If bending over to touch your toes seems like an impossible task, it may be time to start thinking about increasing your flexibility.
From breathwork to stretching to strengthening, focused effort just a few times a week can make a significant difference in how flexible you feel.
Read on for our beginner’s guide to becoming more flexible, one stretch at a time.
Flexibility is the ability of your muscles and other connective tissues to stretch temporarily.
Mobility is the ability of your joints to move freely through a range of motion in a pain-free way.
Part of good mobility is good flexibility. But being flexible doesn’t mean your mobility is up to par, and vice versa.
Flexibility is just one piece of the mobility puzzle.
At its core, flexibility is important for everyday life.
Think about bending over to pick up the laundry or reaching for something high on a shelf. If your muscles are inelastic, tasks like these will be much more complicated.
Flexibility is also needed to release muscle tension and soreness as well as to promote relaxation. It’s hard to get comfortable if your body constantly aches!
It can also improve aerobic fitness, muscular strength, and endurance, allowing muscles to complete the full range of motion (mobility) for maximum effect.
If you’re looking to increase your overall flexibility, it’s best to incorporate a combination of breathwork, static stretching, and dynamic stretching.
Adding strength training can further improve both your flexibility and mobility.
This may seem like a big-time commitment, but even 10 minutes a few times a week can make a difference.
If you already have an exercise routine, try adding a short session of breathwork and dynamic stretching before a workout and static stretching afterward.
You may also consider making stretching part of your morning or bedtime routine.
How to Maximize Your Training?
To get the most out of your flexibility training, keep these factors in mind:
- Aim for 3 days a week of flexibility training to start. 10-15 minute session that combines breath work, static stretching, and dynamic stretching will be efficient and manageable.
- Hold or perform each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Relax and repeat.
- Perform dynamic stretches before strength training and cool down with static stretches after. Static stretching is typically safer and more effective when performed on warm muscles.
Proper breathing is an important part of all exercise, especially stretching.
The foundation of breath work — diaphragmatic breathing — is intended to teach you how to breathe more effectively and with less energy.
It also engages and strengthens your diaphragm and core muscles. If your diaphragm and core aren’t strong, stretching and strength training will be more difficult.
Mastering diaphragmatic breath is a great first step to getting in tune with your body and increasing your flexibility.
Seated inhale and exhale
Build on a diaphragmatic breath by adding movement with your arms.
Seated side-to-side stretch
Build on the diaphragmatic breath again and start to stretch your torso with a side-to-side stretch.
This yoga move stretches your spine and core and opens your chest.
Focusing on your breath in the lying twist will allow you to sink deeper into the stretch.
One great way to improve flexibility is static stretching, which is where you come into a stretch and hold it without movement for a certain period of time.
Even adding static stretching into your routine on its own can make a powerful difference in how your body feels.
There are a few things to keep in mind while performing static stretches:
- Warm-up beforehand. Spend 5 to 10 minutes on a low-intensity warmup, such as walking, to get your muscles warm before diving into a static stretch routine. Stretching cold muscles can increase your chances of injury.
- Don’t bounce. While it may be tempting to go up and down quickly in the stretch to go deeper, this can risk injury to your muscles. Instead, hold at the point of tension for 15 to 30 seconds, then relax and repeat.
- Don’t push too far. Stretch to the point of tension, then stop there. Overexerting can cause injury.
- Remember your breath. Be aware of your inhale and exhale pattern, practicing diaphragmatic breathing whenever possible.
A basic Forward Fold will stretch the entire backside of your body, including your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and spine.
Seated torso stretches
This move — also called the seated pretzel stretch — will provide a nice lengthening of your spine as well as stretch your glutes.
Release tight hips and glutes with a figure-four stretch.
You can also perform this stretch while standing, though it requires quite a bit more balance. Stay on the ground until you’re comfortable.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch
If you sit most of the day, tight hip flexors are probably your nemesis.
Stretch this area at the front of your hip to ensure mobility for the long haul.
When stretching, it’s important not to neglect the head and neck area.
From “text neck” to a bad night’s sleep, prolonged unnatural positioning can leave you feeling sore and out of alignment.
Another culprit of sitting all day: a tight chest.
When your shoulders naturally round forward, your chest will take the brunt, so allowing for a nice opening stretch will ensure that you can continue to stand proud.
Another way to increase flexibility — and mobility — is by incorporating dynamic stretching, which is a movement-based type of stretching.
Instead of coming into a position and holding it, a dynamic stretch puts the muscles and joints through a full range of motion. This is a great warmup before a number of different activities.
Perform this sequence of five dynamic stretches, each for 30 seconds, to reap the benefits.
Loosen up your hips with this move.
Similar to front swings, side swings loosen up your hips by working in a different plane of motion.
Lunge with a twist
Adding a gentle trunk rotation to your reverse lunge will allow for a nice stretch in the torso.
Loosen up your shoulders and upper back with arm circles.
You’ll want to go both ways with the circles. You might find that one is easier than the other — that’s OK, and to be expected.
Whether you step your high knees or keep one foot off the ground throughout, this move will get the blood pumping to your lower limbs while stretching your glutes, hips, and knee joints.
With all stretching, it’s important that you listen to your body.
If you start to feel pain or significant discomfort, stop immediately. You could risk a muscle strain or even a tear.
Stretch just to the point of tension and hold there. With consistent practice, you’ll ease into your flexibility in no time.
Stretching just 30 minutes a week can dramatically increase your flexibility over time.
There are numerous benefits associated with good flexibility — the most important being your quality of life. And the great thing is, it’s never too late to start!
Precision Pain Care and Rehabilitation has two convenient locations in Richmond Hill – Queens and New Hyde Park – Long Island. Call the Richmond Hill office at (718) 215-1888, or (516) 419-4480 for the Long Island office, to arrange an appointment with our Interventional Pain Management Specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Chacko.