Stretching should be part of a well-rounded fitness program. It’s believed to help you maintain optimal motion in your joints, decrease injury risk, and even reduce stress levels.
In addition to these benefits, you may be curious whether stretching burns calories, tones your body, or aids with weight loss.
This article describes different types of stretching, how many calories stretching burns, how it may affect weight loss and muscle toning, and tips on how to get started.
Stretching involves moving a joint through its full range of motion.
Some stretches hold the end range of a move for longer, while others hold the end range only for a moment. In addition, some forms of stretching involve contracting your muscles during the movement, while others call for your muscles to remain passive.
Regardless of the type, stretching can increase your flexibility. In turn, this can help you (
- achieve or maintain full movement
- improve certain injury symptoms
- reverse the effects of sustained positions like sitting
Stretching involves moving your joints through their full range of motion. It can increase flexibility and reverse the effects of injuries.
Although you may think of stretching as just one thing, there are actually many types to consider.
Active and passive static stretching
Static stretching is the most well-known type. It involves moving your joints to the end range of motion — which may come with slight discomfort — and holding the pose for a specific period.
Static stretches are typically performed at the beginning of an exercise routine as a warmup and at the end for a cooldown (2).
There are two types of static stretches: active and passive.
Active stretching involves contracting the antagonist (opposing) muscles to hold a max stretch position. The antagonist muscle is the one that’s lengthening during a movement.
For example, an active stretch would be lying on your back and lifting a straightened leg overhead, then holding it in the max position. This is usually performed for fewer than 30 seconds.
Meanwhile, passive stretching is more common. It involves holding a joint in a lengthened position using a stable object, gravity, strap, or another device to maintain the position without active muscle contraction.
Dynamic stretching involves the gradual controlled movement of a joint toward the limits of its range of motion.
These movements tend to be similar to exercise movement patterns. For that reason, they tend to increase core temperature — which, theoretically, can prepare a joint for exercise movement (2).
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching
PNF stretching involves passively stretching a joint to its end range and performing an isometric contraction hold at that range. This is when a muscle is flexed but isn’t expanding or contracting.
As a result, the joint is actively or passively moved further into the range of motion.
Ballistic stretching involves quickly and semi-forcefully moving a joint to its end range of motion, eliciting a maximal length for only a short period. You can use bouncing to achieve this (
However, keep in mind that if done incorrectly, ballistic stretching can come with a risk of injuring soft tissue like tendons or ligaments. Be sure to try this type of stretch only after consulting with a healthcare or exercise professional.
Stretching involves moving a body part towards its full range of motion. Types of stretching include static, dynamic, PNF, and ballistic.
Stretching alone is not typically considered a high calorie-burning activity.
For a 150-pound (68-kg) person, the average calories burned by stretching is a mere 2.7 calories per minute. If your stretch routine takes 10 minutes, this would add up to 27 calories.
This number can increase when stretching is combined with moderate and higher intensity activities, such as dynamic warmups and some forms of yoga like power yoga.
Current recommendations for athletic warmups include light aerobic activity, dynamic stretching, and sport-related movements. In a 10 minute warmup, that would equal approximately 41 calories.
For comparison, higher intensity yoga, like power yoga, will burn about the same number of calories as a dynamic warmup, at around 36–71 calories in 10 minutes. For a 60-minute yoga class, that would add up to 216–426 calories (
So, unless a stretch is combined with an extended stretching session or other exercise, the number of calories burned is minimal.
Stretching alone typically burns around 27 calories per 10 minutes. This can increase if you incorporate higher intensity movements like power yoga.
Stretching can assist with weight loss, though to a smaller extent than activities like jogging, biking, or high intensity interval training (HIIT).
When considered part of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), it can definitely increase your daily caloric expenditure.
NEAT includes the calories you burn doing normal daily activities like walking, cooking, putting away groceries, cleaning, and so on. When these activities are more active than, say, simply sitting and watching television, they contribute to a greater daily calorie burn.
Stretching increases how many calories you burn in a day, which can help you lose weight. However, it’s much less efficient than higher intensity activities like jogging, biking, or HIIT training.
A recent review found a limited correlation between stretching and muscle hypertrophy — the increase and growth of muscle cells. This was seen when stretching was performed during rest between exercise sets and when more muscle force was applied during the stretch (
However, in the same review, passive stretching did not appear to affect muscle tone. Ultimately, it remains uncertain whether any type of stretching and whether stretching alone without resistance training can help tone your body.
As a stand-alone exercise, stretching has a minimal effect on weight loss, though it can contribute to your daily caloric expenditure. It’s uncertain whether it may aid in muscle hypertrophy.
Stretching can be added to your workout in multiple ways, depending on your training objectives:
Dynamic stretches before a workout
Dynamic stretching and light aerobic activities can be added to a warmup routine before exercise. This can increase the temperature of your muscles and improve elastic properties (
To understand this, think of how a warm rubber band can stretch farther and is less likely to break than a cold rubber band.
Begin by doing light aerobic activities like walking, light jogging, or cycling to warm up your muscles. Then, add progressively bigger movements of dynamic stretches like arm circles or forward and backward leg swings to your warm-up.
Static and PNF stretches before or between sets
Static and PNF stretching can be performed before exercise or between sets during resistance training and sprint intervals. This can help provide an adequate range of motion for exercise movements.
To limit potential detrimental effects on strength and exercise performance, hold the stretch for fewer than 60 seconds per muscle group and keep the discomfort from stretching light to moderate (
Stretches after a workout
Finally, stretching can be added after exercising during a cooldown. It can help restore range of motion after strength training and endurance-type activities where the same movement is repeated for longer.
Just like when you’re sitting, the muscles and tendons conform to the forces put on them. Stretching can help restore flexibility lost in the legs from running and high rep or high intensity workouts.
You can stretch before, during, or after you exercise. Dynamic stretching and light aerobic activity may be more suited for a warmup, while stating and PNF stretches work well in between sets.
Here are some tips for making the most of your stretching routine:
- Start slow. It’s easier to work into greater ranges of motion as you adapt to the discomfort of the stretches. In addition, keep the movements controlled.
- Work into moderate discomfort at most. This is different from pain. It’s important to differentiate stretch sensation from pain sensation.
- Consider the timing. If you’re stretching before exercise, a competition, or an athletic event, research shows that allowing at least 10 minutes between stretching and the event may be the best way to prevent a decrease in performance (2).
- Keep consistent. Consistency is key when it comes to chronic improvements in muscle length. This is regardless of the method you employ to work on flexibility, although this may not apply to ballistic stretching (
Start slowly when stretching and work into discomfort but not pain. Allow some time between stretching and exercise to keep it from decreasing your performance. Finally, stay consistent if you want to see lasting results.
As mentioned, there are multiple benefits to adding stretching to your workout.
The main benefit is the possibility to restore or optimize the range of motion in a joint — for example, after a decrease resulting from repetitive movements, injuries, or lifting heavier weights.
You can also use stretching to warm up your muscles to prepare them for exercises and the motions that will be required of them.
Adding stretching to your workouts can help restore range of motion to a joint and warm up your muscles before exercise.
There are multiple types of stretching, all of which have been shown to improve joint flexibility and prepare your body for movements.
While stretching alone doesn’t burn a significant number of calories, you can still use it as an exercise warmup or part of more vigorous practices, like certain forms of yoga.
Plus, stretching may boost muscle hypertrophy when used in between sets or if you use active resistance, though more research is needed.
It’s easy to incorporate stretching into your exercise routine, and it can be performed before, during, or after a workout.