How to Improve Your Flexibility
Flexibility is important for overall health, strength and well-being. While it’s true that some people are naturally more flexible than others, you can improve your flexibility no matter what your current ability level.
Adding flexibility exercises into your fitness routine can help you increase range of motion and reduce pain, aches and fatigue. Plus, it could help you perform more efficiently in your workouts and avoid injury.
Improving your flexibility can be easy, especially if you take the time to focus on it. From breath work to stretching to strengthening, you can make a big difference in your flexibility levels with focused effort just a few times a week.
Stretching is a type of exercise that uses slow, smooth movement to elongate muscles and other tissues. It helps to lengthen tight or shortened areas and to develop the proper alignment of a body part, according to Health Fitness Human Body founder Austin Martinez.
It’s important to do stretches slowly and smoothly, as far as is comfortable for you without pain. Depending on your fitness level, you can hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.
Start with a gentle warm-up before each session by walking or doing other light activities. This will help to prepare your muscles for the stretching and prevent tightness or discomfort during the workout.
Do a combination of breath work, static stretching and dynamic stretching. Breath work involves breathing slowly and smoothly into each position, then allowing your body to relax slightly deeper into the stretch on each exhale. Static stretching is similar to breath work, but it’s done with a stretch held for longer periods of time, usually 60-120 seconds.
Try to do the stretches on both sides, says kinesiologist Chad Benson of WRKOUT, an online personal training platform. Having equal flexibility on both sides can be especially helpful for athletes who may have an imbalance that could lead to injuries, he adds.
When you’re bending over or reaching for something high on a shelf, the ability to be flexible and move your joints through their full range of motion can be essential to success in your daily life. It’s also beneficial for preventing injury and helping to reduce stiffness and achiness throughout your body, Benson says.
If you’re a beginner to flexibility stretching, start with gentle movements and progress to more challenging moves as your abilities improve. If you’re not sure how to start, consult with a qualified physiotherapist or certified personal trainer before trying any new exercises or stretching techniques.
The key is to do each movement for a long enough time so that it’s not too painful, explains physiotherapist Phil Evans of Urban Body, UK. He recommends doing each stretch 3-5 times to gradually improve your flexibility and ROM (range of motion) over time.
As you become more flexible, try increasing your reach and length in each stretch. Don’t strain your muscles to stretch farther, though, as this can lead to injury or cause tightness.