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Reach! (How to Increase Flexibility and Why That's Important)

Reach! (How to Increase Flexibility and Why That's Important)

Does the idea of touching your toes seem as far reached to you as climbing Mount Everest?

If so, it may be time to work on your flexibility. Being flexible is about more than just preventing injuries. Flexibility poses a number of significant health benefits.

Many people, however, think that being flexible means being able to bend your body in weird pretzel-like shapes or being able to do the splits in every which direction.

However, this is not the case. Even small increases in flexibility can make a huge difference.

Another misconception is that some people are born naturally flexible and others aren't. While some people are naturally more flexible than others, absolutely everyone can improve their own flexibility.

But, how do you improve your flexibility? And, why exactly is it so beneficial to be flexible?

Read on to learn how to increase flexibility and why it's important.

How to Increase Flexibility

Before we get into the "why", let's start with the "how". That is, how to increase your flexibility.

Most people are probably thinking, "Well duh, you need to stretch more!" But, while standard stretches like touching your toes or reaching your arms to the sky are great, they aren't the only way you can increase your flexibility.

Let's take a look at all the different options you have when it comes to increasing your flexibility.

1. Dynamic Stretching

It used to be that holding the body in minute-long static stretching positions was the only way to warm up.

However, more and more studies are showing that dynamic stretching (aka movement stretching) is actually a lot more beneficial for warming up than static stretching.

Dynamic stretching involves moving your joints through their full range of motion in a slow and controlled manner. Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching does not involve you holding any one position for an extended period of time.

While specific recommendations vary, for those doing general exercise, 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching before your workout is enough to improve your flexibility and prep you for your exercise session.

Examples of dynamic stretches include high knees, side lunges, front lunges, squats, push-ups,a nd jumping jacks.

Do 20 to 30 reps of each stretch before you begin your workout.

2. Static Stretching

Of course, static stretching still definitely has its place when improving your flexibility.

Static stretching is best done after your workout when your muscles are warmed up and ready.

Let's take a quick look at the different static stretching movements you should be incorporating into your post-workout routine.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

For the standing hamstring stretch, you will stand tall, placing your legs shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees, and then bend forward at the hips.

Touch your toes if you can. But if you can't, wrap your arms around the back of your legs.

Piriformis Stretch

The piriformis muscle is located on the outside of the butt, and it helps with hip rotation. You use your hips in nearly every exercise, so it's very important to make sure your hips are flexible and strong.

To perform the piriformis stretch, sit on your butt and cross your left leg over your right leg. Then, extend your right arm and hold it on the outside of your left quad, Twist your torso to the left as you press your arm against your left outside leg.

Then, do the same thing on the other side.

Triceps Stretch

For the triceps stretch, extend your arms overhead, and then bend one arm at the elbow, behind your head.

Then, use your other arm to grasp the bent arm at the elbow and gently pull it towards your head. Do the same thing on the other side.

Lying Quad Stretch

The quad is one of the biggest muscles in the body, and therefore it's very important to stretch your quads on a regular basis.

For this stretch, lie on one side, and keep your bottom leg straight and bend the top leg towards your buttocks. Hold the top foot with your hand, and then pull it towards your butt. You should feel the stretch through your whole quad.

Repeat the same thing on the other side.

Also, if you are confident with your balance, you can do this stretch standing up.

Butterfly Stretch

For the butterfly stretch, sit tall on the floor with the soles of your feet pressed together and your knees bent out towards the sides.

While holding your hands to your feet or your ankles, slowly lower your body to the floor while pressing your knees to the floor. You'll feel this stretch on the inside of your quads.

Shoulder Squeeze

Nearly everybody has tension in their upper back, which is why the shoulder squeeze is such an important stretch.

To perform the shoulder squeeze stretch, sit with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Reach your hands behind your lower back and clasp them together. Then, squeeze your shoulders together as you straighten and extend your arms.

Side Bend Stretch

The side bend is an excellent stretch that helps increase the flexibility of your entire body.

For this stretch, kneel on the floor with your legs close together. Then, lift one leg and extend it to the side. Then, take the opposite arm and extend it overhead, reaching towards the outstretched leg. Make sure your hips stay facing forward.

Then, repeat on the other side.

Knee to Chest Stretch

For the knee to chest stretch, you get to lie down on your back. Extend your legs in front of you, and then pull up one leg towards your chest while keeping the other one extended.

Also, make sure your back stays flat on the floor. Then, repeat on the other leg.

Extra Static Stretching Tips

There are plenty of mistakes people make while performing static stretches. Keep the following in mind:

  • Don't Bounce: Bouncing up and down while you stretch can actually cause injury and tightness.

  • Holding: Make sure you are holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds. Any less, and you won't see much improvement.

  • Don't Aim for Pain: Many people think that if they're feeling pain, the stretch is working. While you should expect to feel tension when you stretch, pain means you've gone too far and you're at risk of injury.

  • Keep Up With Your Routine: You need to stretch a few times a week to see improvement

3. Massage

If you're looking for an excuse to get a massage, this is it.

On top of dynamic and static stretching, incorporating massage can help work out the knots in your body that cause movement restriction.

If you can't afford a professional massage, foam rolling is an excellent substitute.

4. Hydration

Water is beneficial for many reasons, one of which is flexibility improvement.

Water makes up a major portion of our muscle composition. Without proper hydration, muscles will not respond well to flexibility training.

By consuming the appropriate amounts of water throughout the day, your muscles will be more ready for your stretching session.

While the amount of water everyone needs varies depending on exercise level and size, in general, try to drink half your body weight in ounces. And, make sure you are drinking a little extra before and after your exercise session.

5. Relax

Stress can cause your muscles to tighten up into huge balls of knots. When your muscles are knotted, you can't properly stretch them, and you can't perform the normal ranges of motions you need to exercise.

If you feel the stress piling on, take a few times a week to engage in relaxing activities.

Taking a bath, doing yoga, going for a walk, or getting a massage are all great ways to reduce stress and unwind the knots in your muscles.

Benefits of Increased Flexibility

Now that you know how to increase your flexibility, let's talk about why you should increase your flexibility.

As we said earlier, there are a number of benefits that come with increased flexibility. Let's take a look at what they are.

1. Fewer Injuries

Of course, one of the main benefits of increased flexibility is that it can help prevent injury.

This is because stretching and improving our flexibility helps rid your body of muscle imbalances. When your muscles are imbalanced, you tend to put more stress on one muscle during exercise. This extra stress can cause the muscle to tear, strain, or sprain.

When you use your muscles equally, the stress balances out, reducing your chance of injury.

2. Improved Athletic Performance

Just because you're not training to be the next Simone Biles, doesn't mean you shouldn't be working to improve your athletic performance.

When you increase your flexibility, you retain greater motor control, improve your range of motion, and you utilize the full potential of your muscles.

This can help you with everything from running a better marathon time to improving your swing on the golf course or tennis court to even just performing better in Pilates class.

3. Improves Posture

When you're inflexible, you're placing unnecessary strain on your muscles and joints.

This unnecessary strain can cause poor posture. Poor posture isn't just bad because it makes you look like a hunchback. The negative effects of poor posture include:

  • Headaches

  • Sleep problems

  • Mood issues

  • Decreased motivation

  • Foot and back pain

  • Carpal Tunnel

  • Increased fatigue

  • Constipation

By increasing your flexibility, you reduce the strain on your muscles and joints that lead to poor posture.

4. Less Pain

Are you someone who is constantly experiencing aches and pains?

If so, increasing your flexibility can certainly help. This is because when you stretch, you lengthen and open your muscles.

When your muscles are elongated and open, your body will experience fewer aches and pains overall.

5. Get in Touch with Your Body

Oftentimes, when we're working out, we're moving so fast and trying so hard that we aren't really paying attention to our bodies.

Stretching gives you an opportunity to slow down and get in sync with your body. It helps improve your mind-body connection, which can improve your overall health and well-being.

6. Improve Your Overall State of Mind

The different methods for improving your flexibility, particularly, static stressing and massaging, are great ways to improve your overall state of mind.

This is because when you are stretching or getting a massage, you're giving yourself an opportunity to slow down and relax. Once you're mind relaxes, you are able to think more clearly and positively.

7. Supports Functional Movement

Many people only associate flexibility with exercise. However, being flexible can also benefit your everyday life.

Think about all the different movements you make throughout the day- bending down and picking up stuff off the floor, reaching for your cell phone, lifting a baby, cleaning the house, etc.

If you're tight and inflexible, these normal activities could potentially lead to injury.

When your flexibility is at its best, you're able to perform these normal functional movements without having to worry about injury.

Are You Ready to Increase Your Flexibility?

Now that you know how to increase flexibility, it's time to put these methods to use so you can start experiencing the benefits.

As we said earlier, in order to see the best results, make sure you're incorporating these different methods on a regular basis.

If you have any questions about improving your flexibility, please drop us a comment below. Or, if you've experienced the benefits of improved flexibility, please share your story with us.

Many people who are looking to improve their flexibility are also looking to build their muscles. To learn how to build your muscles naturally, check this article out.

About the author

Dr. Constance Odom, MD

8 min read