Try These Stretching Exercises to Improve Flexibility

Regardless of your age or fitness level, exercises to improve flexibility should be part of your daily routine. Regular everyday activities require our bodies to stay limber. 

Just following our normal daily physical routines can put extra stress on our muscles and joints. We are constantly bending, twisting, reaching, pushing and pulling.

And, most of the time, we don't even realize how much we are expecting from our muscles until we overdo it and end up sore, stiff, or even seriously injured.



Overly Tight Muscles

Tight or inflexible muscles and joints mean that you can't move as easily, so you have to put limits on what you can do. It might start out with just a few restricted movements, but eventually it can become a major inconvenience – and a source of pain or discomfort. Something as simple as carrying groceries or washing the car can make you feel stiff and sore the next day. But, it doesn't necessarily mean that you aren't in great shape.


leg raising exercises to improve flexibility


There are a lot of conditioned athletes that struggle with flexibility and muscle pain. Flexibility is not about cardio or strength. It doesn't matter how far you can run or how much weight you can bench press. Some people have difficulty moving because of arthritis, inflammation, or other conditions that hinder motion. However, for most people, movement is restricted because the muscles and connective tissues are just too tight.

Why is Flexibility so Important

Some people are naturally more flexible than others, so even a young person can find it difficult to touch their toes or do the splits. And, some people, no matter how hard they work, will never be able to do a back flip or touch their knee cap to their nose.

Not everyone is destined to be a dancer or a gymnast. But, regardless of where you start, it is always possible to improve your level of flexibility so that your muscles and joints can function properly. Well, when your muscles and joints aren't working properly, there is a greater risk of injury.

Less supple ligaments and tendons are a little snappy and cranky – meaning they can tear, sprain, or strain more easily. Joints can also become stiff and sore if the tissues around them are tight or restrictive. A lot of times, everything from back pain to headaches to sore hips can be attributed to a lack of flexibility.


Stretching Exercises to Improve Flexibility

Basically, there are two types of stretches that you need to consider: Static and Dynamic. If you talk to a really serious trainer, they can break these two categories down into about 10 or 15 subgroups, but for the average person, a general knowledge of these two types of activities will give you all the information you need for a healthy and safe stretching program.

Static Stretching

Static activities are the most common type of exercises to improve flexibility. They are the movements typically associated with “stretching” such as touching your toes or side reaches.

It involves slowly and carefully stretching a muscle and then holding that position for a period of time (anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 minutes). These stretches are always done from a stationary position, meaning that once the stretch is reached the length of the muscle does not change and there is no movement of the joint.

For example, when you perform a bicep curl, you are lengthening and contracting the arm muscles and moving the elbow joint. On the contrary, a static exercise like touching your toes involves bending down toward your feet as far as you can and then holding that position for a period of time.

Static stretches used to be standard “warm-up” exercises. Trainers would recommend doing calf stretches or hamstring stretches before aerobic activity. But, new studies have shown that this can actually be quite dangerous and may even increase your risk of injury. Cold muscles do not stretch well, so static exercises should only be done after the body is fully warmed up.


static stretching exercises to improve flexibility

Dynamic Stretching

Unlike static stretching which is stationary, dynamic stretching involves motion. The idea is that you will stretch your muscles by doing exaggerated versions of actual movements. For example, if you are a runner, you might do walking lunges to increase the flexibility and agility of your leg muscles. If you play soccer, you would challenge your range of motion by doing leg swings.

Although dynamic stretching exercises to improve flexibility include more movement, you still need to be gentle. Start exercises slowly and increase your range of motion gradually. So, if you were to do arm circles, you would begin with 10 repetitions of small circles, then increase to 10 repetitions of medium circles, and finally 10 repetitions of large circles.

Many athletes include dynamic stretches in their workouts because the flexibility achieved can help increase power, speed, and endurance. 


Tips on Exercises to Improve Flexibility

Before beginning any flexibility stretching program, it is important to be aware of some tips and hints that will help you prevent injury and get the most out of your routine.

  • Stretch Gently. Ease into stretches gradually and smoothly, and once you reach your maximum stretch, be still. At one point, it became popular to “bounce” while stretching, but this can actually cause more harm than good. Some trainers will include it in a workout, but it isn't recommended for most people, especially beginners or those with chronic pain caused by tight muscles.
  •  Always warm up before stretching. Highlight this one. Surround it with exclamation points or little stars. Ingrain in on your brain, because it is probably the most important flexibility tip you will get. Cold muscles don't like to be stretched. So jog, bike, walk, use the treadmill, or dance to your favorite CD. Do something to get your heart rate up, your blood flowing, and the sweat pouring.

    Warming up makes muscles, ligaments, and tendons more flexible, so they are easier to stretch. In fact, some fitness experts recommend that you save static stretching until after a full workout. Dynamic stretching doesn't require quite as much warm up, but you should still do at least 5-10 minutes of cardio activity to prepare your body and make your muscles more cooperative.


hamstring exercise


  • Don't Overstretch. To improve flexibility, it is necessary to challenge muscles by making them stretch beyond their normal ability. However, many people push just a little too far. When it comes to stretching, the old adage “no pain, no gain” definitely does not apply. You should feel the pull – maybe even some discomfort – but you should not experience any pain. 

  • Deepen Stretches Over Time. As you are able to easily hold the stretches for longer periods of time, you can increase the challenge by reaching a little further. Again, increase the intensity in small increments and listen to your body. Stop if you feel any pain.

  • Breathe Deeply. While holding a stretch, you might also find yourself holding your breath. So, you may have to concentrate on breathing deeply – in through the nose and out through the mouth. The air you breathe oxygenates your muscles, which keeps the blood flowing, removes lactic acid, prevents fatigue, and improves stretching ability.
  • If proper breathing during exercise is a problem, you may want to familiarize yourself with some yoga breathing techniques that will help you get more out of your stretching and flexibility program.

  • Stay Hydrated. Dehydration can cause tight muscles, cramping, and fatigue. Make sure you drink plenty of water before stretching.

  • Stretch the Entire Body. All your muscles are attached to each other, which is why tightness in the neck can cause pain in your shoulders or back. To improve flexibility and increase range of motion in your joints, it is important to stretch all your muscles, rather than focusing on just a few. Many trainers suggest beginning with your upper body (starting with the neck) and moving down toward your lower body.

  • Stretch Regularly. Stretching exercises to improve flexibility should be a regular part of your workout routine. It is recommended that you try to include 10-30 minutes of stretches at least 3 days a week. Yoga and Pilates programs are the perfect way to incorporate correct stretching into a safe and effective workout. 

    Alternately, some fitness experts suggest ending a cardio workout with 10 minutes of static stretches 5 days a week. Dynamic stretches can also be done near the beginning (after warm up) or during a workout, and these sessions are often shorter since the movements are not held as long as static stretching exercises.



Static Stretching Exercises to Improve Flexibility

Neck Stretch:

  • Begin by sitting cross-legged on the floor, back straight, shoulders back, and chest pulled up.
  •  Lower your chin toward your chest until you feel the stretch and hold for 15 seconds.
  • Slowly roll your chin toward your right shoulder, hold for 15 seconds
  • Slowly roll your chin toward your left shoulder, hold for 15 seconds.
  • Roll your chin back to center, and lift your head to starting position
  • Tilt your head back until you are looking towards the ceiling, hold for 15 seconds
  • Lower chin down toward chest again, hold for 15 seconds
  • Return to starting position.

 **Remember to use only your head and neck, keeping your shoulders and back stationary.

Shoulder Stretch:

  • Stand straight with your feet hip distance apart
  • Place your right arm straight across your chest
  • Place your left hand on your right elbow and push gently toward your chest
  • Hold the stretch for 15 seconds
  • Repeat with opposite arm


Chest and Shoulder Stretch:

  • This exercise can be performed kneeling, sitting, or standing
  • Make sure your spine is straight and tall and shoulders are back
  • Clasp your hands behind your back, straighten your arms and lift them as high as you can.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  • Lower your arms and repeat 1-3 times.


Tricep Stretch:

  • Stand straight with your feet hip distance apart
  • Place the palm of your right hand on your back near your right shoulder
  • Lift your left arm over your head, and use your left hand to push your right elbow back and towards your ear.
  • Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds.
  • Repeat on other side


Sideways Bends:

  •  Stand straight with your feet about shoulder width apart.
  • Place your right hand on your waist and lift your left arm straight up alongside your ear and curve it slightly over your head.
  • Bend as far as you can to the right, reaching with your fingertips, keeping your neck straight and your eyes forward.
  • Concentrate on leaning directly to the side – do not lean forward or backward.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds then straighten
  • Repeat on other side.


groin stretching exercises to improve flexibility


 Forward Bend:

  • Stand straight with legs together and arms at your sides
  • Slowly bend forward, reaching your fingertips towards your toes, keeping your back straight
  • Bend as far as you can, then hold the stretch for 15-60 seconds
  • Slowly roll up to standing position

 

Hamstring Stretch:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs spread about shoulder width apart
  • Keeping your spine and neck straight, slowly bend forward from the waist, reaching both hands toward your right toes.
  • Stretch as far as you can and hold this position for 15-30 seconds
  • Slowly roll back up to starting position and repeat, bending toward your left toes
  • Do not curve your back or bend your neck to look toward your  knees – always keep your face forward or you could strain your neck and shoulders.

 

**Alternate: Place one leg straight out and bend your other leg so the sole of your foot is against your inner thigh. Bend forward toward the extended leg, hold the stretch, then switch sides.

**Alternate: Stretch both legs straight out in front of you, keeping them together and flexing your toes. Bend at the waist, reaching toward your toes. Hold the stretch for 15-60 seconds then release.

 

Glute Stretch:

  • Sit on the floor with both legs stretched straight out in front of you
  • Cross your right leg over your left and bend your right knee until your right foot is along the outside of your left knee.
  • Make sure your foot is flat on the floor
  • Use your hands to gently pull your bent knee towards the left, feeling the stretch in your buttocks.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds then release
  • Repeat on other side.

 

Quadricep Stretch:

  • Stand straight with your feet about hip width apart
  • Bend your right leg and use your right hand to pull your  heel towards your buttocks
  • Hold for 25-30 seconds
  • Switch sides 


hamstring exercises to improve flexibility

Groin Stretch:

  • Sit on the floor with your back straight and shoulders pulled back
  • Bend both knees and place the soles of your feet against each other
  • Grab your feet with both hands and slowly pull your heels toward your hips
  • Only go as far as you can without feeling pain
  • For an extra challenge, you can press your knees towards the floor to increase the stretch
  • Hold the position for 15-30 seconds

 

Calf Stretch:

  • Stand with your feet about hip distance apart
  • Place the toes of your right foot on a slightly raised surface (a low step, curb, or even a dumbbell works great), keeping the heel on the floor
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds
  • Switch sides


Calf Stretch #2:

  • Stand facing a wall with your feet about hip distance apart
  • Place both palms flat on the wall , about chest height and shoulder width apart
  • Adjust your distance from the wall so that your arms are extended straight.
  • Bend your left knee and step back with your right foot until only your toes are touching the floor.
  • Gently push your heel toward the floor until you feel the stretch.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds
  • Repeat with other leg

 

Calf Stretch and Shin Stretch:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs together and extended straight out in front of you
  • Keep your heels on the floor and slowly flex your toes toward your body, feeling the stretch in your calves.
  • Hold this position for 15-30 seconds then release
  • Continue to keep your heels on the floor and point your toes downward (toward the ground) feeling the stretch along the top of your feet and shins.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds then release
  • Repeat sequence 1-3 times


Dynamic Stretching Exercises To Improve Flexibility

Remember, these dynamic movements are for the purpose of stretching the muscles to increase flexibility, so it is important that they are performed in a slow and controlled manner. To get the maximum benefits, you want to feel the stretch – and even hold this position for a couple of seconds.

While you may get your heart rate up, this is not the purpose of dynamic stretching. The goal is to challenge the elasticity of your muscles and improve range of motion in your joints – not give you a cardio workout. That being said, dynamic stretches can be a great addition to an interval training session. Once your body is warmed up, you can use your “rest” periods to get in some beneficial stretching.

Inchworms:

  • Begin in push up position.
  • Slowly walk your hands toward your feet, going as far as you can without bending your knees
  • Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds
  • Walk your hands back out to push-up position
  • Repeat 5-10 times

 

Walking Lunges:

  • Stand straight with your feet about hip distance apart
  • Step forward with your right leg, lowering down into a lunge.
  • Hold the stretch for 2 seconds, then step forward with your left leg, lowering into a lunge.
  • Repeat sequence for desired number of reps
  • Remember to keep your back straight and your head up

**For an added back stretch, include a torso twist. Step forward with your right leg, lower into a lunge, and twist your torso toward the right, holding the position for 2-5 seconds. Bring your torso back to center and step forward with left leg, lowering into a lunge and twisting your torso toward the left.

lunge exercises to improve flexibility

Arm/Shoulder Rotation:

  • Stand tall with your feet about hip distance apart, arms extended straight out to the side like wings.
  • Palms should be facing the floor, and your fingertips should be reaching away from the body for an extra stretch.
  • Circle the arms forward in small rotations for 10 repetitions.
  • Make the circles slightly larger for 10 more rotations
  • Continue to increase the size of the circles until you reach your maximum range of motion.
  • Decrease the circle size in increments until you return to starting position
  • Reverse the circles and repeat sequence.
  • Remember to keep your movements slow and controlled so you can feel the stretch across your shoulders and upper arms.

 

Arm Swings:

  • Stand straight with your feet hip distance apart
  • Bend forward at the waist until your back is parallel to the floor, allowing your arms to hang down toward your toes.
  • Begin to slowly swing your arms like a pendulum, feeling the stretch across your shoulders and upper back.
  • Gradually increase the length of the swing until you reach your maximum range of motion
  • Remember to hold the position at the top of each swing for 1-2 seconds to get the most benefits from the stretch.

 

Leg Swings:

  • Stand straight, with your right side toward a chair or wall, and your feet hip distance apart.
  • Place your right hand on the chair or wall for support
  • Lift your left foot slightly and begin to slowly swing your leg like a pendulum.
  • Gradually increase the length of the swing until you reach your maximum range of motion
  • Your torso should remain stationary – do not rock or lean forward or backward
  • Complete desired number of reps then switch sides.

 

High Knee Raises:

  • Stand straight with your feet hip distance apart
  • Raise your right knee towards your chest, using your hands to pull your knee closer to the body and intensify the stretch
  • Hold for 1-2 seconds, then release the leg and repeat with the opposite side
  • Repeat for 10-20 reps.


Exercises to Improve Flexibility

Maybe you want to keep cycling and running, or maybe you just want to wake up in the morning without feeling like your body is made out of concrete. Whatever your reason, stiff and uncooperative muscles or joints can be a real hindrance to any lifestyle. So, set aside 10-20 minutes a few times a week and start stretching yourself into tip-top shape.

 

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I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or ideas you would like to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum



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