It’s easy to find evidence that stretching improves flexibility. After all, improved flexibility is the goal of stretching. In a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis, Medeiros et al. investigated static stretching on hamstring length in healthy young adults. The review concluded that static stretching is effective for improving hamstring flexibility but stopped short of making recommendations for stretching parameters because there was so much variety in the methods used in the studies.
A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis looked at PNF stretching techniques for hamstring flexibility and found that current best evidence suggests hold-relax and contract-relax stretching are better than nothing when it comes to increasing hamstring flexibility- at least short term.
There was limited evidence to suggest these techniques are better than any other approach long-term. That said, it’s likely that hyperbolic stretching users are seeing immediate effects of their stretching practice, but in the long haul, it may not be anything inherent to the program that creates their result. Instead, it’s the dedicated time spent stretching, not the specific technique, that matters.
If you’re anything like me, efficiency is the key to fitting everything into the day. If you’re a stretching loyalist, I have good news for you. You can use your strength training to do your stretching!
Focusing on slow, controlled movement through a full range of motion during weight training can do just as much for muscle length as dedicated stretching time.
And that’s not all. If you get really good at using reciprocal inhibition, you can stretch one side of the joint while you strengthen the other! The muscles on one side of the joint will relax to accommodate the contraction of the muscles on the other side.
Some of my favorite examples of this are: using bilateral shoulder external rotation to stretch pectoralis minor, using a bridge to facilitate hip flexor relaxation through contraction of the glutes, and back to wall scaption to stretch the lats, triceps, and rhomboids.
If you’re short on time or just plain like to get in and out of the gym, reciprocal inhibition can be a game-changer when it comes to flexibility.