It’s easy to think of bending over and touching your toes, getting into a downward-facing dog, or figure-four stretch as something you know you should do after a workout or when waking up. All too often, these activities can feel like an accessory to health rather than the main event—particularly if your goal is to lose weight or track calories burned during workouts.
But it’s time to start implementing stretching into your wellness routine. Sure, it doesn’t burn as many calories as riding your Peloton bike or walking with your dog, but it does benefit your overall health in a big way.
The Medicine & Science in Sports & Medicine “Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults” View Source recommends stretching each major muscle group at least two days a week to improve flexibility and maintain your joints. On average, stretching burns only Clinical Cardiology “Metabolic equivalents (METS) in exercise testing, exercise prescription, and evaluation of functional capacity” View Source , but its benefits extend (get it?) far beyond numbers alone.
Can Stretching Help You Lose Weight?
To order to lose weight, you need to create a Mayo Clinic “Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics” View Source by burning more calories than you take in. Working out plays some part in this, but it’s not everything—exercise alone has a “very small role” in weight loss, Diabetes Spectrum “Role of Physical Activity for Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance” View Source . Stretching, like all kinds of movement, burns some calories—and when combined with a workout plan that includes things like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), running, strength training, and/or swimming, it may help you get closer to maintaining a deficit and ultimately losing weight.
That said, calorie burn and weight loss shouldn’t be your main motivation to get your stretch on. Stretching provides a host of health benefits, including reducing stress and strengthening your muscles.
How Many Calories Does Stretching Burn?
Before you can calculate how many calories stretching burns, it’s important to understand the math behind the formula.
When your body is at rest, your muscles consume 3.5 ml of oxygen per minute per kilogram of body weight. The ratio of your resting metabolic rate (RMR) to your active metabolic rate (AMR) is then represented in a value called a Clinical Cardiology “Metabolic equivalents (METS) in exercise testing, exercise prescription, and evaluation of functional capacity” View Source (MET).
Think of a MET as how much energy it takes to do different activities. The harder the activity, the higher the MET, and the higher the MET, the more calories you burn. If an activity with a MET of 1 is equal to your resting rate, then an activity with a MET of 4 means you’ll burn four times the amount of calories when doing that activity.
So, let’s look at how many calories someone who weighs 160 pounds can burn while doing common stretching exercises for 30 minutes at a time.
|How Many Calories Does Stretching Burn|
(30 minute duration)
(160 lbs. or 73 kg)
|Total Calories Burned in 1 Minute = (3.5 x MET x Body Weight in kg)/200|
Activities like a 30-minute RPM spin class or running at a 10-minute mile pace for 30 minutes will burn more calories than stretching because they have higher MET values (8.5 and 9.8, respectively). If you weigh 160 pounds, that spin class will have you burning an average of 325 calories in total, and you can expect to burn about 374 calories on that run—that’s a big step up from the 88 calories you’d burn in a 30-minute mild stretching session.
4 Benefits of Stretching for Weight Loss and Well-Being
Stretching does more than increase flexibility (though it’s great for that, too). When used as part of an exercise routine, it may help you maintain a healthy weight and mindset.
Consider these benefits of adding regular stretching to your week:
1. Build and Tone Your Muscles
Part of working out involves breaking down your muscles so they can rebuild and become stronger. Starting your workout with some quick warm-up stretches helps improve blood circulation, which prepares muscles to move faster and with more intensity than your resting rate. This can help prevent injury. Finishing your workout with a cooldown helps with recovery.
Stretching also elongates your muscles, allowing for a greater range of motion so you can perform your exercises more efficiently. By repetitively breaking down, stretching, and rebuilding your muscles, you may start to notice that you’re getting a little stronger—and that the milk gallon isn’t as heavy as it used to be!
2. Burn More Calories Throughout the Day
Sometimes, your body may burn more calories than usual—even after a workout is over. When your body is recovering and returning to its resting metabolic rate after a high-intensity workout, you may experience excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This gives you an “afterburn” effect (if you’ve ever gone to an Orangetheory class, you’ve heard of this) and kicks your body into gear to keep burning calories up to 24 hours after a HIIT workout.
When you add daily stretching to your workout routine, you keep your body engaged and moving to burn even more calories throughout the day, even if it is only Clinical Cardiology “Metabolic equivalents (METS) in exercise testing, exercise prescription, and evaluation of functional capacity” View Source . You also allow your muscles to recover faster, so they’re ready to perform at their highest level again.
3. Reduce Stress
When you’re under stress, your body starts to produce a hormone called cortisol. Cleveland Clinic “Cortisol” View Source is necessary to balance your metabolism, suppress inflammation, regulate blood pressure, increase blood sugar, and maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. But if you’re experiencing chronic stress and producing lots of cortisol, it will start to become an issue causing weight gain, high blood sugar, muscle weakness, and high blood pressure.
Stretching is one way to combat stress and regain control over the cortisol levels in your body. A study that evaluated the Psychoneuroendocrinology “Effect of restorative yoga vs. stretching on diurnal cortisol dynamics and psychosocial outcomes in individuals with the metabolic syndrome: The PRYSMS randomized controlled trial” View Source compared to stretching found that the stretching group experienced more “significant decreases” in cortisol, chronic stress, and stress perception than the restorative yoga group.
Too much stress causes your body to produce excess cortisol. High cortisol levels can lead to Psychoneuroendocrinology “Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior” View Source and weight gain—so a stress-relieving activity like stretching is a great thing to add to your day, whether or not you’re trying to lose weight.
4. Balance Your Metabolism
With your cortisol levels in check, you may start to feel more relaxed and get a better night’s sleep, allowing you to make healthier decisions and have the energy to get those workouts in. When you’re mindful about taking care of your body, your metabolism will start to Cleveland Clinic “Cortisol” View Source , and you’ll experience fewer spikes in your blood sugar.
The key to weight control is staying active. Most of us spend so much of our daily lives being sedentary—whether that’s sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, commuting in our car, sitting in a classroom, or lounging on the couch after a long day. If you try to make an effort to do little things each day to stay active, like stretching, you’ll feel a change!
5 Stretches That Burn Calories
When you’re picking which stretches to add to your workout routine to burn more calories, you need to consider International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy “CURRENT CONCEPTS IN MUSCLE STRETCHING FOR EXERCISE AND REHABILITATION” View Source : dynamic stretching, active stretching, passive stretching, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching. Dynamic stretching warms up the body by moving your muscles and joints through a full range of motion. Both active and passive stretching improves flexibility—active targets muscles by holding poses, and passive lengthens muscles to improve balance. PNF stretching is great for rehabilitation and recovery, as it improves your range of motion by triggering your reflexes.
Stretching doesn’t have to take all day! To keep up with the ACSM’s recommendations, try about 10 minutes of stretching at least two days a week. Targeting each major muscle group will help improve balance and coordination. By mixing in each of the four types of stretching into your week, you may start to notice more flexibility and a greater range of motion in your joints.
Be sure to use proper form when trying these stretches—breathe, don’t bounce, equally stretch both sides of the body, and back off if you feel pain.
1. Glute Bridge
This stretch will have you feeling the burn while building the butt. Glute bridges are great calorie burners because there are so many variations you can try to push yourself.
- Type of stretching: Dynamic
- Muscles targeted: Glutes, abs, lower back, and hamstrings
- How to do it:
- Start by lying on your back with your knees bent, feet shoulder-width apart flat on the floor, and arms down by your side.
- Take a deep breath in. When you exhale, engage your glutes and push your hips to the ceiling.
- Hold the bridge for a few breaths before releasing and repeating.
- Tip: Push your hands into the ground to stabilize yourself and keep your abs tight, forming a diagonal line with your body in your bridge. If you want more of a challenge, lift your arms over your shoulders before bridging.
2. Downward Dog
With proper form, downward dog is a great full-body stretch. Bring some heat into the legs and try and hold the pose for at least 10 breaths.
- Type of stretching: Passive
- Muscles targeted: Lower back, calves, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and shoulders
- How to do it:
- Start on the ground in an all fours position, making sure your hands align under your shoulders.
- Walk your hands forward and push your hips up to the ceiling to create a triangle position with your body.
- Keep your head in a straight line with your spine and tuck your tummy to engage your abs.
- Tip: See if you can keep your heels on the ground while straightening your legs. You can also alternate between bending and straightening each knee to warm the legs up.
3. Quad Stretch
Quad stretches are great to add to your intense workout warmup or cooldown to loosen up the muscles and prevent injury. These stretches can help relieve muscle soreness so you can get back to your next activity without too much residual soreness during your next activity.
- Type of stretching: Active
- Muscles targeted: Quads
- How to do it:
- Start standing and place your hand on something to balance if you need to.
- With your left hand, reach to grab your left ankle and, while standing up straight, pull your ankle behind you to feel the stretch in the top of your thigh.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Tip: To feel a deeper stretch, push your foot against your hand to create resistance. These are great stretches to do before and after you go for a run!
4. Butterfly Stretch
The butterfly stretch activates your inner thighs, releasing the tension in your hips from sitting during the day. You can turn this into a dynamic stretch by adding some movement and fluttering your legs up and down like wings.
- Type of stretching: Active
- Muscles targeted: Knees, inner thighs, groin, and hip flexors
- How to do it:
- Start in a seated position with your knees wide and feet together.
- Sit up nice and tall and take a deep breath.
- When you exhale, bend forward at the hips while keeping your back straight.
- Gently push your knees down with your hands and feel the stretch in your inner thighs and hip flexors.
- Tip: To feel a variation of this stretch, move your feet slightly in front of you while still keeping the bottom of your feet connected. Next, bend at the hips. See if you can lie your chest on your feet and feel that deeper stretch!
5. PNF Hamstring Stretch
Targeting the muscles down the back of your leg, the PNF hamstring stretch strengthens your muscles and is great for improving your range of motion in a short amount of time. PNF stretching helps your body recover faster, so you can perform at your best.
- Type of stretching: PNF
- Muscles targeted: Quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors
- How to do it:
- If you don’t have a partner to help you, get out your trusty resistance band for this stretch.
- Lie on your back and extend your right leg straight into the sky, looping the resistance band around the center of your foot.
- Flex your foot and push your heel to the sky, feeling the stretch down the back of your leg.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Tip: Try and keep your knee straight and avoid tucking your chin. If you want to feel more of a stretch, extend your leg out to the side while still holding the resistance band and then cross over to the other side. Be sure to keep your hips square while your leg is extended!
Stretching vs. Yoga: What’s the Difference?
Here’s a riddle: Is downward-facing dog a stretch or a yoga position? Both stretching and yoga benefit the body by increasing flexibility, improving strength, and boosting your mental health. But you may be wondering about the difference between stretching and yoga, and which one you should incorporate into your wellness routine.
Stretching is defined as reaching something past its usual limit to become longer or wider. Yoga combines mental and physical exercises, like stretching, to strengthen the body and improve mental control. Both yoga and stretching engage the entire body and relieve tightness in muscles. Stretching focuses on larger muscle groups, while yoga focuses on breathing and calming the mind.
If you want to add an active recovery day to your workout routine, consider trying a yoga class or look up a few yoga flow videos online that you can follow along from the comfort of your home gym. Depending on the type of yoga class and level of intensity, you could burn an average of 180 to 460 calories in a one-hour class.
Stretching isn’t going to melt the pounds off of anyone—and that’s not the point. It’s a powerful practice you can use in any wellness routine program. By balancing your metabolism and reducing your stress levels, stretching could be the key to helping you burn those few extra calories and reset your body to take on the next challenge.