuring consistency without an overwhelming commitment.
It’s also great when you already have an intensive main workout. It then becomes a balancing, restorative practice to complement your other rigorous training.
When it comes to practical mobility—the kind that makes everyday activities like squatting, reaching, and moving around more comfortable—intense stretching isn’t necessary.
Finding Your Goldilocks’ Zone: Not Too Much, Not Too Little
While we are saying be gentler, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any effort involved. Improvement still requires work, but it’s usually at a level that’s more manageable and less intimidating than one might expect. The key is to find that sweet spot where you’re challenging yourself enough to make progress but not so much that it becomes a strain.
Being in tune with your body and understanding when to push a little harder and when to ease off is a valuable skill that will serve you in all things physical.
For stretching, and in physical fitness in general, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The key is to find what resonates with you, aligns with your lifestyle, and meets your physical needs. Don’t be swayed by the latest trends and buzzwords. What works wonders for one person might not yield the same results for another. It’s essential to experiment and discover what feels right for you.
Whether you thrive on the adrenaline of pushing your limits or prefer gentle, daily stretches, the most effective approach is the one that you can sustain and enjoy. This likely means blending elements of both higher intensity and comfortable stretching methods and leaning more towards one than the other as you see fit.
An approach that feels like a chore or causes discomfort is unlikely to last. Instead, opt for a routine that fits seamlessly into your life, one that you look forward to and can maintain over the long term.
By understanding and respecting these individual differences, you can choose a stretching routine that not only meets your physical requirements but also enriches your life. Whether you’re an athlete or simply someone looking to move better, the right approach to stretching is one that fits your personal temperament and your needs.
Stretching + Movement for Sustainable and Consistent Flexibility Gains
GMB Mobility is a guided program that combines positional stretching with dynamic movement at a level that’s best for you. This creates practical and immediately useful functional range of motion and mobility for all that you want your body to do.