Many people overlook the importance of stretching as part of their fitness routine, especially in comparison to cardio or weight training. But here’s why flexibility matters: Stretching can decrease your risk for injury, decrease muscle cramps, aches and pains, increase your strength, and help you improve your posture and balance (which may even increase your height!).
Stretching also corrects muscle imbalances by strengthening underactive muscles and stretching overactive ones. Although some people are naturally more flexible than others, don’t be discouraged: You will increase your flexibility and range of motion the more you practice. When adding stretching to your routine, remember to breathe, listen to your body, and avoid pushing yourself too hard as you keep the following methods in mind:
1. Stretch Daily
Although stretching every single day might seem like a lot of work, you don’t actually have to spend a lot of time on it; even if you only have five to 10 minutes to stretch each day, you can still start to see the benefits from this routine. If you’re able to brush your teeth and get dressed every day, you can easily add in stretching to your daily routine.
Here’s why a daily stretching habit is beneficial to your health: You effectively build off the flexibility from the previous day. It’s an additive process. The more frequently you stretch, the more equipped your muscles will be to reach new ranges of motion.
Stretching is especially helpful after workouts: Your muscles have the greatest range of motion when they’re already warmed up and stretching helps you recover more quickly and avoid future injuries.
2. Consult a Trainer to Help
Many people may be hesitant to start stretching because they don’t know how to get started or they fear injury. A trainer can help you determine what stretches work for your body while helping you avoid injury. In fact, many trainers focus on stretching. A stretching coach can help you recover from other types of workouts so you are able to push yourself further.
3. Incorporate Yoga into Your Exercise Routine
Practicing yoga comes with a multitude of health benefits, not the least of which is improved flexibility.
Yoga helps with flexibility by guiding you into poses (asanas) you wouldn’t be in otherwise. Each pose connects to the next in a process of smooth movements called vinyasa, and you hold these poses while practicing deep breathing.
In one study, researchers evaluated people who took up yoga for eight weeks. By the end of the study, they had improved their flexibility by 35%, regardless of their starting flexibility.
Additionally, yoga is a holistic practice that improves your health in several ways at once; yoga can help you get stronger and improve your posture, mood, and breathing.
4. Try Thai Massage
In Thai massage, you’ll practice dynamic stretches that support your whole body. These massages are popular among athletes as they can help individuals reduce muscle and joint pain, increase flexibility, manage anxiety, improve circulation, and increase energy overall. If you want an additional boost in your flexibility training, consider getting a Thai massage.
5. Use a Foam Roller to Loosen Your Muscles
Using a foam roller can help you stretch and loosen several muscle groups. Part-massage, part-stretch, foam rollers can help you recover from a workout or offer relief to tight muscles.
Even after your muscles have recovered, tension can still linger in your body. A foam roller uses myofascial release techniques to allow your muscle tissue to relax.
6. Don’t Overdo It
One of the most important things you can do to increase your flexibility fast is to listen to your body and not overdo any stretches. If you stretch too long or too far, you can tear a muscle. Not only are torn muscles quite painful, they may take a long time to repair themselves.
Even after your muscles repair themselves, you’ll have to hold off stretching until you’ve fully recovered so as not to injure them again. Be patient, listen to your body, and get some professional help if you’re worried about injury.
7. Try These Stretches
Here are a few stretches SELF recommends for better flexibility. You can make it a habit to do these every day to improve your flexibility:
- Neck stretch
- Standing hamstring stretch
- Shoulder squeeze
- Butterfly stretch
- Pectoral stretch
- Lunge with spinal twist
- Side bend stretch
- Piriformis stretch
- Quadriceps stretch
- Figure four stretch
The Bottom Line
Flexibility is an important, but often overlooked, part of physical fitness. Essential for maintaining range of motion and preventing injury, flexibility will likely make all other physical activity easier.
There are a lot of benefits to flexibility, so listen to your body and try some of these stretching methods to improve your health.
Looking to create healthier habits in your life, such as stretching more? Consider downloading a habit-tracking app, like Arootah’s Habit Accountability Tracker, which allows for simple, easy tracking and progress checks to support you in moving towards your goals.
Do you have a favorite stretch? What’s your favorite way to increase flexibility? Tell us in the comments.