The Best Ways to Become More Flexible
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Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re sore, tight, can’t seem to bend down as easily as you used to, and feel worse for wear more often than not. Plus, when you do start to stand upright from bending, you hear — or feel — a pop. If this resonates with you, you’ve come to the right place!
Strength and stretching are equally as important — and, yes, you read that right. Yet, when it comes to getting in shape, strength tends to get all the attention.
While strength is a fitness essential, flexibility is also a key component in your overall health. If you’re starting to realize that being — and feeling — less-than-flexible is limiting more than just your mobility, and impacting your quality of life, something needs to shift.
What’s the fix? Your best bet: Combine your strength workouts with stretching exercises to improve flexibility.
The benefits of enhanced flexibility go beyond simply boosting your fitness. Improved mobility can contribute to a better overall quality of life by helping your joints maintain their range of motion.
Becoming more flexible is accessible to everyone and doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. We take the guesswork out of what to do to improve your flexibility by doing the research for you. Read on to learn more about mobility, along with simple, expert tips to get you started on the road to improving your flexibility.
Why Flexibility Is Key for Fitness — And Life
Flexibility is the ability to bend effectively and efficiently without breaking. Our physical bodies are a system of constantly moving parts. When your physical body is flexible, your mobility and fitness levels function efficiently, allowing you the ease to move well.
The physical body benefits from stretching, which allows for the fascia, connective tissues, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and joints to open up, elongate and lengthen. Flexibility exercises also help with back pain, balance and preventing muscular and joint injuries, along with improved posture and positive impact on endurance performance.
Increased flexibility may help you perform better at your sport or activity if you also strengthen your muscles to control movement through that range of motion. If you’re a runner, clamshells or lateral squat walks while wearing a resistance band strengthens the hips and glutes (muscles that stabilize your pelvis as you propel forward), and a figure-four stretch lengthens the muscles that stabilize the hip joint.
Adaptability and fluidity are as essential in maintaining balance throughout the ebbs and flows of life as they are in maintaining peak physical and anatomical function. Being able to bend and flow easefully without breaking is a pillar of the resilience we need to navigate the waves of life.
The takeaway: Flexibility is just as vital to your overall emotional well-being as optimal mobility is to your physical fitness.
Mobility Matters, But So Does Strength
Now that you know that moving optimally requires strength (and the stability it provides) and flexibility, here’s what we recommend for improving your mobility and range of motion:
Complete full-body strength training workouts (with resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, gym machines, or bodyweight) at least twice a week. If you’re training for a specific sport, make sure to incorporate strength moves that will help your body perform that activity better.
Focus on dynamic movements that take a holistic approach (think: yoga) as an efficient, productive path to improving your flexibility.
Include dynamic stretching moves as part of your warm-ups. Dynamic stretching approaches the body in a multi-faceted manner, where active movements are utilized so that joints and muscles go through their full ranges of motion.
Expert Advice on The Best Ways to Become More Flexible
1. Prioritize Flexibility and Stretching Along With Strength Training “Flexibility is an important part of fitness,” according to Gwen Lawrence, creator of Power Yoga for Sports and yoga instructor for professional athletes.“You need a well-rounded physique, which means strength, flexibility, and tone.”
2. Equate Flexibility With Strength
“Many people have a misconception that flexibility weakens you and that is not true,” explains Lawrence. “You need the ability within the joints to have full range, fitness, grace, and strength.”
3. Use a Multi-Faceted “Magic Formula”
“You have all seen musclebound bodybuilders that cannot move. Think of a gymnast with amazing strength and flexibility and what that enables them to achieve,” says Lawrence. “In power yoga for sports, the magic formula is strength plus flexibility equals power.”
4. Do What Works for Your Body and Mind
“I do want to be clear that any stretching that works for your body and any stretching that you are willing to do is the best stretching for you,” explains Lawrence. “Do what works for your body and your individual success.”
A Simple, Safe, Effective Weekly Plan to Get You Started
Dynamic movement-based stretches help bolster blood circulation by slowly warming up the full range of motion within the muscles and joints, eventually allowing for a deeper stretch. No matter your level of stretching experience — or if you’re starting from scratch — you can begin a dynamic movement plan that suits your body’s unique needs.
The following stretching exercises can be done before bed, prior to a workout, or after a workout. If you have the time, try them both before and after your workout for optimal results.
Targets: Ankles, achilles, calves, quadriceps
Begin by standing with feet parallel to one another.
You can use a wall or piece of furniture for stability if needed.
Press into the ball of each foot, raising heels off the ground.
Gently lower the heels evenly.
Repeat 5–10 times.
Targets: Hips, glutes, back, quadriceps
Start either on hands and knees or in downward dog.
Bend and bring one knee forward, placing shin on the ground at a diagonal angle. You can place a block or pillow under your hip for extra support in order to help you release deeper into the stretch.
Extend through your elongated back leg to deepen the stretch in the hamstrings.
Gently walk your hands forward.
Lower elbows to rest forearms on the mat.
Switch sides to repeat on the opposite hip.
Don’t forget to breathe! Hip openers can unlock deep release both physically and emotionally, as the hips are the “emotional junk drawers” of the body where we often unconsciously store tension and tightness.
Targets: Hips, hamstrings, pelvis, core, back
Start on all fours, bringing thumbs to touch in the center of the mat.
Bring one foot forward, placing it directly outside the corresponding hand and wrist.
Move the body forward to activate the stretch within the hip flexors.
Push the body back, lengthening and stretching the hamstrings.
You can also circulate the pelvis moving from the front to one side to the back to the opposite side to increase the full range of motion.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Seated Forward Fold
Targets: Hamstrings, hips, back, calves, quadriceps
Sit with straight legs extended forward; you can place a block in front of the feet.
Extend arms up, directly next to ears.
Fold forward, hinging from the hips.
Reach for the ankles, feet or the block for a deeper shoulder stretch.
Supine Spinal Twist
Targets: Back, glutes, hips, obliques, chest
Lie on the back, bending knees up in the air toward the chest.
Place arms in a cactus shape around the ears, pressing the back of the shoulder blades and arms gently down into the mat to expand the ribcage and collarbone, and to open the chest.
Drop bent knees to one side.
Rotate your head and neck to the opposite shoulder if desired.
Hold, then, switch sides and repeat.
Reclining Supported Bound Angle
Targets: Pelvis, hips, back, chest
Begin seated, placing a bolster or pillow below the base of your spine.
Bend knees into a butterfly pose, placing the soles of your feet against one another.
Lie back on an angle with the spine resting on the bolster or pillow.
Support your head with a rolled-up blanket or additional cushion so that the head is above the heart.
Allow the knees to open as wide apart as possible and relax fully into the props.
You can gently apply pressure with your hands to each thigh/hip to deepen the stretch.
Find Your Flexibility Focus
Remember that starting small yields big results over time. Begin by practicing dynamic stretching as needed a few times a week.
Find your flexibility focus: You may have certain spots that need more movement, while others may require less attention. Gradually, you’ll become looser, more limber, expansive, lengthened, pain-free, and feeling better overall with benefits extending beyond your physical body to your emotional well-being. You may even want to integrate dynamic movement as a daily practice!