If you've ever watched an Olympic gymnastics performance and felt bad about yourself due to the fact that you were in pain for a month by simply attempting to do a split, you are not alone. While we may not all be able to perform a killer routine on a balance beam, we can definitely find ways to increase flexibility so that we no longer feel like we have a 50-year-old body at the ripe old age of 30. And honestly, that counts for something.
Flexibility is definitely important in making us feel like the strongest version of ourselves. While it's impossible to suddenly become a human Stretch Armstrong overnight, a little practice will definitely help in the long run. Why is flexibility important? I'm glad you asked. Being flexible helps with pretty much every other workout you want to do, and makes it much easier to perform everyday tasks, as well. As we get older, our flexibility tends to deteriorate, so keeping a keen eye on improving flexibility will help ensure that our joints and overall mobility stay intact. Even now, flexibility helps us avoid injuries, and makes us feel like we're completely in tune with our bodies.
Here are a few simple ways you can help improve your flexibility — and I'll cut to the chase by saying that stretching is involved with almost all of them. By making steps routine, you'll soon notice that you're able to stretch and move much better than ever before. (Just try to be cautious when making a second attempt at that split.)
1. Make sure to wear non-restrictive clothes.
Yoga pants, sleeveless gym shirts, and a sports bra will be necessary to start your routine. (It should go without saying that jeans would be a bad choice, but hey — sometimes when we're passionate about something, we're willing to start immediately without any prep.) You can't expect your flexibility to improve if you're holding back based on your wardrobe. Clothes should be as comfortable as possible.
2. Start stretching.
Take it easy at first, and try not to overextend yourself. Remember, you're warming up your muscles. You'll want to ease into dynamic stretches, which are stretches that require movement (so, no need to hold the position). Dynamic stretches help your range of motion, and are often performed by athletes prior to a big game or event. A few examples are lunges, high knees (which look like an exaggerated form of running, where your knees are closer to your midsection than the ground), and chest stretches, where your elbows attempt to meet up by your back.
Isometric stretches, also called static stretches, are important as well — typically, you'd want to close out a routine with these.
3. Try adding yoga to your workout routine.
The main focus of yoga isn't to improve flexibility, but it does help — and with increased flexibility, you'll find yoga much more natural to do. Even better, there are so many different types of yoga routines, that it's impossible to get bored. Yoga challenges your body to move in ways that you naturally wouldn't expect it to, so it's definitely a great way to stay both flexible and limber.
The routine above is for beginners, and focuses on a routine that can be done within 20 minutes. If yoga isn't your thing, pilates is also a great workout for increased flexibility.
4. Treat flexibility the same way you'd treat weightlifting.
Both have a lot of similarities. If you're already familiar with lifting weights, remember that it's all about dedication. If you quit after a few months, your body will fall back into old patterns. With both, you want to ease into a new routine and make sure you don't start with extreme measures that are way too painful. You'll do your body more harm than good if you start with the most difficult routine. Great patience brings great flexibility.
5. Get some limbering stretches in the mix.
Limbering stretches, like rotating your shoulders or wrists, might not even feel like exercise. But since they're activating your range of motion, they still count. Even extending your arms and rotating them in circles will help you with both flexibility, and feeling more rejuvenated. If you work a desk job, performing these little stretches throughout the day will help make you feel less slouchy.
The video above, uploaded by Natasha Taylor, focuses on some rotational stretches for your shoulders that are definitely worth learning. She starts out with some easy stretches for beginners, and ends with a few that will likely require a bit more practice.
6. Remember that rest days are key for more intense stretches.
You might think that stretching every day is the way to go, but you'll see better results if you incorporate a few rest days in your week — especially if you're working out key parts of your body. If you're doing a lot of isometric stretches, which help elongate certain muscle fibers, you'll likely do more damage than good by stretching these same muscles daily. Remember that trying to increase flexibility isn't a marathon, but a practice. If you're feeling too sore the next day, that's your body's way of telling you that it needs a break. If you feel like a lack of daily stretch will ruin your schedule, remember that limbering stretches are more low impact, and are generally fine to do daily. In fact, many dancers focus on limbering stretches during their warm-ups.
7. Focus on your body.
Stretching for flexibility is a little like meditation. You want to listen to your body, and focus more on getting the stretch right, instead of doing the stretch quickly. Envision your muscles being a bit like taffy — you want to slowly stretch it out to avoid breaking it. (I had a middle school gym teacher who used that analogy once, and it took me years to truly understand how important that visualization can be.) If something hurts, stop doing it.
The video above incorporates breathing while slowly stretching your mid-back. Margaret Martin definitely focuses on her body while making this stretch good for people of all fitness levels.
If you need more motivation or visual aids, YouTube is a great resource. Many dancers and trainers have created videos that'll help you get on the right path.
For more ideas, check out Bustle on YouTube.
Images: Pixabay; Giphy