How can I improve my flexibility?

Stretching is an excellent way to improve flexibility. There are may ways to stretch, but the best methods that can be done alone are the static and dynamic stretch.

Static stretching involves reaching forward to a point of tension and holding the stretch. The stretch should be held for 15 to 60 seconds.

Dynamic stretching consists of functional-based exercises, which use sport-specific movements to prepare the body for movement. Dynamic stretching can be slightly dangerous if performed too vigorously.

To avoid injury, you should not engage in exercises too rapidly before your body has had time to adapt.

Another way to maintain flexibility is to perform a proper cool-down. Letting your body cool down allows the lactic acid to slowly leave muscle tissues.

(This answer provided for NATA by the Gustavus Adolphus College Athletic Training Education Program.)
Mike Luque

There are two major parts to this. One is hydration and the other is stretching.

How much water are you consuming daily? Being chronically under hydrated causes your muscles and connective tissues to dry out and become brittle, reducing your flexibility and increasing your chances of injury. As a simple rule of thumb, take your weight and divide by two. Whatever number that is, you should drink that many ounces of water daily. So if you weigh 165 lbs., you should be drinking 82.5 ounces of water daily.

The second part of the answer is stretching. There is more than one kind of stretching, depending on your reason for the stretching. If you are about to do some physical activity or sport, you would do either active stretching or dynamic stretching depending on the activity you'll be doing, sometimes a little of both. Active stretching means you're holding the stretch for 2-4 seconds then releasing the stretch, and repeating it 6-8 times. A dynamic stretch is much quicker and not held at all.

Using the hamstrings as an example:

Active stretch: stand and cross your legs with the feet against each other, we'll say the right in front of left. The right knee will be lightly bent and the left will be straight. Bend over and reach as far towards your toes as you can without feeling pain, just a stretch. Hold for 2-4 seconds, stand back up and repeat that 6-8 times. This will stretch your left hamstrings. Then you'd switch legs and repeat.

Dynamic stretch: Hold on to a pole or a bench with your right hand and with your core active and muscles in the left leg lightly active, kick your left leg forward and up as high as you can and let it swing back down. Repeat that 6-8 times then switch.

The reason for active versus dynamic is the explosiveness of the activity you're going to perform. If you're doing something explosive, like basketball where you're jumping and running, the dynamic stretch is appropriate. If you're a jogger, running at a medium pace, an active stretch is appropriate.

After activity, you can do static stretches, where you take a stretch and hold it for 25-30 seconds. For the hamstrings, you can lie on your back and use a towel around your foot to pull your straight let up until you feel a painless stretch and hold that for 25-30 seconds. This will create a permanent change in the length of the hamstring muscles. Don't do static stretches before activity as you're asking the muscle to shut off, which you don't want to do BEFORE activity.

Flexibility can be improved by properly applying a variety of stretching techniques such as various forms of massage, self-myofascial release, static stretching, and dynamic stretching. Massage is a great way to help the mind and body relax and release painful trigger points (knots) in the muscles and surrounding fascia (connective tissue that surrounds the muscles). Self-myofascial release is a type of self-massage that utilizes a foam roller or other percussion or vibration devices to help penetrate the muscle to alleviate knots, much like a masseuse who presses their thumb into a tight muscle. Static stretching is the most common type of stretching. Research has shown that holding a static stretch for 20-30 seconds allows the muscles time to relax and elongate, thus increasing joint range of motion. Another form of stretching is called dynamic stretching. This form of stretching is good for individuals and athletes who need to warm-up prior to exercise or sports competition. This form of stretching can be performed on its own (if the indivdual does not have tight/stiff muscles) or after completing a series of static stretches. Dynamic stretches are low-intensity exercises that mimic the type of movements an individual may perform during their workout or sporting event. These stretches help increase circulation, reduce muscle tightness, and helps your nervous system's ability to contract muscles forcefully. Example dynamic stretches include, prisoner squats, walking lunges with rotation, and hip swings.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.