How to Improve Flexibility: 17 Stretches, Exercises, and General Tips
Can’t touch your toes? Back feels as stiff as a plank? Chest tight from all that desk time? It’s time to work on your flexibility. Here are nine stretches to do regularly and eight general tips to improve flexibility.
Benefits of Flexibility
Flexibility is hard to come by and it’s something you have to consistently work at, but there are plenty of benefits.
Here’s what being more flexible can do for you:
- Boost physical performance
- Decrease your risk of injury
- Ease aches, pains, and muscle cramps
- Increase mobility
- Improve posture
- Make you look cool at parties when doing the splits
How to Improve Flexibility: 9 Stretches to Practice Every Week
Incorporate these stretches and exercises into your weekly routine to lengthen your muscles and limber up those joints.
1. Downward Dog
Downward dog is a classic yoga pose that has a lot of benefits. As well as improving circulation and decreasing stress, it can lengthen your muscles and increase flexibility, mainly in your legs.
- Start in a tabletop position on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Lift your hips up to the sky, coming off your knees.
- Press into your hands evenly and slowly push down through your heels.
- Don’t worry if your heels don’t touch the ground — you’ll get there in time.
- You can either stay still and breathe slowly or cycle the legs, bending one knee while pushing the heel on the opposite leg toward the floor.
2. Lunge with Twist
A classic lunge can stretch out the legs, and a twist works to open up your chest and stretch your spine — combining them is a super stretch.
Get into a lunge position with your left leg forward. Place your right hand on the ground and stretch your left hand up to the sky, opening up your chest.
Stay here for a few breaths before switching to the other side.
3. Neck Stretches
Most of us walk around with a tight neck and shoulders without even realizing it, especially if we stare at a computer screen all day.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your neck neutral and head facing forward
- Roll your shoulders back
- Slowly turn your head to the left and stay here for a few breaths
- Slowly bring your head through center, turn to your right, and stay here for a few breaths
- Look up
- Look down
- Try making slow circles with the noise, avoiding crunching too much in the upper back
4. Forward Fold
The classic forward fold is the stretch where many of us realize just how inflexible we are.
- Start standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Slowly bend forward at the hips and reach your arms down to the floor
- Don’t lock your knees. Instead, keep a small micro-bend in your legs to avoid overstretching them
- If you can’t reach your toes, you can place a yoga block or stack of books under your hands, or gently hover them above the ground
5. Butterfly Stretch
If you spend your days sitting at a desk or a lot of time in the car, you’ll most likely have tight hips. Open them up with a butterfly stretch.
- Start by sitting on the ground with your legs in front of you
- Pull your knees up to the sky, feet together
- Then open your knees in opposite directions, while keeping your feet together. The soles of your feet should be touching
- Place your elbows on the insides of your legs and very gently push down
6. Chest Stretch
Another stretch for the desk workers or anyone who finds themselves hunching over and inward often.
- Start by standing up tall
- Stretch your arms out behind your body, bringing them together at your lower back
- Interlock your fingers, straighten your arms, and slowly lift them up until you feel a stretch in your shoulders and chest
7. Child’s Pose
One of the more relaxing yoga poses out there, try child’s pose to stretch your legs, back, and arms.
- Start down on the floor on all fours
- Slowly push your hips back and sit your butt down towards your feet
- Stretch your arms out straight above your head, hands pressing into the floor
- You can also switch to having your arms by your sides, pointing down towards your feet, to focus on stretching your legs
8. Pigeon Pose
Stretch out your hip flexors and relieve lower back pain with pigeon pose.
- Start on the ground on all fours
- Bring your left knee forwards then slowly twist and bring your foot forward, so your calf is perpendicular to the rest of your body — don’t worry if you can’t get it perfectly perpendicular straight away
- Slowly sink down into the stretch, bringing your head down to the matt and reaching your arms out above your head
- Hold for about a minute then repeat on the other side
9. Cat Cow
For those who feel like they roll out of bed with a solid plank of wood for a back, try cat cow.
- Start down on the ground on all fours
- Arch your back and bring your nose toward your chest
- Hold for a few breaths
- Then switch. Drop your stomach toward the floor and lift your head up
How to Improve Flexibility: 8 General Tips
Now you know the stretches to do, here are some general tips for improving your flexibility.
1. Move Often Throughout the Day
Even if you include flexibility training as part of your workout routine, you may still spend the rest of the day sitting in only a few positions.
If you work at a desk, set reminders to go off every hour or so to remind you to get up and stretch, go for a brisk walk, or — at the very least — change your seating position.
The same goes for when you’re not at work. Mix up how you sit at home. Try sitting on the floor every now and again to work on your hip flexibility and incorporating more movement into your everyday routine to stop muscles from seizing up.
2. Foam Roll
Foam rolling is often recommended for recovery, but it can also increase your range of motion and flexibility.
A 2015 study asked participants to foam roll their hamstrings three times a week for four weeks. At the end of the experiment, those who foam rolled had greater improvements in hamstring flexibility than those who didn’t.
As well as hamstrings, you can use a foam roller on major muscles including:
- Hip flexors
Foam roll each muscle for about one minute. You can start by foam rolling two or three times a week, and increase how often you do it from there.
3. Stretch Regularly
Incorporate stretching into your weekly routine. You could end every workout with 10 minutes of stretching, book into a yoga class every Sunday morning, or spend a few minutes stretching before getting into bed each night.
Whatever you decide, aim to make stretching a habit. Flexibility, unfortunately, is something that’s easily lost when you don’t work at it.
4. Practice Dynamic Stretches Before Warming Up
Dynamic stretches are stretches where you move constantly through a movement, instead of holding a stretch. For example, you might swing your leg back and forward to stretch out your leg muscles.
Dynamic stretches are a great way to warm up for a run or for a gym workout, allowing you to stretch your muscles while they’re cold.
Dynamic stretches include:
- Leg swings, both forward and back, and side to side
- Arm circles
- Hip circles
5. Practice Static Stretches After Warming Up
Static stretches are the opposite of dynamic stretches. They’re stretches you hold for a set period of time without moving. You’ll usually hold these for at least 30 seconds.
For example, you might sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, reach forward toward your toes, and stay here for 60 seconds.
Static stretches have been shown to increase flexibility, but make sure you do them when your muscles are warmed up. You could perform static stretches after a workout or go for a brisk walk or do some yoga flows before holding any stretches.
6. Don’t Push Through Pain
Ignore your high school coach’s saying “no pain, no gain.” When it comes to stretching, you want to pay attention to when it hurts.
Stretching may not be comfortable exactly, but you shouldn’t be in pain as this puts you at risk of injury.
If you are in pain, ease off, lessen the stretch, and take the strain off of your muscles.
Perform stretches until you can feel a bit of tension in your muscles, but not pain.
7. Don’t Forget Strength Training
Flexibility isn’t all about stretches. Strength training can help improve range of motion, too.
Incorporate these strength training exercises into your weekly routine:
8. Take Up Yoga
Keep forgetting to stretch? Sign up for a weekly yoga class. Practicing yoga regularly will help you stretch out tight muscles, work on your strength, and improve your flexibility — all at the same time.
You may even learn some new favorite stretches you can do outside of the class.
If you don’t want to book into an IRL class, try follow-along YouTube videos from the comfort of your home.