Focusing on your flexibility can help you solve a multitude of physical ailments. Maybe you're suffering from tech neck after being hunched over at your home “office” for the past two years, or maybe you’re simply an active person hoping to improve mobility. Either way, improving your flexibility can help.
“Our bodies are very smart and will adapt to what we ‘require’ of them,” explains Bree Koegel, CPT, CES, FRCms and founding FitOn app trainer. “The more we slump and lean forward at our desks, the more our bodies naturally assume that position.”
The same logic applies to flexibility. Research shows the less we move and incorporate stretching into our exercise routine, the more rigid, tense and tight our bodies become.
“Flexibility is medicine to a long-standing life in having mobility,” says Mickey Myvett, personal trainer and THE WELL fitness coach. She adds that flexibility is especially crucial for avoiding injury and maintaining strength.
If your range of motion isn’t where you’d like it to be, there are solutions. And if you’re not concerned, personal trainer Alex Rosen says restriction will sneak up if you’re not careful — so it’s important to establish a preventative routine while you’re able.
“Like any physical practice, you can’t just try and stretch once a month and expect to be a gymnast,” adds Rosen. If you implement these five practices, though, you’ll begin to see small improvements every day. Just remember: Dedication and patience are key.
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1. Check Your Posture
“Prop a cell phone up and take a self-timed selfie of the way you naturally stand,” advises Koegel. “Notice if your chin protrudes from your chest, or if your shoulders round forward. Then notice if your back is swayed and your pelvis is tilted forward.” Align all of those body parts linearly, she adds, and practice maintaining that shape. It may feel strange at first, but your body will thank you for it.
2. Stretch Daily
There are many simple static (still) and dynamic (moving) stretches you can do to maintain flexibility. Find a few that work for you and try to stick to them. Here are a few examples, provided by Myvett, Rosen, Koegel and Jason Williams, CPT and well-being coach:
Static Stretches for Improved Flexibility
- Straddle stretch or wide-legged forward fold: Stand with your legs apart and bend over for 20 to 30 seconds. This releases tension in the whole body, especially the lower back, upper, back and hamstrings.
- Hamstring stretch: While standing, cross your right leg over your left. Bend forward and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch legs.
- Lying spinal twist: Lying on your back with your left leg flat on the floor, pull your right knee up to your chest, then cross it over your body to touch the floor (or as close as possible) on your left side. Extend your arms on either side in a T-position. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch legs.
- Standing quadricep stretch: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and shoulders rolled back. Bend your left leg, bringing your heel toward your bum and grasp your left foot with your right hand. Hold for as long as it feels comfortable, ideally 30 seconds, then switch legs.
- Lying piriformis stretch: Lying on your back, put your arms at your sides, palms facing down. Raise your legs straight up (you can rest your heels on a wall if needed), then rest your right ankle on your left knee. Hold for 30 seconds (or to your comfort level), then switch legs.
- Butterfly stretch: Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Using your hands, gently pull your right foot in toward your groin, its sole facing your left inner thigh. Repeat with the left leg, pulling your left foot in to face your right inner thigh. Hold your feet with your hands, and keeping your spine elongated, allow the weight of your knees to fall and stretch your hips. Hold for 30 seconds.
Dynamic Stretches for Improved Flexibility
- Rotary twists: Sit with your legs out in front of you, slightly bent, and your back slightly lowered. Twist your upper body, leading with your arms, through the waist to the left, then the right for eight to 10 reps.
- Arm circles: Extend your arms at your sides and rotate them forward and back 10 times. Repeat three times.
- Side lunges: With your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed forward, step out as wide as possible with your right foot. Keeping the left leg straight, drop your hips down and back into a squat. Press into the right heel to push yourself back into standing position. Repeat 10 times. Switch legs.
- Leg swings: Standing perpendicular to a wall, rest your left hand on it to balance. Then flex your left foot and swing it forward and back 10 times. Switch legs. Face the wall and press both hands into it for stability. Slightly bend your left knee before swinging your left leg out, then in, crossing it in front of your right leg. Repeat 10 times. Switch legs.
3. Breathe Deeply
Mindful, intentional breathing allows you to avoid stiffness or strain. “Remember to take deep breaths while stretching,” urges Williams. “Breathing will help your muscles to relax into the stretch.”
4. Don’t Overdo It
Listen to your body, and don’t force it into shapes or stretches it doesn’t want to be in. “Never work through pain,” warns Rosen. “If you are performing a stretch and hit a point where you’re feeling pain, stop.” Myvett adds that any sensations of tingling or soreness are signs that a stretch is not being performed properly. Consider a recovery service to refuel the body and book a personal training session to make sure you’re on the right track.
5. Exercise Regularly
You don’t have to commit to intense workouts — even a brisk walk will check the box, as long as it keeps you moving. “They can be less than 20 minutes,” says Myvett. “Just to get the body active and out of the contemplation stage.”