Are you able to touch your toes?
If you answered “No,” don’t worry. It just means you need to work on your flexibility. Just like any other health or fitness goal you might have, you’ll be able to improve your flexibility with some hard work and targeted exercises for your training.
Whether you sit in front of a computer all day or just aren't used to moving your body in specific ways, some muscles and joints in your body will get tighter than others. You can increase your flexibility, mobility, and overall athletic performance by stretching your muscles regularly and before every workout.
In this blog, we'll dig into the importance of flexibility, the health advantages of being more flexible, how to improve flexibility, and some flexibility stretches and exercises that you can do at home.
What is Flexibility?
The concepts of flexibility and mobility are often regarded as synonymous. Although they share connections, they offer distinct impacts on your body and overall physical fitness.
Flexibility involves your muscles' ability to move freely without discomfort or limitations — it denotes the capacity of your muscle tissues to stretch or extend temporarily. Some individuals naturally possess greater flexibility than others, but there are basic levels of flexibility necessary for maintaining optimal physical health. The focus of flexibility training lies in static and dynamic muscle stretches.
Contrarily, mobility refers to your joints' unrestricted range of movement. The focus of mobility training lies in enabling your joints to move through an unrestricted range of motion.
Exceptional mobility necessitates superior flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, as well as muscular strength and endurance. These elements are all interconnected.
5 Benefits of Flexibility
There are many advantages of flexibility training at home, but here are five vital improvements you’re likely to see to your health by incorporating it into your fitness routine.
1. Decreases Your Body Pain
With consistent flexibility training, your muscles will lengthen and become less tense, which means less pain not only in your daily activities but also during physically straining activities like working out or playing sports. You’re also less likely to have muscle cramps.
Many doctors, including physical therapists, often recommend their patients stretch to help reduce pain. Stretching offers pain relief by increasing your range of motion, which gives increases your pain tolerance.
2. Corrects Your Muscle Imbalances and Posture
Flexibility stretches and training can align and correct your muscle imbalances by strengthening your underactive (less used) muscles and stretching your overactive muscles. Additionally, increasing your range of motion will allow you to sit taller and stand straighter. Yoga, which focuses on muscular flexibility, is known for improving your balance.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that targeting specific muscles with strengthening and stretching exercises could reduce musculoskeletal pain and correct the alignment of your posture, especially for those with sedentary careers or lifestyles.
3. Decreases Tension Headaches and Migraines
Tension and stress headaches can interfere with your daily life. In addition to a proper diet, hydration, and getting plenty of rest, stretching may help reduce the tension you feel from headaches.
A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that headache frequency and intensity were reduced for all test groups that practiced yoga therapy. It also “enhanced the vagal tone and decreased the sympathetic drive, hence improving the cardiac autonomic balance,” making stretching and flexibility exercises an effective secondary treatment for migraine patients.
4. Reduces Your Risk of Injury
As you develop muscle strength and flexibility and reduce your muscle imbalances, your muscles will be able to withstand more stress, which reduces your chance of muscle or joint injury. Since flexibility, mobility, and strength all function together, it’s vital to avoid overstressing your muscles by introducing too much load at once.
5. Enhances Your Athletic Performance
Improved flexibility can also positively impact your athletic performance and overall physical well-being. Since flexibility affects mobility, good flexibility in the muscles means your joints will experience fewer limitations since tight muscles restrict motion.
How Can I Improve Flexibility for Fitness?
Curious about enhancing your flexibility? Just as with any fitness objective, bolstering your flexibility will require patience and commitment. Yet, by integrating merely 10 minutes of flexibility training into your daily regimen, you're likely to observe notable improvements. Plus, if you're already incorporating dynamic stretches to boost your flexibility at the start of your workout routine (a recommended practice!), then you're already on the right path.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing (AKA: belly breathing) allows your body to exchange the outgoing carbon dioxide for the incoming oxygen in your lungs. When exercising, diaphragmatic breathing ensures that you're delivering enough oxygen to your muscles.
You've heard of heavyweight lifters or MMA fighters gassing out from breathing too quickly — that's due to the lack of oxygen in their muscles. A lack of oxygen will cause muscle fatigue and cramping, significantly hindering your flexibility and mobility efforts.
Diaphragmatic breathing is done by slowly inhaling through your nose and filling your abdominal area with air (which is why it’s great for engaging your core!). Then, slowly exhale through pursed lips as your stomach collapses. This will relax your body, slow your heartbeat and lower your blood pressure.
2. Dynamic Stretches Before Your Workout
Dynamic stretching warms up your muscles increases your range of motion and helps you improve your form when performing more complex exercises. Research shows that dynamic stretching before your workout is one of the best ways to improve muscular flexibility.
Starting with bodyweight compound movements like squats, push-ups, inchworms, and lateral lunges will prepare your body for your cardio or strength workout.
3. Static Stretches After Your Workout
Static stretches (AKA: static holds) help with muscle recovery, reduce cramping, and serve as a way to cool down your body, making them beneficial to perform after your workout. Using static stretches for maintenance stretching can also reduce your risk of injury.
You perform static stretches by moving a muscle (or muscle group) as far as it can go without pain, then holding that position for 30 to 45 seconds. These static holds will lengthen your muscles that got tight during your workout by allowing the muscle to adapt to the increased elasticity and joint range of motion. Repeat each static stretch 2 to 3 times to help increase your overall flexibility.
4. Use Your Full Range of Motion
Using your full range of motion is one of the many ways to improve flexibility. When performing your dynamic stretches, as well as other exercises during your workout, use proper form and take each movement through your entire range of motion. For example, squatting below parallel can increase your hip's range of motion and improve its flexibility.
When performing new exercises, starting with bodyweight movements is always beneficial to allow your body to find the proper form for the full range of motion.
5. Perform Daily Flexibility Exercises
While doing dynamic stretches before a workout is vital to your workout performance, it shouldn't be your only flexibility work. You can perform daily stretches to get more flexible after you get out of bed, throughout the day while sitting at your desk, or even before you sleep. It's not just good for your flexibility but also your circulation, your mood, and your overall health.
Try adding some of the movements from the list of flexibility exercises below to your daily routine.
8 Flexibility Stretches and Exercises to Try at Home
If you’re wondering how to get more flexible, here are some great stretches and exercises to improve flexibility that
1. Psoas Stretch
Targets your hip flexors, glutes, and core
The psoas is a deep core muscle that connects your lumbar vertebrae to your femur. It has a significant impact on your posture because it helps to stabilize the spine. A muscle imbalance in your psoas can cause lower back pain and significantly decrease mobility. This stretch is best performed on a weight bench, but you could lie on a long bench or the side of your bed.
- Lie on a weight bench with your glutes on the edge. Place both feet on the ground. Your arms can hold the bench at your sides or above your head. This is your starting position.
- Engage your core, and lift your legs by bending your knees and bringing them up to your chest. You should feel a stretch in the back of your thighs.
- Straighten your left leg and slowly lower it until your foot touches the floor while keeping your right knee hugged toward your chest. You should feel a stretch in your left hip, especially once your leg goes past parallel.
- Straighten your right leg and slowly lower it until your foot touches the floor, putting you back in your starting position. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 6 to 8 reps, alternating which leg lowers to the ground first.
2. Cat-Cow Stretch
Targets your spine and core and opens your chest
The cat-cow stretch (AKA: Chakravakasana) is a well-known yoga movement that focuses on synchronizing your breath with the movement of your body. It's an excellent movement for those with back pain and can help to improve your posture and balance. While you don't need equipment for this movement, an exercise mat can make it more comfortable for your hands and knees.
- Start on the ground on all fours (table pose). Your wrists should be shoulder-width apart and your knees hip-width apart. Keep your head and neck aligned with your neutral spine. This is your starting position.
- Inhale and move into cow pose — tilting your pelvis (often called your "sit bones" in yoga) up and allowing your stomach to drop toward the floor. Press your chest forward and open it by relaxing your shoulders outward, then lift your head to face ahead. Hold this pose for a few breaths.
- Now exhale deeply and move into cat pose — bringing your abdomen in while rounding your spine outward. Tuck your tailbone in and draw your pubic bone forward. Allow your head to drop toward the floor. This is one rep.
- Complete as many reps as possible in 2 minutes.
3. Prone Cobra
Targets your neck, shoulders, lumbar spine, and upper and lower back
Prone cobra is an excellent neck mobility exercise that strengthens your shoulder muscles and upper back. It’ll train your core, abs, lower back, and glutes and help to stabilize your spine.
You don’t need any equipment, but an exercise mat or yoga block may be helpful since you’ll need to lie on the floor.
- Lie face down on the floor with your arms out about 45 degrees to your side with palms down. You can rest your forehead on a yoga block for added comfort.
- Bring your tongue to the roof of your mouth to stabilize the muscles in the front of your neck, then pinch your shoulder blades back and lift your hands off the floor.
- Slowly roll your elbows toward your ribs, bringing your palms out.
- Lift your chest off the floor while keeping your gaze on the floor (this will lift your forehead off the ground). Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat for 10 reps.
4. Reclined Twist
Targets your lower back, hips, and glutes
The reclined twist (AKA: lying twist) is an excellent transverse plane yoga movement that will stretch your hips while releasing tension and tightness in your lower back. It's an ideal flexibility movement because it gets your body moving in a different plane, lengthens your spinal rotator muscles, and helps to restore spinal neutrality. Lying on a yoga or exercise mat would be helpful for this stretch but isn't required.
- Lie on your back on the floor with your legs straight. Place your arms to your sides to form a T. This is your starting position.
- Inhale, then bring both knees to your chest. You can use your arms to draw your knees closer to your body for a deeper stretch.
- Exhale as you put your right hand on the outside of your left knee and twist your lower body to your right, bringing your knees to the ground. If you need to, shift your hips to the left to allow a neutral spine.
- Keep your shoulders flat on the floor and turn your head to your left. Extend your left arm out to your side again. Your right hand can extend back out to form a T or remain on your left knee. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat twice on each side.
5. Lateral Lunge With a Torso Twist
Targets your hip adductors and abductors, quads, hamstrings, glutes, obliques, and abdominals
The lateral lunge with a torso twist is a great core strength exercise that has the added benefit of building lower-body strength and is commonly found in mobility and strength workouts. Like the reclined twist, this movement gets your body working and stretching in different planes of motion.
The lateral lunge stretches your quads, hamstrings, and hips, while the torso twist targets your obliques and abs. This compound multiplanar movement is excellent for improving balance, especially for runners, cyclists, and cross-country skiers. You can perform this movement with or without a free weight, like a double-grip med ball or a YBell with a double grip.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Your toes should be pointing forward with a slight bend in your knees. Position your shoulders directly over your hips. This is your starting position.
- If you’re using a double-grip medicine ball or a YBell Neo, hold it in front of you with both hands, keeping your elbows at a 90-degree bend.
- Take a wide step outward with your right leg, then bend your right knee. Push your hips back and slowly lower your body until your right knee is at a 90-degree angle, keeping your torso upright.
- Pause at the end of the lateral lunge, then slowly turn your torso to the right, keeping your core engaged. Avoid rotating your right knee during the torso twist.
- Reverse the twist to face forward, then return to your starting position by slowly raising your body and stepping your right leg in. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 10 to 12 reps on each side.
6. YBell Cross Halo
Targets your shoulders, triceps, deltoids, rhomboids, trapezius, and core
Kettlebell halos are performed as a dynamic warm-up exercise for mobility work or active recovery movement for strength training. The YBell cross halo is excellent for shoulder mobility but does require a wide range of motion. You may want to try this compound exercise with a lighter weight than you'd generally use for strength training, like a YBell Arc or YBell Neo.
Why do I recommend a YBell over a traditional kettlebell for the cross halo? When you hold the YBell with an outer grip, the weight is bottom-loaded, which emulates a kettlebell. However, the weight distribution isn't as harsh, and it's much more comfortable because it sits lower on your forearm rather than your wrist like traditional kettlebells.
- Stand tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a YBell in your right hand using an outer grip, and let it hang by your side.
- Bring the YBell across your body up to and in front of your left shoulder, catching it in a double grip (use your left hand to grab another outer handle).
- Keep hold of the double grip as you carry the movement behind your head and around your body.
- When the YBell is in front of your right shoulder, release your right hand and use an outer grip to bring the YBell back down to your left side.
- Reverse the movement and complete as many reps as possible in one minute.
7. Dumbbell Chest Press
Targets your pecs, deltoids, biceps, triceps, and trapezius
The dumbbell chest press is a classic upper-body and chest strength training exercise for building and toning your pecs. It's a great mobility movement for improving daily activities like pushing shopping carts or picking up boxes. It's also great for stretching your chest muscles (pecs). You can perform this movement with dumbbells or a set of YBells using a center grip.
- Lie on a flat weight bench with your feet on each side of the bench, flat on the floor.
- Press your shoulders into the bench by drawing them down and back.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward. This is your starting position.
- Exhale, then press your arms up in one fluid motion. Be sure to keep your elbows slightly bent.
- Inhale, then slowly lower the dumbbells to your chest. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
8. Single-leg Deadlift
Targets your hamstrings, glutes, hips, core, and trapezius
The single-leg deadlift is an excellent move for stretching and strengthening your posterior chain. Challenging your core stability can improve your balance and increases your muscle strength. Like the cross halo, the single-leg deadlift also requires large ranges of movement, making it an incredible flexibility exercise for your hamstrings and hip flexors. You can do this movement with body weight or with a set of YBell Pros.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, keeping a slight bend in your right knee and a neutral spine. Using a center grip, hold two YBell Pros at your sides. This is your starting position.
- Engage your core and glutes to help your balance. Inhale, and in one fluid motion, hinge at your hips while extending your left leg behind you until your back is flat and parallel with the floor. Avoid locking out your knee.
- Exhale, then push up through your right foot and return to your starting position. Avoid rounding your back as you come back up. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 6 to 10 reps, then switch to your left leg.
Improve Your Flexibility Today with Our New YBells
YBell is a versatile 4-in-1 fitness tool that functions as a dumbbell, a kettlebell, a double-grip medicine ball, and a push-up stand all in one. Its unique shape and award-winning multiple-handle design are excellent for strength training and functional fitness. More importantly, it offers new layers of challenge to traditional mobility and flexibility exercises. YBells offer variety, allowing you to increase or decrease complexity based on your fitness level or training goals.
The multi-handle, multi-grip design of the YBell allows you to switch from a two-handed grip to a single-handed grip without throwing off the weight distribution, making compound movements seamless. This transition would be harder to accomplish with traditional equipment like kettlebells, where the weight sits in the middle, or dumbbells, where the stress shifts to an isolated muscle group. Difficult transitions like this can often cause injuries during strength or flexibility training.Using the YBell’s grip transitions allows you to progress your movements. For instance, starting with a YBell halo, you can progress to the YBell cross halo. Then, add pick-ups and lunges to make it a full-body mobility movement, creating compound mobility exercises like pick-up cross halos and drop lunge cross halos. The ability to transition your grip mid-exercise makes YBell ideal for your stability and safety while performing functional fitness, mobility, and flexibility movements.