1. Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. What is Stretching?
  4. What is Recovery?
  5. Does post-exercise stretching enhance recovery?
  6. Issues with the current research on stretching
  7. Future Research
  8. Practical Application (Take home messages)
  9. References
  10. About the Author


Post-exercise stretching has been performed as a recovery modality for many decades, if not centuries and beyond, and the current body of research demonstrates that it may have several beneficial effects on recovery. These effects range from decreasing muscle soreness, albeit by a very small amount, increasing flexibility, increasing local blood flow, and decreasing neural excitability. As a result, static stretching may be a useful form of recovery following exercise.

Keywords: post-exercise, static stretching, stretch tolerance, muscle soreness, range of movement, flexibility, parasympathetic nervous system,

post-exercise stretching - science for sport


The practice of stretching after exercise (e.g. training and competition) is extremely common, and something that has been performed for many decades, if not centuries and more. The common reasons for stretching after exercise are to:

  • Reduce muscle soreness
  • Reduce muscle stiffness (i.e. regain pre-exercise ranges of motion)

This was perhaps first popularised after a particular research publication in the 1960’s [1]. Since then, whilst some of the underpinning theory supporting the usefulness of post-exercise stretching has been discredited, the practice of this recovery modality still persists [2].

What is Stretching?

Stretching has been defined as:

“the application of force to musculotendinous structures in order to achieve a change in their length, usually for the purposes of improving joint range of motion, reducing stiffness or soreness, or preparing for an activity.” [3].

Though there are many forms of stretching (Figure 1), static stretching appears to be the most common type prescribed in post-exercise cool-down routines. Stretching is also classified as either acute or chronic. Acute stretching typically refers to a single stretch usually lasting >30-seconds or less [4, 5]. Chronic stretching refers to repeated stretches over a series of sets, days and even weeks [6].

post-exercise stretching - science for sport

What is Recovery?

Recovery is traditionally defined as a 1-stage model, that is, returning something that was lost [7], or a reestablishment of the initial stage [8]. However, recovery in sport, or from exercise is typically seen as a 2-stage model: returning what was lost (e.g. reducing fatigue and re-establishing range of motion), and adapting (i.e. supercompensation) to the imposed training demands [6]. Given this, full recovery should not be considered complete until the athlete has achieved a level of fitness that is higher than pre-exercise levels (i.e. the supercompensation principle). This principle is simply displayed in Figure 2.

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