It depends on the goal and the individual. If the goal is to reduce a specific imbalance you can get better results with more than one set. You can also address the imbalance by different types of stretches (ie: foam roller, PNF stretching and static stretches). If the goal is to stretch a muscle group after working it and there are no large imbalances, then one set is enough.
I know that my answer will probaby not satisfy you. Having said that, here I go.
For the last years, and more so after I became a MELT instructor, I have begun to look at stretching in a different light. Stretching feels good, and I do it some myself, but in our dysfunctional world of little movement, it is incumbent on us as trainers to look at the cause of tightness.
My MELT answer is that it is the connective tissue that is dehydrated and needs to be lengthened. Here – after having self-assessed – the client is encouraged to treat the tighter side an extra time.
At the same time, a tight muscle may be an indication of joint instability, and all the muscle does is protecting the joint to move into an unstable range of motion. Any stretching here would do more harm than good because it would be more important to identify the cause of the joint instability rather than coaxing and cajoling the ‘tight’ muscles to stretch.
I believe that as long as you are clear why you want to stretch, the answer to your question is a unambiguous: it depends.
Hi Erin! A very good question. When I’m training a client for flexibility, I generally pay more attention to “duration” rather than to “number of repetitions or sets.” In my opinion the key to gaining or improving flexibility is duration. With my answer, I’m assuming we’re talking about static stretching, and so, generally with static stretching you want to encourage holding the stretch for a period of time rather than concentrating on how many time the stretch is performed. Of course, in a “perfect world,” holding the static stretch for a period of time AND performing those stretches for more than one set of stretches is perhaps even better, but since your question asks an “either/or” scenario, that’s what I will respond to.
Given the choice between one set with holding each stretch for a significant amount of time (meaning one that effectively challenges and improves flexibility) versus what I unfortunately all too often witness in some gyms of quickly moving through each stretch to “get finished” (holding the stretch for 5-10 seconds if they’re lucky) and perhaps doing multiple sets of that “short duration” stretching, I’d take the ONE set performed properly.
I hope this helps, and answers your question.
One thing that I am passionate about as far as my industry is concerned is that we have guidelines that we can adhere to as far as fitness goals are concerned.
Flexibility is a component of fitness.
As with other aspects of fitness, there are scientific guidelines/principles related to flexibility that we can adhere to in order to achieve a desired outcome.
We tend to use the FITT principle when we are designing an exercise program for our clients. We also consider the SAID principle. (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands).
That being said, if the outcome is increased flexibility, one must first ask him/herself:
What type of stretch will I used to reach the goal of the client.
Will you be using:
1. Static stretching
2. Dynamic or ballistic stretching
3. Slow movements
4. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) techniques.
After you have decided the type of stretch or the methods of stretching you will utilize (and this dependent upon the goal of the client), you can then manipulate the variables (FITT) based upon your client’s goals in addition to remembering you only get what you train for (SAID). And in your case you are training for flexibility.
Now ask yourself the question you posed to the forum. Somehow, I believe, that after you think about it you will come to a fantastic conclusion as to whether “one set of stretches is sufficient” when one is “training for flexibility.”
Thanks for your questions and I look forward to our continued interchange.
As previously stated this is a goal specific question. If there is a need for a big change in flexibility or mobility then more than one set is most likely needed. If it is not the main focus and the client just needs maintenance then one will suffice. With that being said this is also a joint by joint case as I personally have certain ROM’s that require more on one side of my body than the other. For instance my right hip flexors requires 3-5 sets to restore length wheras my left hip flexors only require 1-3 sets.