If you’re reading this, you’re probably looking for the best ways to get more flexible.
You’re not alone!
We all seem to be a little obsessed about making weird stuff with our bodies and are continually searching for easy and fast strategies to tie ourselves into a pretzel.
Check it for yourself. The google query “how to become more flexible” keeps holding top positions every single year with a slight increase at the end of December (New Year’s resolution season?).
So today, let’s explore:
- what is the role of flexibility in our life?
- how do you know if you need to stretch?
- what are the best ways to increase flexibility?
Table Of Contents
Why Flexibility Is Important
(but not too much)
I feel like I need to clarify the terms first.
By flexibility here, I mean the ability of the joint to move through its full range of motion with the help of external force. Some people also call it passive flexibility.
Flex your neck to the right and put your hand on the top of the head to assist yourself – that’s how much passive flexibility you have in your cervical spine (neck joint). You are using external force (your hand) to push your neck further into the stretch.
Now take the hand out of the equation, and flex your neck without the external force but rather by using the strength of your muscles. That’s your mobility, also known as active flexibility.
While flexibility defines how far we can go into the stretch, our mobility determines how much control we have over the movement.
Simply saying, mobility is a combination of passive flexibility and muscle strength.
So here’s the number one reason why flexibility is important. Without a healthy range of motion in our joints and without proper muscle length, we can’t develop mobility to lead our normal lives.
You need a certain degree of flexibility to do necessary daily activities without pain and discomfort. Reaching for things, bending down to put your shoes on, even getting out of bed (okay, this one sometimes causes major discomfort no matter how much flexibility you have :-D)
Limited range of motion is no fun and can cause:
- daily aches and pains
- an increased risk of injury/muscle strain due to muscle imbalances
- a decrease in athletic performance
- arterial stiffening (when your arteries lose suppleness) that can lead to stroke – that’s pretty radical but here’s a study about this.
Maintaining a healthy range of motion is necessary for better and efficient movement. That’s where flexibility training comes in.
How Do I Know That I Need To Stretch
Stretching is perhaps the most common type of flexibility training.
Over the years, I’ve met a ton of people who took up stretching classes because they were “too inflexible.”
My question was always the same: too inflexible for what? Too inflexible to move comfortably in your life? Or too inflexible to do splits?
Finding a solid reason behind our compulsive desire to stretch and push our bodies into suppleness is where any flexibility training should start.
I’ve talked about this in my post about the 30-Day Splits Challenge. In a nutshell, most of us can be divided into three camps.
Those who stretch religiously because they still believe that stretching helps with performance and saves you from injury (it doesn’t, by the way).
Those who stretch because it’s common knowledge that we should lengthen the muscles after a workout and everybody does it. Fundamentally, they don’t know the reason.
And those who just like the challenge. The rush of pushing your body to its limit and checking how far that limit is. That’s where most of us yogis belong.
So I suggest that before throwing yourself into intensive stretching, ask yourself why you want to become more flexible? How important is it in your daily life?
A good rule of the thumb would be to answer the following questions:
– Are you a professional gymnast, contortionist, martial artist, etc. where increasing your flexibility will help you in your professional activity?
– Do you find it hard to carry out everyday tasks? Does bending to pick up socks from the ground or putting on shoes feel super awkward and hard to do? Or worse, do you feel pain when performing your daily routine?
– Do you feel physical discomfort and stiffness during recreational activities?
Yes? Awesome! Adding flexibility training and stretching to your routine will benefit your day-to-day life. You should totally go for it!
If the answer is no, you probably don’t need to focus on flexibility that much.
Leslie Kaminoff, a recognized specialist in yoga anatomy, nicely puts it in this video: “I do yoga to live my life, not another way around.”
The primary purpose of flexibility training should be to retain the range of motion to do what we want to do in the process of aging. Not to dedicate our lives to the pursuit of some undefinable holy grain of flexibility.
I must admit, I frequently get sucked in a flexibility rabbit hole. Just open Instagram. It feels everyone in this world can just casually slide into splits, or reach their ankles while in Full Wheel pose.
When I get a compulsive desire to start an active stretching routine, I ask myself these questions:
- How important are these things for my life? Not for my ego, but for my life?
- Is it flexibility that I actually need? Or maybe I need to optimize multiple areas (strength, stability, flexibility) for better mobility (and a better movement/life)?
I’m Really Inflexible. Is It Possible To Improve My Flexibility?
So you’re sure you want to get more flexible, and it’s gonna make you move better. Sure thing it’s possible!
What do you need for it?
I’d say the most honest answer would be:
Patience, consistency, and commitment.
Flexibility is like strength training. Use it or lose it. You know your muscles are gonna grow and you’re gonna get stronger when you start lifting. On the other hand, you start losing the mass once you stop using your muscles.
Same goes for flexibility. Everyone can become more flexible no matter how stiff, tight, inflexible you are.
If you’re gonna consistently work on making your body more supple, you’re gonna eventually achieve it.
The only thing that will differ from person to person is how long it will take you to increase flexibility to meet your goals.
The hard truth is that flexibility comes easy to some people while it takes longer for others. There are many factors in play, including your age, activity and fitness level, bone structure, and even genetics.
Four Best Ways To Get More Flexible
There is no one cookie-cut approach to increase flexibility.
Some find this fact frustrating. It probably would be easier to just follow one program and know that this is gonna work 100%. But looking on the bright side, we’ve got such a variety that improving your range of motion will never get boring!
Here are my top four ways to become more flexible and to improve mobility.
Believe me, if you integrate these four components in your regular exercise regimen, you’ll see the results faster than you think.
Joint Mobility Drills
These are basically dynamical and rhythmical stretches that massage your muscle tissues and joints. Instead of passively holding the stretch, mobility drills involve movement and a bit of strength.
Do joint mobility drills:
- to warm up before exercise and prevent injury
- to limber up after sleep
- as a microbreak at work to beat stiffness from excessive sitting
- to help with typical aches and pains: low back and neck pain, headache
- to just feel good
Check out this video below for ideas:
Yoga is totally NOT about flexibility and stretching. But it is damn good at making your body supple. And science agrees – read here about the best types of yoga to increase flexibility.
Ironically, people often bemoan their lack of flexibility and call themselves too inflexible for yoga. Honestly, some of my friends literally bent forward to demonstrate how they can’t touch their toes. Yet, what they actually need to gain flexibility is yoga.
Adding at least an hour of yoga to your weekly schedule can make a huge difference not only in your flexibility but also stress response, breath control, and calmness of the mind.
But the truth is – frequency is more important than duration. So strive for at least 10 minutes of targeted physical yoga practice every day.
We generally consider muscle stiffness and feeling of tightness as a sign of inflexibility.
The reality is that often, our range of motion has nothing to do with it. Instead, it’s just our nervous system doing its great job at guarding us off the pain – by limiting our movement.
Your less flexible hamstring, for example, is probably, weaker than the other.
So strange as it may sound, proper resistance training can help you see a significant improvement in flexibility. Without doing any targeted stretching whatsoever.
Besides, nobody ever complained about being too strong, am I right or am I right? 🙂
Good Old Stretching
Static passive stretches are just one way of doing it. You can also explore:
- Isometric stretches – when you flex the muscles you open to get deeper into the stretch;
- Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) – a way of stretching similar to ‘pulsing’ – you alternate between contracting and relaxing the muscle you want to loosen to increase a range of motion;
- Reciprocal inhibition – a way of stretching where you flex the muscles on one side of the joint to open the muscles on the other side. For example, flexing your quads in Forward Fold will let you go deeper into the stretch as your hamstrings will relax.
Do your stretching exercises when your body and muscles are warm. For instance, ending your workout with stretches is the way to go. Otherwise, warm up with joint mobility drills before your stretching session.