Even if you remember to stretch after your workout, there's a good chance you're not holding it as long as you should be.
Improved flexibility, injury reduction and increased performance are just some of the benefits that can accompany regular post-workout static stretching, or getting a muscle into a stretched position and holding it.
But how long do you have to “hold it?” Probably longer than your current routine, but it's still not as long as you think, says Mike Vigneau, athletic trainer and Associate Director of Sports Medicine for Football at Boston College. “Muscles have injury prevention structures in them that prevent you from getting much of a benefit out a stretch that last less than 20 seconds,” Vigneau told Men’sHealth.com.
Much like completing multiple sets of an exercise, it’s recommended to do multiple bouts of static holds to get maximal benefits.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends healthy adults spend at least two days a week “completing a series of flexibility exercises for each of the major muscle-tendon groups,” for a total of 60 seconds per exercise. How you achieve that 60 seconds doesn’t really matter; you could complete three rounds of 20-second holds to achieve a minute of total stretching per muscle group.
To maximize the benefits even more, do it right after you finish your gym session. “Post-workout is a great time to work on your range of motion while the muscles are nice and warmed up,” says Vigneau.
“Post-workout is a great time to work on your range of motion."
As for what stretches you should be doing, it's all about listening to your body. The major muscle groups you want to try and hit include your hips, glutes, quads hamstrings and calves for your lower body, and shoulder girdle, chest and upper back for your upper body.
Pick out 3-5 different stretches, and follow the 3x20-second rule. To help get you started, this pigeon stretch is great for opening up your hips. Then, check out these 16 great stretches for men.
One more thing: Contrary to what your high school coach might have taught you, save the static stretching for post-workout. Static stretching pre-exercise can jeopardize your workout. (Instead, use this dynamic warm-up to get your muscles primed up.)
This article originally appeared on Men's Health US.