Keeping your muscles healthy is vital to maintaining a long, movement-filled life. Part of keeping your muscles healthy, as you know, is building strength. But the other part of that equation—and, unfortunately, an often-neglected part—is flexibility.
Flexibility, the quality of stretching or bending your muscles, allows for greater range of motion, so your body can move more easily and more deeply. A deeper range of motion helps you build additional strength, stability and flexibility around your joints, which in turn decreases muscular imbalances—where muscles are both under- and over-active in an area of the body—ultimately resulting in fewer injuries.
Plus, a bit of additional flexibility can help you feel better in general. When your muscles are looser and less tense, you’ll feel fewer aches and pains.
Some people are just naturally more flexible than others, and your unique level of flexibility depends on your genetics, gender, age, body shape and level of physical activity. But incorporating any of the activities below into our daily lives can help even the least flexible of us become more flexible.
Getting in a good warm up before physical activity is vital to keeping your workout regimen injury-free. Building a dynamic stretch into your routine between your warm up and your workout can help reduce your risk of injury even more.
Include movements that move multiple muscle groups—like lunges, high-knee skips or other examples here—to improve mobility throughout your workout and beyond.
Static stretching—holding a single position for a short period of time instead of moving through a stretch—is an excellent way to both build flexibility and prevent muscle soreness following physical activity. And, it should only be done during a cool-down after physical activity, as static stretching before a workout can have a negative impact.
A good static stretch moves a muscle to the end of its range of motion, then maintains that position (without pain) for 20 to 45 seconds. Find tips on stretches to try here.
Try A New Workout
If regular workouts in the gym—warm up and cool down included—aren’t your thing, that’s okay! There are a number of exercises outside of typical gym-based workouts that also help to develop your flexibility.
Yoga is perhaps the most obvious option. With a multitude of practice styles, there’s a type of yoga for everyone—Yin or Hatha yoga are both good places to start for a flexibility focus! Pilates is another great option for working both on flexibility and strength in a single workout, particularly in your core.
If you’re looking for something even more low-impact, Tai Chi, sometimes called meditation in motion, consists of movement through a series of slow movements throughout the body that help build balance, flexibility and stability.
Dance It Out
Dance classes such as Zumba can be a fun way to work your joints and muscles in new, completely different ways. Movements that require quick changes in direction often require muscles to activate or lengthen in ways they aren’t typically used.
The best way to become more flexible is to build multiple short stretching opportunities into each day—even when you’re busy doing other tasks. Take a five-minute stretching break at your desk during the work day with a handful of seated stretches. Or multitask with static stretches during down time in front of the TV.