How to Become More Flexible
As babies, we had no problem stretching our foot up to our head or letting our chubby thighs fall into a straddle. Most children maintain a fairly high level of flexibility, giving them great range of mobility. Then around the age of 10, as bones start to grow faster than muscle, our joints begin to stiffen. That coveted split position becomes farther and farther out of reach – something that most people only dream of achieving. While stretching your foot to your mouth to suck your toes is no longer a priority for most people (please say no), increasing your flexibility is still worthwhile.
Many people overlook stretching in their fitness routine, which is unfortunate because exercises for flexibility have many health benefits. Stretching can decrease your risk of injury, improve your posture, increase blood flow to your muscles, and provide stress relief. The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that soreness and pain after exercise is increased for athletes with poor flexibility. Increasing your range of motion can improve your performance in a nearly every sport, from martial arts, to ballet, to football, to running.
There are three keys to remember for productive stretching. The combination of these three is the trick to becoming more flexible:
While many people think of stretching as a warm up, stretching cold muscles can do more harm than good. Prevent injury and increase the effectiveness of your stretching by warming up your muscles first. Take a short, brisk walk or do some jumping jacks to get your blood flowing before you begin. 5-10 minutes of light aerobic activity should be sufficient. Doing your most focused stretching after a full workout is perfect for cooling down and taking advantage of your warm muscles at the same time.
The right amount of tension is crucial in increasing flexibility. Stretching to the point of pain can do more damage than good. Bouncing is also a don’t as it can cause tiny tears in the muscle that leave scar tissue as they heal. This will ultimately make you tighter and more susceptible to pain. Not stretching far enough will also prove futile, giving your muscles no need to adapt. The perfect amount of stretch will make you feel tension, but not pain.
We would all love for stretching to work wonders overnight, but the truth is increasing flexibility takes time. Backbends and straddle splits don’t come easy for most, but it is possible to get there with patience and diligence. The amount of time you commit to stretching and the length of time you hold each pose will significantly impact your success. The minimum amount of time you should hold each stretch is 30 seconds, repeated 3-4 times. The gymnasts and dancers you see with the most incredible flexibility make a habit of stretching for hours at a time. Practice your stretching while watching a movie or during your favorite shows on TV. Commit to a serious stretching session at least 3 times a week to keep from losing what you’ve gained. Focus on relaxing as you stretch to relieve stress and keep you coming back for more.
Note: If you have an injury or chronic condition, you may need to use caution when stretching. Talk to your doctor if you experience severe or unexpected pain in association with stretching.