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12 Best Stretching Exercises For Improved Flexibilty

What Is Flexibility Training?

Flexibility training is both a way of training and a necessity. It can lead to improved sporting performance and gym gains when performed prior to a workout, but most importantly – for not only serious athletes – flexibility training can play an important role in your overall health.

Flexibility training is exactly what it sounds like: training in order to improve your flexibility. This involves regular stretching and sometimes equipment to hold poses in order to elongate your muscles and warm them up.

As a warm-up, cool-down and morning or evening routine, ten minutes may be all that you need to benefit in many ways.

Benefits Of Flexibility Training

Flexibility training can lengthen and loosen your muscles, keeping them from getting tight, and ultimately preventing injuries, posture issues, back problems and muscle pains.

In terms of exercise, stretching beforehand gets the blood and oxygen flowing to your muscles, so that you are not going from zero to 100 when you start your run or lifts, thus alleviating the shock and strain on your system.

It’s not just about hardcore workouts. Daily physical activities from bending to tie your shoes, to reaching, squatting and stooping all require your muscles to be supple enough to perform. For that matter, even sitting requires your muscles in the first instance. Stretching can prepare you for your day, ensuring that these simple movements we take for granted don’t result in injury or difficulties.

Flexibility training can improve your balance, too, by ensuring that the blood and oxygen flows through all of your muscles, but also that you are not favoring stronger more dominant muscles in certain activities. Think about it: each time you stand up and cross a room you do so on autopilot. If you’ve been sitting for too long then perhaps you limp or walk with less than perfect posture, depending mostly on the larger muscles groups.

Regular flexibility training, in other words, is a good way to ensure the smaller auxiliary muscles don’t go neglected. This also applies to weightlifters who have their favorite lifts that focus on certain muscle groups: injuries and bad posture occur when you neglect the smaller supporting muscles. Flexibility training can help with that.

As we age our muscles stiffen. This also occurs in younger people when muscles are unused for longer durations – for example, from too much sitting. Hamstrings are a good example of this: if you don’t regularly stretch your hamstrings they tighten and their range of motion shrinks, affecting your back and how you walk. By regularly carrying out flexibility training you can fight the effects of aging and laziness by keeping your muscles ‘loose’.

Muscle tension can also be a cause of mental stress. When your body is tight, you feel inhibited. If your muscles are tight, as this restricts your movement there is a good chance you’re unable to perform a cardio exercise to get your heart rate up. Therefore tight muscles may be a sign you are not getting the exercise you need in order to increase the production of endorphins.

A deficit has been linked to mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety. By keeping your muscles loose and warmed up for action, you are essentially preparing yourself not only for a workout and daily physical tasks, but keeping yourself from feeling uptight mentally.

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Stretches To Increase Flexibility

1. Hamstring Stretch

You can achieve the same results both sitting on the floor or standing with this one. When standing, bring your leg up to an elevated surface that is around the same height as your waist. Reach for your toes and hold. This will also stretch your back.

2. Pretzel Stretch

Loosen up everything from your back to your hips, obliques, glutes and quads with this one. Lying on your side, rest your head on your outstretched arm. Bring your bent knee and hip up to your chest. Keep your torso in a straight line while turning your head to your shoulder to add a twist.

3. Butterfly Stretch

Sitting upright on the floor with the soles of your feet together, bend your knees to the sides. Lower your body towards your feet. Press down your knees to help. This stretch targets your hips, glutes and back.

4. Standing Calf Stretch

Simply stand upright and press against the wall with your palms. Start on your tip toes and step back with one leg. Now flatten your heels so that it pulls along the back of your leg.

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5. Knee To Chest Stretch

This is an easy one that can make a huge difference to your lower back and hamstrings. Simply lie on your back and bring one leg up towards your torso. Hold it in both arms and squeeze it towards your chest. Repeat on the other leg.

6. Standing Quad Stretch

Standing upright with straightened posture, take one foot in your hand behind your back and pull. Hold onto something with the other hand for stability if you need.

7. Side Bend Stretch

This simple stretch can be performed from a standing or kneeling position to stretch your obliques, hips and inner thighs. With an upright posture and your back straight, extend your arm and reach over your opposite shoulder, reaching over to the side and bending at the waist.

8. Frog Stretch

Begin on all fours with your knees further apart than your shoulders and your toes turned out so that your feet are flat on the floor. Move your hips back to your heels. Increase the intensity by working from your forearms instead of hands. This should target your hips and groin.

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9. Puppy Stretch

Beginning on all fours, stretch your glutes and back by walking your arms forward and pushing your hips back to your heels.

10. Sphinx Stretch

The sphinx pose addresses your chest, shoulders and lower back all in one. Lie on your stomach with your legs straight. Lift yourself with your elbows beneath your shoulders and forearms on the ground, pressing your hips and thighs into the floor. Your spine will arch as you extend your back.

11. Pectoral Floor Stretch

Chest workouts are one of the most popular for weightlifters, so you should ensure you are taking care to stretch in between. Lying on your stomach, make a T-shape with your arms. Roll to one side by lifting yourself with the opposite knee. You will feel the strain in your pecs.

12. Sitting Shoulder Squeeze

This stretch targets tension in your upper back – perfect after a long day of sitting in an office. Sitting on the floor, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor with your hands fastened behind your back. Straighten your arms out backwards so that you squeeze your shoulder blades together.

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Master of Science in Sport Physiology and Nutrition. She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. Find out more about Faye's experience here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faye-reid-8b619b122/.

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