Adding a routine that increases flexibility to your schedule not only helps you hit those Instagram-worthy yoga poses, it also has a number of amazing benefits that extend into your daily life—even some that go way beneath the surface.
There are many different ways to reap the benefits of flexibility and a lot of it comes down to your preferences and objectives. Read on for the key advantages of improving flexibility, and to learn how to make this important task part of your regular self-care routine.
Key Benefits of Increasing Flexibility
Improves Range of Motion
Improving your flexibility has a huge impact on how you move. One of the main advantages of having stretchier muscles is increasing your range of motion. What does that mean exactly? Range of motion refers to your joints’ ability to move to their full potential. If the muscles surrounding your joints are tight, it may impact your most basic movements (things like walking, lifting and typing).
Helps Prevent Injuries
Another reason to increase flexibility is to help prevent injury. When a joint’s range of motion declines, it can activate compensations in the body that may lead to injuries down the road. This is especially true for movements that you repeat over and over throughout the day. Reducing muscle tightness through flexibility also improves your sense of balance, making it less likely you’ll hurt yourself from falling.
May Improve Athletic Performance
While some studies have found that static stretching before a workout can inhibit performance, dynamic stretching either has no impact or can slightly improve it. Beyond stretching, there are many flexibility warm ups and workouts designed to strengthen your muscles while opening tighter areas of the body. If you’re looking to compete or take your athleticism to the next level, it might be best to work with a coach in your discipline who understands the research and has experience guiding athletes in your sport.
Helps Increase Blood Flow and Nutrients to Your Muscles
Increasing flexibility also helps increase blood flow to your muscles. Blood carries nutrients and oxygen through your body and helps carry away waste. According to this 2017 study on muscle fatigue, well-oxygenated muscles take longer to tire out and have the ability to become stronger. Increased circulation to your muscles can also help them stay supple, meaning less chance of pulls or tears. To put it simply, flexible muscles = nourished, happy muscles.
Ways to Increase Flexibility
So we’ve determined that being flexible (or at least more flexible) is definitely a good thing. But how do you go about actually increasing flexibility in order to access all of the health benefits? Here are several ways to work towards a more lengthened you:
One of the most obvious ways to increase flexibility is to stretch. However you might need a refresher, because researchers are learning more and more that the way you stretch is what’s really important. First, it is imperative to warm up before stretching. Move your body with gentle in-place runs, arm swings, or a short yoga flow to get the blood into your muscles. Stretching with “cold” muscles is more likely to cause injury.
Warm-ups are particularly important for static stretching—this is when you move into a stretch and then hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Dynamic stretching is the act of lengthening your muscles while moving, and it tends to be favored by coaches and researchers, especially for athletes. Examples of dynamic stretches include knee hugs, walking lunge rotations and side lunges.
Foam Rolling to Loosen Tight Tissue
Foam rolling is an increasingly popular technique for improving flexibility and range of motion. Foam rolling works by way of myofascial release, which means putting pressure on certain points in order to activate a loosening in the surrounding muscles. When foam rolling, gently roll until you find a point of pressure and hold the position for about 90 seconds until the muscle releases. To avoid injury, make sure to only foam roll areas with dense muscle tissue, avoiding the abdomen, lower back and neck.
Visit Your Physical Therapist
You may want to visit a physical therapist or personal trainer who can identify weak muscle groups in your body. Oftentimes muscles become tight because they are overcompensating for an opposite group. For instance, your hamstrings might be working hard to stabilize your pelvis bone if your glute muscles are weak. Or your back is putting in overtime to support an underdeveloped abdomen. This is more of a foundational problem and no amount of stretching or foam rolling is going to help you solve the tightness at its root. Your physical therapist can prescribe strengthening exercises that help you take the pressure off of your tighter muscles.
Nutrition and Hydration
How you nourish your body can impact your ability to increase flexibility. Your muscles are made up of about 79 percent water, so proper hydration is imperative to help them stay healthy. Additionally, making sure that you are consuming a diet that is rich in nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids can support you as you work to loosen muscle tightness in the body. Alcohol, caffeine and salt have detrimental effects on flexibility, so limit foods with these substances while working toward your objective.
According to a 2021 study on the effects of massage, a sports massage can help increase flexibility and blood flow to tight areas. Massage works in much the same way as foam rolling, releasing tension and increasing circulation to key spots. It can also help you release any tension that might be stemming from emotional or mental stress. Make sure to tell your masseuse where you are feeling tight so they can give that area more attention.
How to Create a Flexibility Routine
By now you’re probably on board with adding a flexibility regimen into your routine. Now all you need to do is make your flexibility routine a habit.
Here are a few tips for finding the motivation to get your daily foam roll on:
- Schedule it in as part of your other daily wellness rituals (check out more habit-forming tips here).
- Perform flexibility exercises while doing another activity like reading, drinking your morning coffee or watching your favorite show.
- Stretch with a friend or a coach to help hold yourself accountable.
- Stay focused on how good your body will feel once your muscles and joints are more mobile.
The benefits of increasing flexibility are well known, now you just need to get out there and do it! Find a method of increasing flexibility that works for you and stick with it.
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