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How to Improve Your Flexibility

Photo courtesy of www.sxc.hu

Photo courtesy of www.sxc.hu

When it comes to physical fitness, there are four primary areas of concern:

  1. Cardiorespiratory Capacity
  2. Muscular Capacity
  3. Flexibility
  4. Body Composition

Most often neglected on this list is flexibility. If you go to a gym, you'll see nine out of ten people warm up with some kind of cardio exercise or light weights, perform their workout, cool down, shower, and leave. Stretching is completely forgotten. Many people can't see the point, don't feel it's worth the time, or simply don't know how. We're all scared of things we don't understand, and yeah, you might feel silly twisting yourself into all these awkward positions without really knowing what you're supposed to be doing.

Immediate Benefits of Flexibility Training:

  • Reduce the risk of injury caused by working your muscles
  • Encourage blood flow to muscles, helping to distribute oxygen throughout the body. When stretching after a workout, this will help your body cool down and prevent pooling in the veins after you stop moving (eg. in your legs after a cardio workout).
  • Reduce muscle soreness the following day
  • It feels awesome

Long-Term Benefits:

  • Helps to improve your posture
  • Gradually increases the range of motion in your joints so that you can bend, reach, or stretch further.
  • Keeps your body feeling good as you age
  • Encourages you to take time to relax and focus on your body, which will help to improve your stress levels and how you cope.

Who Needs Flexibility Training?

Everyone needs to stretch their muscles. Balance is everything when it comes to fitness. Many women practice yoga and follow rigorous cardio programs, but never lift weights. At the same time, many men lift weights but do little cardio and often don't bother to stretch properly, if at all.

If you live a sedentary lifestyle and are stubborn, time cramped, inconsistent, or just plain lazy about exercising, you should at least include a gentle stretching routine somewhere in your day. Even if it's just taking a break from the office or television to stretch and walk around to get the blood moving and the oxygen flowing through your body. It won't necessarily increase your flexibility, but it will at least keep your legs from falling asleep

How to Stretch

If you're stretching after a workout, the method is simple. Do everything you just did in the reverse. If you contracted a muscle, pull it back again. For example, if you just did biceps curls you'll now want to stretch your biceps, so do the opposite motion you did to exercise them... basically just straighten them out.

If you're looking to actually increase your flexibility, more attention is required to ensure you don't hurt yourself. Follow these golden rules:

  1. Pain is NOT gain. Stretch only until you feel the tension, and hold it there for 10 seconds before a workout, and 20-30 seconds after a workout (this is when you'll see improvements in flexibility).
  2. Don't stretch cold muscles! Stretch only very lightly when warming up before a workout, and do a good stretch afterward. If you're not working out, you can get the same benefits from stretching after a hot bath or shower, when your muscles are warm and blood is pumping. Working warm muscles will reduce the risk of pulled muscles, or any other discomfort, and it will definitely improve your results.
  3. For total body improvement, split the body into major muscle groups: arms, legs, back, chest and core. Stretch each muscle group to increase your overall flexibility.

Muscle Groups and Sample Stretches

Muscles work in pairs. This chart shows basic muscle groups and simple ways to stretch each pair. (In no particular order). There are many other stretches and muscles; I chose to leave them out for simplicity.

Muscle GroupAgonist StretchAntagonist Stretch

Arms

Biceps: Hold your arms straight out to the sides, palms open to the front. Turn your thumbs downwards so the palm faces back, and push gently backward with your palms. Should feel a great strech in your biceps, especially around the elbows.

Triceps: Lift one arm straight up and reach back to touch your shoulderblade. Use the other arm to gently push the elbow further back. Repeat with other arm

Upper Leg

Hamstrings (Back of your leg): Sit on the floor with your legs straight, and try to touch your toes. Should feel the pull in the back of your legs.

Quads (Thigh muscles): Use a wall or chair to balance yourself. Bend your knee and try to reach back and grab your foot from behind you (Runner's stretch). If this is difficult, place a chair or other support behind you to rest your foot on. Stretch the quadriceps by pulling your foot upward while pressing out with your pelvis.

Back/Chest

Chest: Stand next to a wall and place your arm against it so that the upper arm is parallel to the floor and the forearm is flat against the wall, your hand pointing UP. The elbow should be at a 90 degree angle. Simply turn your head and your body a little away from the wall and you should feel the stretch throughout your chest. Repeat on the other side.

Upper Back: On your hands and knees, tuck in your chin and tailbone, arching your back like a cat (cat stretch). Press upwards with your shoulderblades to feel a nice stretch across your upper back.

Lower Leg

Calf muscles: find a step or other platform and stand with just the front of your foot, leaving the heel off the edge. Drop down so the heel is lowered, stretching the calf muscles.

Tibialis Anterior (front of your leg) If you run, this is a must! It will help prevent shin splints. In a lunge-like position, simply drag your foot shoelace-side-down behind you. Should feel stretching in the front of your shin.

Core

Abs: Lay face up on a mat or floor, and stretch from your toes to your fingers like you're being pulled in two directions.

Lower back: Simply forward bend.

Daily Stretching Warm Routine

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Andrew Lowen from Fallbrook, CA on August 16, 2016:

Very helpful! Thank you. I do mixed martial arts and constantly struggle with muscle stiffness. I've been learning the importance of stretching lately and this article has a lot of great information.

Pharma840 on July 25, 2014:

Very nice site!

vmeeczvtky on May 12, 2013:

An intriguing discussion will probably be worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you simply write regarding this topic, it will not certainly be a taboo subject but usually consumers are not enough to communicate on such topics. An additional. Cheers

hubba on July 31, 2012:

awesome yoga!

gymnastevan on February 24, 2012:

I'm a gymnast and stretching is a huge part of our workout. The sport requires a lot of flexibility and thus there is a lot of emphasis on it. Force stretching is very common as well, and improves flexibility a lot, you just have to be very careful with it.

Want more flexibility!!! on December 03, 2011:

I love your sight! When I was younger I could do the splits but it seems like I forgot how

:( your sight really helped me get back in the game!!!

Renaissance Mouse from Asheville, North Carolina on January 27, 2010:

Good article! Many people, even so-called fitness enthusiasts, underestimate the importance of stretching. It can make runners faster, weightlifters stronger, and athletes or anyone far less likely to injure themselves.

I try to incorporate at least two 30 minute stretching sessions a week into my overall fitness program. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

BEAUTYBABE from QUEENSLAND AUSTRALIA. on November 25, 2009:

Hi Katelyn I liked your hub. It is very good for people interested in improvement of their flexion and extension. Unfortunately, I can't do these things because of my illness, I have so much stiffness and rigidity in my legs and arms, it would take more than this to loosen them up, more like a crowbar or something like this. Haha that is an example of my sense of humour. Congratulations on your nomination for the Hubnub. Wannabees.I am a five weeker too, I would like to be your fan Katelyn.

Good Luck again. BB

Daniel Christian from Los Angeles, CA on November 24, 2009:

Very nice. I need to improve in flexibility a bit. Thanks.

Katelyn Weel (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 11, 2009:

Thanks, ripplemaker! You have a great week as well

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on November 11, 2009:

Ok then! I would respect whatever you feel most comfortable with :) Have a nice and pretty day all week. :)

Katelyn Weel (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 10, 2009:

Hmm that's true but I'd rather not be that in-your-face to people :P

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on November 10, 2009:

How about email? :) That would still work.

Katelyn Weel (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 10, 2009:

Thank you ripplemaker! too bad I dont have facebook, blog, OR myspace LOL...oh well I'm just happy to have been nominated.

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on November 10, 2009:

I love flexibility. Now let me see if I still have those...aaaaahhhh! Hahahaha Katelyn, stretch those legs and arms and vote! And invite as many people to vote for your hub! Blog it, facebook it, myspace it! Hahahaha

Congratulations. If you loved this hub, vote here please: https://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/roundup-at-t...

Katelyn Weel (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 09, 2009:

Thank you very much, RedElf! Don't forget to vote for your favourite :)

RedElf from Canada on November 09, 2009:

Excellent info and well-laid out Hub! Congrats on your hubnuggets nomination!

Katelyn Weel (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 09, 2009:

Yeah I did the factory thing for a while too... draining is an understatement! The best time to exercise was with coworkers right after work before getting a chance to relax. Our plant had a rec center for employees right on site so that was convenient.

Thanks for the comment and good luck! :)

thisisoli from Austin, Texas (From York, England!) on November 09, 2009:

Nice hub, if only I had the energy to start exercising, doing some part time factory work at the moment, and it is draining!

Katelyn Weel (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 08, 2009:

Thank you, Money Glitch! It sure is great to hear such positive feedback, it is much appreciated :)

Money Glitch from Texas on November 08, 2009:

Informative hub with excellent tips for stretching. Congrats, on being selected on the Hub-nugget nomination.

Katelyn Weel (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 08, 2009:

Thank you! I'm honoured :)

The Rope from SE US on November 08, 2009:

Congrats on the Hub-nugget nomination!

Katelyn Weel (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 06, 2009:

Yes it makes the muscles more pliable so they give in to the stretch without putting too much strain on them. Yuck don't even mention winter, I'm still bitter about the pathetic summer we had :P

Thanks for the comment!

Elena from London, UK on November 06, 2009:

Interesting Hub. I didn't know that you reduce the risk of pulling a muscle when they are warm. No wonder, I walk like a Robot in the winter, so stiff - cos my muscles are cold. lol

Thanks for sharing. :)

Katelyn Weel (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 06, 2009:

LOL that's true, I was trying to come up with a nice way of writing that and I gave up :P

lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on November 06, 2009:

The best reason for improving flexibility -- so you won't walk and move like an old-fogey in your later years.