7 Proven Ways To Increase Your Flexibility
Our very own Kelby Church, PT, DPT, was featured by GoodRx in an article on seven proven ways to increase your flexibility, read on below!
7 Proven Ways To Increase Your Flexibility
When you hear the word flexibility, you might think of someone who can touch their toes or a yoga teacher who can fold in half with ease. But to be flexible, you don’t have to be able to fold your body into a pretzel. Flexibility means that your joints can move through a full range of motion.
Being flexible makes it easier to do everyday activities like carrying your groceries. And it can also help protect you from injury and relieve muscle and joint pain. Keep reading for tips on how to maintain or improve your flexibility.
Why is flexibility important?
“Flexibility is the ability of a muscle or joint to stretch to its end range of motion without restriction,” says Addison Tarr, a physical therapist and strength coach at the Performance Therapy Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, in Santa Monica, California.
“Your muscles control your joints,” Tarr explains. “And flexibility allows your joints to move freely and perform essential functions.”
You explore the full range of motion of your joints all day, every day, when you’re moving. Flexible muscles help you make functional movements like lifting heavy objects or standing from a seated position.
“Without full flexibility, our bodies will compensate elsewhere,” Tarr says. “That will cause more loading on other joints, and that could lead to potential injury.”
That’s why it’s important to work on your flexibility as part of your regular lifestyle habits. Here are seven ways to start your flexibility training.
1. Practice static and dynamic stretching
Static stretching involves holding a muscle in a lengthened position for about 20 to 60 seconds at a time. You do this passive stretching slowly and with low resistance, says Brian Joyce, a physical therapist at ProRehab. An overhead triceps stretch and a kneeling hip flexor stretch are examples of static moves that require you to hold positions for a short time.
With dynamic stretching, you move the joint through its range of motion. This active stretching loosens muscle tissue and improves blood flow, Joyce says. You might try walking lunges with twists or side shuffles in a dynamic stretching routine.
Both can help with flexibility. But warming up with dynamic stretching before you exercise is crucial for flexibility and performance, says Stasia Bahring, a doctor of physical therapy practicing at Strive Physical Therapy in New Jersey. These types of stretches include active movement similar to the exercises you’ll do in your workout.
Static stretching can be used as part of your cooldown. Or, Bahring says, you can use dynamic stretching again at a slower pace for your post-workout time.
2. Try deep breathing while you stretch
Paying attention to your breathing while stretching and exercising is helpful for a number of reasons. For example, monitoring how hard you breathe can help you gauge your exercise intensity. And your breathing technique may affect your workout performance.
Tarr suggests integrating deep breaths into your stretching routine to relax your muscles. A 2021 study found that breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation can help lower stress in the body quickly. That’s useful for easing deeper into stretches, as muscles release tension, Tarr says.
3. Stay hydrated
Proper hydration is essential for muscle flexibility, Joyce says. Dehydration has been linked to increased muscle tightness and that can limit your range of motion, he adds.
Drinking enough water helps keep your joints lubricated, which is important for movement and flexibility. Some research suggests that drinking electrolyte-enhanced water may even prevent muscle cramps.
4. Start with gentle movement
If you’re new to flexibility training, Tarr recommends focusing on simple stretches. You can start with moves that target larger muscle groups that tend to be tight. This might include your hamstrings, glutes, calves, shoulders, and neck muscles.
“Beginners should start small and not overdo any stretches, since that can lead to muscle strain,” he says. “Typically, a good stretch will feel challenging but without pinching or pain. If you feel those, you may be overdoing it.”
5. Try yoga for better flexibility
Yoga is a great way to add gentle movement and deep breathing to your fitness routine. There are many forms of yoga, so you may want to try several before deciding which is the best fit.
Some yoga practices include slower, gentler movements. Others are more demanding and involve holding positions longer. There are numerous, so there’s really no wrong choice here, Bahring says.
“Yoga takes your body through different positions and movements that you might not do on a normal day,” she adds. “This challenge is good for you — and can improve flexibility.”
6. Make stretching a habit
Stretching should be an integral part of your everyday movement, says Kelby Church, a doctor of physical therapy practicing at Mountain River Physical Therapy in West Virginia.
You can make stretching a habit by creating a routine, he suggests. You might add morning and evening stretches to your schedule. Or you can take stretch breaks throughout the day, which is especially helpful if you sit all day at work.
“Taking small, manageable steps can be the key to long-term success,” Church says. “Also, remember that it’s never too late to start.”
7. Consult a professional
If lack of flexibility is limiting how much you can do, consider talking to a medical professional, Bahring says.
“Physical therapists are trained to assess imbalances in mobility,” she says. “You can never stretch too much, but you can stretch too far. Having a specialist assist you when stretching, especially when it’s new to you, helps you become more flexible.”
The bottom line
Flexibility isn’t just for the super bendy. Regular flexibility training can pay off in better mobility and lower injury risk. And there are strategies everyone can try for improved range of motion and muscle support.