Stretching: how does it work and when is it most useful?

Dehnen: Wie geht’s richtig und welche Alternativen gibt es?

Flexibility is important to be able to kneel down, for example, or take a big step to get on the tram. A healthy level of flexibility enables us to move easily and protect ourselves from injury. It can be trained with stretching exercises.

Increase flexibility with stretching exercises

Flexibility level is primarily due to genetics, gender, age, body shape and physical activity. But flexibility can also be trained in the same way as stamina or strength.

Difference between stretchability and joint agility

Flexibility is the ability to perform movements at will, using your joints to their optimal extent. This needs two things:

  • The ability to stretch: how far can you move your muscles, tendons, ligaments, capsules and fascia?
  • Agility in the joints: how far can the bone structure move? (including the range of movement throughout the bony joints)

When to stretch?

Even though the effect and practice of stretching is controversial and opinions have changed over the years, many people have had positive experiences with stretching and use the exercises to either prepare their bodies for training, to regenerate afterwards, or simply to relax. Before stretching, it’s advisable to warm up for 5-10 minutes.

Stretching before training

Stretching before sport is called active-dynamic stretching. Active-dynamic stretching involves alternating between stretching and relaxation at approximately one-second intervals. The exercises are repeated 8-12 times and should be performed without momentum. Alternatives to stretching include mobility exercises, such as swinging the arms or circling the hips.

Stretching after training

Stretching after sport, on the other hand, is called passive-static stretching. Once in the correct starting position, the slow continuous stretch can begin. Avoid rocking. The position is held for 20-30 seconds on each side. The breath is calm and steady (no strong exhales) and full concentration is given to the muscle group in question.

Online training for pain

Ease tension

Try out the medicalmotion app for free for a week.

View offer

Alternatives to traditional stretching

Flexibility can also be improved using a foam roller to exercise the fascia. By exercising your fascia on a regular basis, you’ll stay fit, become more flexible and train your muscles at the same time. Yoga or tai chi are also good ways of boosting flexibility. In the same way, targeted strength training at home, performed across the whole spectrum of joint movements, will lead to greater flexibility, whatever your age.

Studies have shown that athletes who performed strength training in parallel to static stretching improved their flexibility most.

The positive effect of stretching

  • Enables more freedom of movement and improves posture
  • Increases physical and mental relaxation
  • Relieves muscle tension and aches
  • Can reduce the risk of injury

Four tips for stretching

  1. Before endurance sports like swimming, jogging or cycling, stretching usually isn't necessary – but it can be useful afterwards.
  2. As static muscle stretching temporarily reduces strength, speed and the power to jump, it's actually counter-productive to stretch before practising strength-related sports, jogging or ball sports.
  3. As far as soft sports and the elderly are concerned, static stretching and hold-relax stretching exercises (gentle PNF techniques) are particularly useful.
  4. Athletes have said themselves that static training helps them to better transition to the recovery phase after a strenuous training session.


American Council on Exercise, 2018, Hohmann 2003, Behrends et al., 2012

What would you like to read now?

Well looked after with CSS

Ease tension
Try out the medicalmotion app for free for a week.
View offer
Check symptoms
Get a recommendation, book a doctor's appointment and much more.
Discover the Well app
Health Coach
Get personal advice on health-related matters.
Discover the service