Being fit is more than just about being able to lift an X amount of weight or run a mile in an X amount of time. In fact, there are five essential components when it comes to physical fitness: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Flexibility is the one that is neglected the most, and although it's not the most exciting part of working out, it's a crucial component of it. Lifting heavy is the key to strength training, but flexibility is what allows you to lift heavier, and safely, in the first place. And the same pretty much goes for any type of training! Although most gym-goers stretch and have a warm-up routine, very few actually practice flexibility training.
So, what is flexibility training? It's like a warm-up before training! The main difference is, actually taking the time to perform various flexibility and stretching exercises every day, either before your workout or on active rest days. It's actually a very important part of any good workout routine, no matter what type of training you do! The thing is, most people don't take the time to stretch or practice flexibility because it's uncomfortable and low-intensity. Lifters and gym-goers love the rush from an intense workout, and they don't get that rush when stretching and doing flexibility exercises therefore not much effort is put into it!
Although it's not the most exciting part, you should regularly practice stretching and flexibility because it can help improve your training greatly! And if you don't believe that then stick with us to show you why flexibility training is so important, and how to incorporate our favorite flexibility exercises into your routine!
Why is flexibility training important?
Flexibility means the ability to move a joint through its complete range of motion (ROM), and if you don't know, going through the full range of motion is important to do for any given exercise. So, flexibility training is more than just stretching to warm-up, it's meant to help you improve your flexibility to reduce tightness in the muscles and joint so you're able to move through the full range of motion. ROM is also a key component in preventing injuries, decreasing soreness, and stiff and tight muscles for those who regularly train at high intensity. Let's take a look at this from a strength training point of view... To exhibit power and strength you need to utilize the full length of the muscle. Tight muscles can reduce the explosiveness necessary for particular exercises like deadlifts or squats. The same goes for those who prefer cardio training. For example, having tight hip flexors will prevent you from extending to a full stride while sprinting thus decreasing your performance. So, flexibility affects your training more than you actually think, and can be holding you back from achieving better results.
Incorporating flexibility training will help increase your exercise performance, reduce risk of injury, and get you better results. But not only is it ideal for those training at high intensities, flexible joints are also vital for pain-free and independent movement!
As you can see, flexibility training is pretty important for anyone and everyone! Here's a closer look at the benefits of incorporating this training to your daily life:
Make everyday activities easier on your body.
- Decreases the risk of injuries due to more pliable muscles.
- Helps improve performance in exercise and sports
- Helps build strong muscle fibers.
- Improves circulation thus increasing blood flow to the muscles.
- Better joint health.
Decreases lower back pain.
- Decreases soreness, aches, and pains from particular exercises.
- Improves posture and balance while minimizing stress on the spine.
Best stretches to improve flexibility
As you can see, flexibility training is more than just improving your flexibility, it also positively affects your workouts and your every day life! Now, what are the best stretches to increase flexibility? Well, there are three:
Static Stretching: You're already most likely familiar with static stretches. They require you to move into a position that lengthens the target muscle and you are to hold that position from anywhere between 15-60 seconds.
Dynamic Stretching: Opposed to static stretching, this dynamic stretches require you to move in and out of a position that lengthens the target muscle. It involves moving through a joint's full range of motion to mimic a functional activity or exercise.
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS): This is similar to dynamic stretching, it requires your joint to move through the complete ROM. But it requires you to hold the endpoint for a brief moment then return to the starting point and repeat. This activated isolated stretching helps prevent injuries and muscle imbalances.
We've put together a list of the best flexibility exercises using a combination of the three types of stretching above. That way you're able to create a whole body stretch routine that you can do wherever, whenever! So, whether you're trying to build muscle, improve your performance, or just improve your posture, here are 10 of the best flexibility and stretching exercises you should start practicing regularly:
Standing hamstring stretch
Despite the name, this move also stretches the neck, back, glutes, and calves.
Here's how to do it: Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and arms by your sides. As you exhale, bend forward at the hips, lowering your head toward the floor. Make sure to keep your head, neck, and shoulders relaxed during the movement. Once you're facing the floor, wrap your arms around the backs of your legs and hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Bend your knees, and roll back up when you're done.
Standing quad stretch
This exercise targets the quads and hip flexors.
Here's how to do it: Stand upright with your feet beneath your hips. Lift your left ankle towards your butt and grab it with your left hand. If you need help balancing lift the opposite arm up and/or stare at a point on the floor. Squeeze your left butt cheek to focus in on the stretch. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute, then perform it on the opposite leg.
Lunge with twist
This exercise is actually commonly referred to the world's greatest stretch because it helps those who sit for prolonged periods of time. It stretches the hip flexors, quads, and back.
Here's how to do it: Start by standing with your feet together. Take a big step forward with your right foot, so that you are in a staggered stance. Bend your right knee to drop into a lunge, keeping your left leg straight behind you with your toes on the ground. You should feel the stretch at the front of your left thigh. Place your left hand on the floor and twist your upper body to the right as you extend your right arm toward the ceiling. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute and then switch sides to repeat the movement.
Wide squat with twist
This stretch works your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and back. Plus the added twist works up your spine and helps open up your chest.
Here's how to do it: Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart and with feet pointing outward (knees should be facing in the same direction as toes). Lower down into a squat position, thighs should be close to parallel to the floor. Then, place hands on knees and push through the right hand to drop the right shoulder forward and down while rotating the torso to face the left knee. Hold for a few breaths, and then reverse the movement to repeat on the other side. That equals one rep. Perform this move for as many reps as you'd like.
This exercise doesn't only help stretch the triceps, it also helps stretch the neck and back.
Here's how to do it: You can do this either kneeling or in a standing position, just make sure your back is upright. Extend your arms overhead bending the right elbow and reaching the right hand to touch the top middle of your back. Extend your left arm overhead and place it just below your right elbow and gently pull your right elbow down and toward your head. Switch arms and repeat.
Figure four stretch
This move specifically stretches the piriformis and iliopsoas muscles, aka your hip rotator and flexor muscles. It also helps stretch the glutes, lower back, and hamstrings.
Here's how to do it: Lie on your back with the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Cross your right foot over your left quad, then lift your left leg off the floor. Grab onto the back of your left leg and gently pull it toward your chest. Once you feel a comfortable stretch hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch sides and repeat.
This move directly targets tights spots in the hips/groin area which helps alleviate tight hips, this is especially helpful for runners.
Here's how to do it: Start on all fours. Begin to slide your knees wider than shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes out resting the inner edges of your feet flat on the floor. Then shift your hips back towards your heels. If you want a deeper stretch, move from your hands to your forearms. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute.
Seated shoulder squeeze
If you need help relieving poor posture then this is the stretch for you! This move stretches your shoulders, and also releases tension in the upper back.
Here's how to do it: Sit with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring your hands together behind your lower back. Straighten and extend your arms to squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold this move for three deep breaths and then release. Repeat 5-10 times.
Lying pectoral/chest stretch
This exercise helps stretch the chest and shoulders, an excellent move to do before push workouts (chest/shoulders/triceps).
Here's how to do it: Lie on your stomach with both arms extended to the sides, your body should be in a T shape position. Push off the ground with your right hand and bend your right knee for balance as you begin to roll to your left side. You should feel the stretch on the left-side pectoral/chest muscles. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat on the other side. You might not be able to stretch that far, but as your mobility increases you'll be able to stretch and roll your body further, so don't force it.
Side bend stretch
This move helps stretch your groin, hips, inner thigh, and obliques.
Here's how to do it: Kneel on the floor with your legs together, back straight, and core engaged. Extend your right leg out to the side keeping it perpendicular to your body, so not in front or behind you. Extend your left arm overhead resting your right arm on your right leg, and begin to gently bend your torso and right arm to the left side. Try to keep your hips facing forward. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds to a minute and repeat on the other side.
Remember, don't dive in head first. What we mean is take it slow. Some of these moves are harder than others, you might feel uncomfortable and might not be able to stretch as far as you'd like, but don't worry! As with any type of exercise, work your way up to it. The more you practice these moves the better your mobility and flexibility will get. Also, don't limit yourself to just these exercises, there are so many other great exercises you can try! Like the butterfly stretch, glute bridges, standing back arch stretch, pigeon pose, and even yoga poses like downward facing dog, cobra pose, cat-cow, and more!
Lastly, how often should you do these exercises and when?
You can do these exercises 5-7 times a week, as for when, that's up to you! Luckily, these exercises don't require a ton of time. You can easily pick a few of your favorites and spend 10 minutes doing them as your warm-up or cool down. You can also do them right after you get out of bed, in fact, it's better to do them in the morning since your body has been stationary for 6+ hours! Whatever you decide to do, just know that a few minutes of flexibility training a day can provide your body with wonderful benefits.