No matter how flexible we are, there’s always room for improvement. Improved flexibility brings with it a host of benefits to both your health and yoga practice, including:
Protection from injury;
Reduced pain including back pain;
Greater range of movement;
Decreased muscle soreness after workout allowing you to get back on the mat / in the gym quicker;
Improved circulation, helping nutrients and oxygen get round the body;
Reduced stress promoting relaxation.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled 5 easy techniques to help you improve flexibility. For all stretches, be sure not to overextend as this can lead to muscle strain, reducing the range of movement.
1- Stretch dynamically before your workout. End with static stretching
Stretching before and after your workouts is one of the most important approaches to improve flexibility. Set aside 5 minutes before and after any exercise, stretching all muscles, no matter the focus area of your workout.
It’s important to avoid stretching when your muscles are cold so always warm-up prior. Your pre-workout stretch should use dynamic stretching to maintain body temperature and prepare muscles for the movement ahead. Dynamic stretching is where the body is continually moving through stretching positions, without a stationary hold in each pose like a classical static stretch; walking lunges are a great example. Move slowly and steadily through each movement, aiming for 20 reps to 30 reps, before moving onto the next muscle group.
A post-workout stretch is a great way to cool down and consolidate your hard work. Instead of the dynamic approach, use static stretching holding each pose for around 30 seconds before moving on (anything less than 20 seconds won’t significantly lengthen the muscle).
2 - Hydrate
Our muscles are 70% water, meaning for them to work properly through their full range of movement, hydration is key! Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after each workout. The benefits extend far beyond exercise helping nearly every part of our bodies function properly.
The guideline of 8 glasses of water per day isn’t the most helpful (how big is a glass?). The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend 2.5L per day for women and 3.5L per day for men, but this too is little more than a guideline. Listen to your body and be sure to drink more on days when you workout. An hourly or two-hourly reminder on your phone can help remind you to drink regularly throughout the day.
3 - Have a bath
No really; your muscles are most flexible when warm so a soak in a bath or a warm shower followed by a stretching session can help extend the limits of your range of motion.
4 - Our favourite: relax
Stress is a major contributor to knots in muscles which severely reduce the range of motion. Identify what helps you to relax both mentally and physically (this may be yoga) and set aside time each day. Even just 15 minutes can help keep your cortisol levels in check.
5 - Be consistent and keep it up
Improving flexibility takes time and consistency. Implementing these techniques will rapidly improve your range of motion, but stopping will quickly cause your muscles to revert to their reduced range.
Research has shown habits take 66 days to form; aim to incorporate the above techniques into your weekly routine for 2 months and by the end of the second month they should be firmly embedded as habits, making it much easier to maintain.
So what are you waiting for, get touching those toes!