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The 5 Best Flexibility Exercises

Published October 22, 2019
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

best-flexibility-exercises
<article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What is Flexibility?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">How Does Exercise Make You More Flexible?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">How Can I Get Flexible Exercising?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">What are 5 Exercises for Flexibility?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Flexibility Workouts—Wrap-Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p align="justify">When most people think of increasing flexibility, their minds go right to stretching. </p> <p align="justify">Stretching is a great option, but certain exercises and workouts are just as capable of increasing the range of motion (ROM) in your joints.</p> <p align="justify">Actually, plenty of science shows that exercise on its own helps mobilize your joints, especially as you age <sup>1</sup>. Joints are more primed to be stretched when they’re loose and warm, which means combining workouts with flexibility training makes a lot of sense.</p> <p align="justify">Here’s what you need to know about flexibility, a few “highlights” on how exercise improves range of motion, and 5 flexibility workouts you can do at home.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <h2 id="section1">What is flexibility?</h2> <p align="justify">Flexibility is your ability to move a joint through its full range of motion (ROM).</p> <p align="justify">According to the <i>National Strength and Conditioning Association</i> (NSCA), flexibility should be an important part of any fitness training program. When the joints can move freely through their normal ROM, they are more protected from injury <sup>2</sup>.</p> <p align="justify">Here are a few other benefits of flexibility:</p> <ul> <li>Increases balance and coordination</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/posture-4-moves-to-get-you-back-in-line" rel="noreferrer">Improves posture</a> (the position we hold our bodies in when we sit, stand, or lie down)</li> <li>Alleviates muscle soreness and helps release tension after a challenging workout</li> </ul> <p align="justify">Flexibility training is important enough, according to the <i>NSCA</i>, that it should be included in your normal exercise routine daily, either in the warmup, cool down, or main portion of your workout <sup>2</sup>.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-outdoor-woods-hamstring-stretch-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-outdoor-woods-hamstring-stretch-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-outdoor-woods-hamstring-stretch-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-outdoor-woods-hamstring-stretch-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="woman-outdoor-woods-hamstring-stretch"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <h2 id="section2">How does exercise make you more flexible?</h2> <p align="justify">Flexibility, like most fitness-related skills, abides by the “use-it-or-lose-it” principle. </p> <p align="justify">This means that the less active you are or the less you move your muscles through their full range of motion, the less flexible you are likely to be <sup>3</sup>. As you exercise and stretch, flexibility is likely to improve.</p> <p align="justify">Keep in mind: the “use-it-or-lose-it” principle applies to all areas of health and fitness, not just flexibility. Bone density, muscular strength, and even certain types of brain functions all dissipate or diminish if you stop using them on a regular basis<sup>4</sup> <sup>5</sup>. </p> <p align="justify">Here are 3 specific ways that exercise makes you more flexible.</p> <h3>1. Certain exercises require mobile joints</h3> <p align="justify">Whether you’re <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/10-reasons-why-walking-is-the-best-exercise" rel="noreferrer">walking</a>, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/functional-strength-training/" rel="noreferrer">strength training</a>, or doing a <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/what-is-functional-training-and-can-it-benefit-you/" rel="noreferrer">high-intensity interval training</a> (HIIT) workout, exercise forces the muscles and joints to <i>move through</i> a different range of motion. </p> <p align="justify">When you exercise, you put muscles and joints through a very specific range of motion, which your body adapts to.</p> <p align="justify">Said another way: you “use” that range of motion, and therefore, don’t lose it.</p> <p align="justify">For example, a proper push-up requires adequate shoulder mobility. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/step-by-step-guide-on-how-to-do-perfect-squats" rel="noreferrer">Squats</a> require hip and ankle mobility and core stabilization. </p> <p align="justify">And contralateral exercises like walking or running require you to be flexible enough for muscles on one side of the body to counteract the other <sup>5</sup>.</p> <p align="justify"><i>(Believe it or not, you need a flexible, stable core just to walk. Rotation is difficult or painful without it.)</i></p> <h3>2. Exercise is anti-inflammatory</h3> <p align="justify">Research shows that even a 20-minute moderate intensity workout stimulates the immune system and reduces inflammation in joints <sup>6</sup>. </p> <p align="justify">Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins, the main chemical in our brains responsible for the “runner’s high”, a.k.a. that awesome feeling you have after a <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/push-yourself-to-the-limit-full-body-workout" rel="noreferrer">tough workout</a>. </p> <p align="justify">Sometimes called “nature’s pain killers”, endorphins are especially useful for counteracting sore or painful joints <sup>7</sup>.</p> <h3>3. Exercise increases blood flow</h3> <p align="justify">Movement also increases muscle temperature and blood flow, loosening up stiff joints and making it easier to move <sup>7</sup>.</p> <p align="justify">According to the <i>Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy (BJPT)</i>, not only does increased muscle temperature make exercise easier, it’s been scientifically proven to increase range of motion in your joints, too <sup>8</sup>. </p> <p align="justify">Muscle temperature is one reason fitness experts advocate you warm up before you workout, to ensure your joints are prepared for exercise.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <h2 id="section3">How can I get flexible exercising?</h2> <p align="justify">Like cardiovascular fitness or muscular strength, improved flexibility is achieved through small improvements during your workouts. </p> <p align="justify">In the same way working out once won’t make us automatically thin or muscular, stretching once won’t keep your joints flexible forever. Just like exercise, consistency is key. The <i>American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)</i> recommends stretching during workouts 2 to 3 times per week <sup>9</sup>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <h2 id="section4">What are 5 exercises for flexibility?</h2> <p align="justify">The 5 flexibility exercises below are known as “dynamic” stretches. </p> <p align="justify">Dynamic stretches are different from static stretches, like standing quad pulls or hanging from a pull-up bar to stretch your <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/latissimus-dorsi" rel="noreferrer">lats</a>. Dynamic stretches use <i>movement</i> to increase range of motion and increase blood flow.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch-1-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch-1-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch-1-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch-1-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch"> </picture> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch-2-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch-2-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch-2-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch-2-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-alternating-couch-hamstring-stretch"> </picture> <h3>1. Alternating couch + hamstring stretch</h3> <p align="justify">This stretch mobilizes the front and back side of your legs and hips.</p> <p align="justify">Start in couch stretch, one of our favorite movements for <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/5-exercises-for-hip-pain" rel="noreferrer">hip mobility</a>.</p> <p align="justify">Find a couch or place a cushion on the floor for your knee. The padding will take pressure off your knee. Put your back knee—the one you’d drop down with if doing a lunge—on the padding and the top of your foot straight in front of you.</p> <p align="justify">Gently lean forward and stretch your front leg’s <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/the-3-best-hamstring-workouts/" rel="noreferrer">hamstring</a>. If you can’t grab your toe, place your palm on your shin and gently pulse forward. </p> <p align="justify">Release a bit of tension by sitting up, then pulse forward lightly with your torso. You should feel a stretch in your back leg’s quad and hip flexor.</p> <p align="justify">Consider a stretch of both legs as one “rep”. Do 10 reps on each leg.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-hip-90-stretch-1-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-hip-90-stretch-1-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-hip-90-stretch-1-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-hip-90-stretch-1-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-hip-90-stretch"> </picture> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-hip-90-stretch-2-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-hip-90-stretch-2-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-hip-90-stretch-2-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-hip-90-stretch-2-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-hip-90-stretch"> </picture> <h3>2. Hip 90/90 stretch</h3> <p align="justify">Many of us, due to <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/5-simple-chair-exercises-for-everyday-fitness/" rel="noreferrer">too much sitting</a> or otherwise, have tight hips. This stretch will help open your hips up.</p> <ul> <li>Start in a seated position with your lead leg in front of you, bent at 90 degrees. </li> <li>Place your trail leg to the side, also at a 90 degree angle. Sit up as tall as you can to start.</li> <li>Line your heels up so they’re in a straight line.</li> <li>Now, lean forward. Think about bringing your belly button toward your front knee. Go slow.</li> <li>You should feel your hips and and <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/glutes-101-best-exercises-for-your-gluteus-maximus/" rel="noreferrer">glutes</a> stretch out.</li> </ul> <p align="justify">Hold for 20 seconds or do 20 gentle pulses on each side, then switch.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch-1-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch-1-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch-1-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch-1-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch"> </picture> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch-2-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch-2-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch-2-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch-2-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-downward-dog-spiderman-stretch"> </picture> <h3>3. Downward dog to spiderman stretch</h3> <p align="justify">Start in a downward dog position. Your body should look like an upside down ‘V’, with your heels down and your hands pressing through the floor. From here, bring your hips and butt down into a normal plank. In this position, bring your right foot to your right hand (or as close as you can comfortably get). Pause for a second, feeling the stretch on your inner thigh and glute. </p> <p align="justify">Repeat on the other side, then go back to downward dog, pressing through your hands and straightening your body before beginning the next rep. Do 10 on each side.</p> <p align="justify">This exercise is also a sneaky way to practice <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/the-benefits-and-how-to-of-spiderman-pushups" rel="noreferrer">spiderman push-ups</a>. Do one before you bring your foot toward your hand for an extra workout.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation-1-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation-1-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation-1-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation-1-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation"> </picture> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation-2-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation-2-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation-2-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation-2-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-childs-pose-thoracic-rotation"> </picture> <h3>4. Child’s pose with thoracic rotation</h3> <p align="justify">To simplify this one, let’s review each term individually:</p> <ul> <li><b>Child’s pose</b> is another yoga pose. Resting on your shins, collapse your torso forward and place your hands on the ground in front of you. <li>Your spine is composed of three sections: the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. Your <b>thoracic spine</b> is in the middle, holding your ribs together and protecting your heart and lungs <sup>11</sup>. </ul> <p align="justify">To do this exercise, start in child’s pose. Raise one hand off the ground and bring it to your ear. From there, rotate your spine, opening up the rib cage towards the wall. Exhale, then return to child’s pose. Repeat on the other side.</p> <p align="justify">Do 5 to 10 slow, controlled reps on each side. This is a great warm up exercise and a good way to practice keeping your ribs “glued” during hollow holds.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze-1-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze-1-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze-1-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze-1-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze"> </picture> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze-2-0262.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze-2-0262.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze-2-0262.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze-2-LR-0262.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="jenny-tall-kneeling-shoulder-squeeze"> </picture> <h3>5. Tall kneeling shoulder squeeze</h3> <p align="justify">Here’s a good one to work on <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/3-core-exercises-for-seniors-to-improve-stability" rel="noreferrer">core stability</a> and increase chest and <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/frozen-shoulder-exercises-stretches" rel="noreferrer">shoulder flexibility</a>.</p> <p align="justify">From a kneeling position, interlock your hands behind your back. Fight to keep your arms straight and clasped together, but if your ROM isn’t there yet, you can use a towel or piece of string. </p> <p align="justify">Alternate sides, reaching your hands back toward your feet. Bring your hands and arms forward over your head. Slow and controlled is the way to go here. Do 5 to 10 reps.</p> <p align="justify">You might feel a burn in the shoulders after you’re done—a few arm swings will help shake it out when you’re done.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <h2 id="section5">Flexibility workouts—wrap-up</h2> <p align="justify">Stretching is certainly not your only option for increasing joint range of motion. Exercising on its own helps loosen up joints by increasing blood flow and muscle temperature and is anti-inflammatory. </p> <p align="justify">And abiding by the important “use-it-or-lose-it” principle, a combination of stretching and exercises will help you keep (or improve) your fitness, flexibility, and strength over time. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting from. Start small and make progress over time, and you’ll see results.</p> <h3>Resources:</h3> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4656693/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Exercise to Improve Mobility in Healthy Aging</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/kinetic-select/benefits-of-flexibility-training/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Benefits of Flexibility Training</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6384/45.3" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Aging muscle: Use it or lose it</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30408611" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Use it or lose it to age: A review of bone and muscle communication</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-third-age/201405/use-it-or-lose-it" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Use It or Lose It!</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncsf.org/blog/200-contralateral-vs-ipsilateral-exercises" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Contralateral vs. Ipsilateral Exercises</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2017-01-12-exercise-can-act-as-anti-inflammatory.aspx" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Exercise … it Does a Body Good: 20 Minutes Can Act as Anti-Inflammatory</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5833972/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">The effect of warm-ups with stretching</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://westporty.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Stretching-Guidelines1.pdf" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Stretching Guidelines</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1413-35552007000100010&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Influence of local cooling and warming on the flexibility of the hamstring</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://mayfieldclinic.com/pe-anatspine.htm" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Anatomy of the Spine</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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