Fitness corner: Why consistent stretching needs to be part of your fitness routine

“Don’t ever lose your mobility, it’s what keeps you young.”—Adrian Williams, Peloton Instructor

I’m not a big fan of stretching, even though I am extremely familiar with it, personally and professionally. It’s boring, it can be uncomfortable and although it usually feels good afterward it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. This is simply because most of us won’t do what it takes to significantly alter our natural flexibility, nor is it particularly necessary as we go about our daily lives. I’m no exception!

As active and busy people, we might do a few brief stretches here and there either at the beginning or end of each workout and a couple of minutes on a foam roller before we go on about our day. But even a short set of static stretches performed consistently can make a big difference over time. It’s beneficial to incorporate a structured stretching program into your fitness program. Getting older especially has a way of getting our attention in this regard.

For starters, let’s define stretching. When I say “stretch” I mean static stretching (holding a position to lengthen muscle beyond its normal state). Stretching is a means of increasing flexibility (defined by UC Davis Health as “the ability of a joint or series of joints to move through an unrestricted, pain free range of motion.”) The purpose of maintaining or increasing your flexibility is to stay mobile (define by Harvard Health as “your ability to move purposefully as you go through your day.”) I’d add, “as you go throughout your life,” in the context of Adrian’s quote above, with which I absolutely concur.

There are other ways to address your flexibility such as dynamic stretching (doing movements that mimic the type of activity you are about to do either in your workout or your sport — most often used as a warmup) and myofascial release (foam rolling, rolling on a tennis or lacrosse ball), plus some other forms that require assistance from a knowledgeable person. In my own personal and professional experience, however, static stretching is the superior way to make a long-term difference in your flexibility. Anyone can do it, at home, alone, no special equipment required except for a timer.

I am not addressing yoga or Pilates here, which many have credited to increasing their flexibility. This is because it is often simpler to do a short series of static stretches than it is to do yoga/Pilates every day or most days. But if yoga/Pilates works for you, great!

Here’s what I will tell you about flexibility and mobility in simple terms:

1. Genetics determines our natural state of being more or less flexible.
2. We can increase our natural flexibility but it takes a consistent long-term commitment.
3. Until we notice discomfort or limitations caused by tightness or unless we have a goal to work toward, we are unlikely to carve out sufficient time to increase our flexibility.
4. Muscle tightness can lead to muscle injury and imbalance, as well as pain, and can significantly compromise our functionality.

I personally want to be able to bend over and pick up something off the floor indefinitely. (Tight hamstrings, anyone?) Achilles tendons (which attach into the back of your heel) might rupture when you least expect it. (It happens, right, weekend warriors?) Upper backs round out over time. (Our chest muscles tighten and shorten, leading to terrible posture, which can lead to many other issues such as shoulder impingement.) It’s not just about strength and balance as we age. Muscles tighten, shorten and become less elastic, potentially leading to mobility problems.

How do we counteract this natural progression?

1. Be consistent. You must stretch every day if possible. At least three times per week.
2. Be patient. You must hold your stretches for a longer period of time than you want. At least 30 seconds, preferably a minute. Yes, one minute. I recommend a timer app but your phone’s timer works great too. Start with less time and increase slowly.
3. Be gentle. Do not force your stretch. Move into a position of slight discomfort and hold. Breathe.
4. Be understanding. You will likely feel discomfort. You will likely feel restless. This is normal. You’re doing this for your greater good, and if you continue, eventually it will come to feel like a routine task.
5. Eventually your body will respond positively and the areas you are stretching will loosen. To what degree depends on your consistency. How long it lasts depends on you maintaining a stretching regimen.

You may be wondering, what stretches should I do? The simple answer is that any stretching is better than none. But even a short set of static stretches performed consistently can make a big difference over time. Even one stretch can make a big difference.

Pick one or two or five static stretches and attach them to something that is already a part of your routine, perhaps after a workout or in the evenings while the TV is on. You probably already know areas of your body that respond well to stretching. If you don’t know, stick with the basics: calves, hamstrings, piriformis, low back, chest, upper back, neck. A quick online search of “’body part’+ stretch” will bring up all the options you will ever need. If one stretch seems impossible or too painful, find another one.

If we can’t move with ease and fluidity, or we suffer from discomfort and pain caused by tightness, we are compromised in all aspects of our daily lives, currently and in the future. Make consistent stretching a part of your daily routine starting now.

— By Pritam Potts

Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.