The Best Stretches To Improve Flexibility

Can’t bend over and touch your toes? You might think flexibility is something you’re born with — you either have it or you don’t. While your flexibility level does have ties to genetics (we can’t all be contortionists), you might be surprised to learn that you can build flexibility just as you can build strength, endurance or speed

Just like anything else, developing flexibility takes practice. It takes just as much consistency as does building muscle or getting in shape for a marathon. It may not be easy, but it’s definitely doable, and you can get started with these simple ways to become more flexible. 

Read more: The best ab exercises for a stronger core

1. Start and end each day with static stretches

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Static stretches allow for deep, isolated stretching. Getty Images

Holding static stretches may be the simplest method to improve flexibility. Static stretching includes all flexibility exercises that involve holding a muscle in a stretched position for a substantial amount of time, usually around 30 seconds. This allows you to isolate and deeply stretch a muscle. Starting and ending your day with static stretches — just for 5 to 10 minutes — can make a big difference in how flexible your muscles feel on a daily basis. 

Static stretches you might already be familiar with include: 

Some advanced static stretches include: 

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2. Perform dynamic stretches before and after you exercise

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Dynamic stretches improve mobility. Getty Images

Dynamic stretches, in contrast to static stretches, continuously move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion. This type of stretching feels much more vigorous than static stretching and may even get your heart rate up. 

Dynamic stretching doesn’t isolate muscles as much as static stretching; rather, this type of active stretching works multiple muscles at the same time and teaches you how to engage your muscles and joints to support deeper and more fluid motion. Performing dynamic stretches before your workout makes for a good warmup, and engaging in a few after your workout helps return your body to its resting state (rather than just stopping cold after an intense sweat). 

Examples of dynamic stretches include: 

3. Mash your muscles a few times each week

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Foam rolling helps break up tight muscle and fascia. Getty Images

You might feel inflexible due to adhesions in your fascia, a type of connective tissue that covers your muscles, bones and joints. What people refer to as “muscle knots” often actually occur in the fascia (though your muscle tissue can develop knotty areas, too). 

If you have a lot of these adhesions, which can develop from long periods of sedentary behavior as well as from intense physical activity, try adding self-myofascial release to your routine. Self-myofascial release is essentially self-massage with the goal of “releasing” those tight knots from your body tissues. You can do self-myofascial release with a foam roller, a lacrosse ball, a muscle roller or a massage gun. 

These myofascial release exercises can help:

4. Practice rotational movements

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Often overlooked, rotational movements influence flexibility greatly. Getty Images

Your ability or inability to fully rotate your spine and ball-and-socket joints (hips and shoulders) greatly influences your overall flexibility level. Your spine, hips and shoulders dictate most of the movements you make on a daily basis whether you realize it or not: Every time you step, reach, bend, turn, sit or stand, you’re using your spine along with your hips or shoulders. If you don’t actively practice rotating these joints, you’re missing out on your potential for flexibility. 

Try these rotational exercises to improve flexibility: 

Creating a flexibility training program

In addition to your usual exercise, such as lifting weights or walking, try dedicating a few minutes each day to flexibility training. Time constraints may make it hard to prioritize flexibility exercises, but if you really want to get bendy, you’ll have to commit to a regular practice. 

Here’s one way to incorporate flexibility training into your workout routine:

  • Morning: 5 minutes of static stretching, focus on the lower body
  • Before workout: 10 minutes of full-body dynamic stretching
  • After workout: 5 minutes of myofascial release on the muscles you worked
  • Before bed: 5 minutes of static stretching, focus on the upper body

By dedicating just a few minutes at a time, you can achieve nearly half an hour of flexibility training each day you exercise. 

You can always slightly cut back on your active exercise time to incorporate flexibility work. For example, if you usually walk for 60 minutes a day, walk for 50 minutes and end your walk with 10 minutes of stretching. In the end, becoming more flexible is all about prioritizing flexibility as a goal.  

By: Amanda Capritto Dec. 4, 2020

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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