When you think flexibility, you may picture an Olympic gymnast or professional dancer. But flexibility isn’t only about hitting the splits — limbering up your muscles can help improve your overall health and wellbeing. So if you’re looking to get bendier, there are plenty of ways to increase flexibility, no splits necessary.
Flexibility is more than just touching your toes. Building flexibility through regular stretching and activity can help keep your joints and muscles loose, which research shows can help boost your athletic performance. And the benefits don’t stop with your fitness routine. Keeping your muscle and connective tissue healthy can help relieve or prevent everyday discomfort, like that dreaded low back pain from hunching at your desk all day. Better flexibility can also help improve your mobility overall, which makes everyday tasks like lugging groceries around or picking something heavy off the ground much easier, says iFit trainer Kelsey Sheahan.
If you’re ready to soak in those perks, there are plenty of ways to get limber. To help, trainers share their 10 favorite tips for how to increase flexibility.
1. Wear Non-Restrictive Clothes
Start by dressing the part. Though it should go without saying that jeans would be an uncomfortable choice (hello, ripped pants), take this as your reminder to wear non-restrictive clothing that allows you to move around. Think yoga pants, athletic shorts, gym shirts, and the like so you can comfortably stay active and mobile as you dive into your flexibility routine.
2. Start Stretching
A good stretching routine is key to building flexibility, says yoga instructor Elinor Cohen. If you’re new to it, she recommends easing in by picking a couple of moves to practice for just a few minutes a day, like the simple but effective butterfly stretch, wide straddle, or half splits.
Sheahan suggests striking a balance between dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretches, like world’s greatest stretch, are ideal for warming up before a workout since they loosen up your muscles and boost blood flow to body parts that need extra circulation to perform well during exercise, says Cohen. Static stretches, like holding a quad stretch or forward fold, are the perfect way to help your muscles wind down and start to recover after activity, adds Sheahan.
3. Consistency Is Key
Making a habit of stretching is critical when it comes to building flexibility, according to Sheahan. She recommends incorporating a few minutes of stretching into your daily routine, like first thing in the morning to wake up, as a workday break, or right before bed to decompress. That way, your muscles lengthen on the regular, which Sheahan says will help improve flexibility over time.
4. Stay Active
Inactivity — like sitting at your WFH station all day — can cause your muscles and joints to grow tight and stiff, which is a recipe for inflexibility, says BOUT Boxing trainer Nell Kucich. The remedy? In short, “motion is lotion,” according to Sheahan. Whether that’s a daily stroll through your neighborhood or a strength training session, Kucich says that staying active helps keep your tissue lubricated, loose, and limber.
5. Do Yoga
If you can’t decide what bendiness-promoting activity to try, start with yoga. Though the main focus of the practice isn't to improve flexibility, research shows that flowing through yoga’s muscle-engaging poses and stretches can improve your range of motion and help you limber up all around. If you don’t know where to start, Sheahan recommends building your own mobility flow. Pick a few stretches or movements that feel good to you, then transition from one to the next without stopping to get your body moving.
6. Harness Heat
Regularly warming up your muscles before a workout can help level up your exercise game. The same goes for your stretch session, says Cohen. Whether your muscles are warm from a recent workout, a heated yoga studio, or a trip to the sauna, heat can help them relax so they’re able to lengthen into stretches more readily than when they’re cold.
7. Breathe Into It
If you unwittingly hold your breath while you do a challenging yoga pose or difficult stretch, Sheahan suggests syncing your breath with your movements to help you make the most of your flexibility routine. “When things get tough or uncomfortable in life, we’re taught to take a couple deep breaths to help us get through it,” she tells Bustle. “The same goes for stretching.”
She recommends taking a big breath in, then settling deeper into your pose or stretch as you exhale. Breathing deeply can help you relax into the move rather than forcing yourself into a position you’re not ready for. Just remember to listen to your body — while stretching can sometimes feel uncomfortable, it shouldn’t cause you pain.
8. Rest and Recover
You might think that exercising every day is the best way to quickly build and maintain flexibility. But remember that limbering up your muscles is a marathon, not a sprint. Incorporating a few rest days into your week gives your body time to recover so that your muscles are in tip-top shape to safely slay your next workout without the risk of overuse injury, says Kucich. On your off days, she recommends taking some time to static stretch to help your muscles stay fresh as they repair from your latest sweat sesh.
9. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Dehydration is often to blame for cramped muscles, says Kucich. Staying well-hydrated throughout the day keeps your muscles nourished and working their best. It can also help flush out irritating substances like lactic acid, which can accumulate after exercise. The end result? Happier, healthier muscles that are better able to tackle your fitness and flexibility routines.
10. Use Your Surroundings
If your usual stretches are getting stale, Sheahan suggests turning to your environment for inspiration. Hold onto either side of a doorway and lean forward to open up your chest, or grab a dish towel to help you reach your toes in a forward fold, she says. Incorporating props and supports from your surroundings can help keep your stretching routine fresh and fun so that you’re more likely to make a habit of it.
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Elinor Cohen, yoga instructor
Kelsey Sheahan, iFit trainer
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