Reaching down and touching your toes for a long hold doesn't seem like an intense workout because, well, it's not. You still burn calories while holding static stretches, but that's because your body's engine is always churning to keep you alive. The calories you burn are not comparable to more athletic endeavors, so don't count on stretching to get skinny. Flexibility exercise is still an important part of any fitness plan, however.
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While stretching doesn't burn a ton of calories, both static and dynamic stretches are effective for improving flexibility and range of motion.
Calories Burned Stretching
The calories burned stretching really depend on how long and rigorously you go at it. A relatively active stretching session where you move postures every minute or so, such as in a Hatha yoga class, burns about 149 calories in 30 minutes for a 155-pound person. Because larger people have more mass to move around, they burn more calories than smaller people. A 120-pound person burns only 120 calories in that same amount of time, while a 200-pound person burns 178.
Try Dynamic Stretches
Stretching can mean more than just holding a muscle in an elongated position. Dynamic stretching is a technique often used prior to competition or high-intensity training sessions that involves using momentum, agility and speed to stretch the muscles and connective tissue.
Examples of dynamic stretching include arm circles, body-weight lunges or high knee hugs. This type of stretching is akin to calisthenics, or body-weight exercises, and burns between 135 and 200 calories per half hour, depending on your weight.
Incorporate Static Stretches
If your stretching session consists of more sitting- and lying-on-the-floor sorts of moves, you'll burn fewer calories than a more active yoga-type session. You may burn a few more than the 42 calories burned by a 155-pound person in a half hour of sitting, but not a lot. Many of these calories are simply those you'd expend anyway to keep your blood pumping, organs filtering and breath flowing.
For maximum effectiveness, hold each static stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times. Don't stretch to the point of pain — this can be a sign of tissue damage. A strong pulling or burning sensation should be expected.
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Things to Think About
Unless you are taking a yoga class, a stretching session usually lasts just five to 15 minutes. That leaves more than 23 hours during which you can burn calories. Just because the calories burned stretching aren't as impressive as the 660 to 976 calories burned while running a 9-minute mile is, doesn't mean its unimportant.
Any well-rounded exercise program includes regular flexibility training, whether that be static or dynamic in nature. According to a February 2012 article published by the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, both static and dynamic stretches are equally effective for improving flexibility and range of motion. Aim to stretch every major muscle group at least three times per week to preserve your optimal range of motion.