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Last Updated: 12.06.23

Improve Flexibility with Research-​​Supported Stretching Protocols

In this episode, Huberman explains the science of flexibility, including neural mechanisms and science-​​supported protocols to increase range of motion. Valuable information for all seeking to improve limb flexibility, prevent injuries, and enhance physical and mental well-being.

Key Takeaways

High level takeaways from the episode.

Two major mechanisms ensure limbs don’t stretch too far and muscles aren’t overloaded with tension or effort:

  • Neurons communicate with muscles and muscles communicate back to the nervous system to prevent overstretching
  • Mechanisms ensure muscles aren’t overloaded with weight or tension, preventing damage

Leveraging these mechanisms can help increase flexibility almost immediately

Flexibility involves three major components:

  • Neural (nervous system)
  • Muscular (muscles)
  • Connective tissue (surrounds neural and muscular components)

Flexibility decreases with age

  • 10% decrease every ten years from age 20 to 49
  • Continues to decrease after age 49, but not necessarily linearly

Flexibility decreases with age, but can be maintained or improved through practices like yoga, stretching, and resistance training

Van Economo neurons are large neurons found in the posterior insula

  • Uniquely enriched in humans, also found in whales, chimpanzees, and elephants
  • Can drive motivational processes to overcome discomfort if directed toward a specific goal

Stretching involves changes in neural and connective tissue

  • Stretching can change the resting state of a muscle

Dynamic stretching: Controlled movement through a range of motion

  • Example: Swinging arm up overhead and bringing it down

Ballistic stretching: Involves more momentum, especially at the end range of motion

  • Example: Swinging foot out to stretch the hip joint

Static stretching: Holding the end range of motion, minimizing momentum

  • Example: Bending over at the waist and touching toes
  • Can be subdivided into active or passive

PNF stretching (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation): Leverages mechanisms like spindle activation to increase flexibility

Interleaving push and pull exercises can improve performance

  • Antagonistic muscles relax when their opposite muscle group is activated
  • Example: Alternating between push-​​ups and pull-ups

Studies show that static stretching, including PNF, is more effective for increasing long-​​term range of motion than dynamic and ballistic stretching

  • Dynamic and ballistic stretching can be useful for improving performance in specific movements and sports, but carry more risk due to the use of momentum

Study by Bandy et al. found that a 30-​​second duration is effective for increasing range of motion

  • No increase in flexibility occurred when the duration was increased from 30 seconds to 60 seconds, or when the frequency was increased from one to three times per day

Holding static stretches for 30 seconds appears to be sufficient to stimulate an increase in limb range of motion over time

At least 5 minutes of stretching per week is necessary for range of motion improvements

  • Performing stretching at least five days a week for at least 5 minutes per week using static stretching is beneficial

Raising core body temperature before stretching can help avoid injury

  • Warming up the body with 5–10 minutes of easy cardiovascular exercise or calisthenic movements is ideal before stretching

Static stretching is most beneficial after resistance training or cardiovascular training

  • Some studies suggest static stretching before these activities can limit performance

Static stretching provides the greatest gains in limb range of motion (20.9% increase on average)

  • Ballistic stretching and PNF stretching also provide substantial improvements (11.65% and 15% increases, respectively)

Benefits of Improved Limb Range of Motion

  • Reduces age-​​related losses in flexibility
  • Improves posture, balance, and physical performance
  • Can aid in pain management and headache relief
  • Essential for overall neuromuscular health and longevity

Interleaving push and pull for strength, hypertrophy, and range of motion training can lead to better results in less time

Anderson method: focus on feeling the stretch in the relevant muscle groups, rather than achieving a specific range of motion each session

Study: low intensity stretching (30–40% of pain threshold) led to greater increases in range of motion than moderate intensity stretching (80% of pain threshold)

  • Low intensity stretching may be more beneficial and have a lower risk of injury

Dynamic or ballistic stretching can warm up neural circuits, joints, connective tissue, and muscles for training

  • Can improve range of motion and performance accuracy

Study: brief whole-​​body stretching increases activation of the parasympathetic nervous system

  • 10 minutes of daily stretching for four weeks reduced tumor volume by 52% in mice
  • Possible link between inflammation and immune exhaustion mechanisms


Science-​​based tools and supplements that push the needle.

Stretching Protocol



We recommend using this distillation as a supplemental resource to the source material.

  • Improve Flexibility with Research-​​Supported Stretching Protocols

    Huberman Lab Podcast #76

    Huberman delves into the science of flexibility, discussing neural mechanisms and protocols to enhance range of motion for optimal health and performance.

Full Notes

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