When it comes to setting fitness goals, many people focus primarily on strength training or cardiovascular endurance. For example, you might decide you want to lift heavier weights or be able to jog for 30 minutes without stopping. These are great goals! However, in thinking and talking about our fitness aspirations, flexibility often takes a backseat.
Flexibility is a critical component of overall health and wellness, no matter your life stage or current level of fitness. Neglecting it can lead to poor performance in other areas, as well as increasing your risk of pain and injury.
In today’s blog, we will look closely at why flexibility matters and how you can improve yours.
Why Does Flexibility Matter?
Here are just a few of the reasons that flexibility is important for your health.
A flexible body is better able to meet the demands placed upon it and, therefore, less likely to sustain an injury through exercise or just in the course of daily life. This is particularly important as you age and your body becomes less resilient and more susceptible to injury.
Increased Range of Motion
When you improve your flexibility, you gain a greater range of motion in your joints. This not only improves your performance in fitness pursuits, but it can make daily tasks easier and less strenuous.
Pain Reduction (or Elimination)
Tight muscles can result in incorrect movement and postural problems. Over time, this often leads to pain, with areas such as the lower back particularly affected. Regular stretching can alleviate this tightness, promoting better posture and reducing or eliminating preventable pain.
When you stretch, you increase blood flow to your muscles. This aids in the recovery process and reduces muscle soreness after exercise or other strenuous activity.
Relaxation and Stress Relief
Stretching can be highly relaxing, and even meditative. It provides a moment to breathe, focus on your body, and release built-up tension. For best results, try an activity such as yoga or pilates, which combines stretching with mindfulness and breathing exercises.
How to Improve Your Flexibility
Now that you know why flexibility is so important, you might be thinking about how you can improve yours. No matter your age or fitness level, stretching can benefit you and it’s never too late to get started.
Here are a few of our top tips to help you.
Warm Up with Dynamic Stretching
When you think of stretching, you probably think of static stretching (discussed in more detail below.) However, dynamic stretching is equally important. Dynamic stretches are not held in one position; instead, they involve moving your body and gradually increasing your reach or range of motion. Leg swings or arm circles are two common examples of dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretches are best performed before a workout as a warm-up, though you can also benefit from performing them by themselves.
Cool Down with Static Stretching
Static stretching involves moving into a position and then holding it, typically for anything from 15 to 60 seconds. This is the most common type of stretching. Hamstring stretches or butterfly stretches are examples you may be familiar with.
Static stretches are best performed after a workout when your muscles are warmed up. Again, though, they can also be beneficial on their own.
Incorporate Yoga or Pilates
Both yoga and pilates emphasize flexibility, balance, and the connection between the mind and the body. These practices incorporate poses and movements that stretch and strengthen the entire body, as well as providing tremendous mental health benefits.
Many gyms and studios now offer yoga or pilates classes for older adults, designed to help you get the most out of the workouts to combat the effects of aging on your body.
We always say that the best workout routine is the one you will stick to. If you want to reap the benefits of stretching and flexibility exercises, it is vital to be consistent.
Create a routine that incorporates flexibility exercises and stick to it. This might include stretching at home, following online workout videos, going to classes, or any combination of the above.
As with any form of exercise, stretching does carry some risk. It is important not to push yourself too hard, too fast, as this can result in an injury. Instead, be patient with yourself and listen to your body.
You will not be able to perform a full split the week you begin stretching (in fact, you might never be able to do this, and that’s fine–some bodies are naturally more flexible than others!) But if you are patient and consistent, over time you will notice a gradual increase in your flexibility and begin to enjoy the many benefits stretching can bring to your body.