Why Flexibility Is So Important for New Exercisers

Woman stretching in front of a window
Woman stretching in front of a window. mapodile/Getty Images

Flexibility is one area of fitness we don't think much about, beyond doing a few stretches before or after a workout. In fact, stretching is the one thing most of us skip as we run out of time, energy, and motivation. After all, stretching doesn't burn many calories so why bother?

Being healthy and fit is about more than just burning calories. One reason to make time for stretching is the simple fact that flexible muscles allow your joints to move through a full range of motion.

That full range of motion is how you get the most out of each exercise and, as a result, your workouts. 

How Tight Muscles Can Hurt Your Workouts

Think about what happens when you're tight somewhere in your body. If you have tight hips, maybe you can't do a proper squat—hips low to the ground and behind you, abs braced, and knees behind the toes. 

If your hips are tight, maybe you can't go down as low or maybe other parts of your body step in to compensate for those tight hips.

That means two things: You're not getting the most that you can from that exercise and, if you keep doing it that way, you can end up with a repetitive stress injury.

The Benefits of Stretching

Stretching doesn't just help you get the most out of your workouts, it can actually help you feel better as you age. In fact, just some of the benefits of stretching include:

  • May improve performance and mitigate the risk of an injury. One note: Studies have shown that stretching does not help reduce soreness from your workout, so don't expect it to cure all that ails you. Still, keeping the amount of flexibility you need to exercise safely is important for your overall health.
  • Reduces muscle soreness and improved posture
  • Increases blood and nutrients to the tissues
  • Improves coordination
  • Releases excess muscle tension
  • Promotes the repair of muscles while decreasing stress
  • Aids in pain-free movement
  • It feels good mentally and physically

How to Stretch

Setting up a flexibility program is easy, once you have some exercises and a good idea of how to do them correctly. Stretching is one of the most gentle ways to work your body and the best thing about it is you can do it anytime, almost anywhere.

Stretches come under two basic categories, static and dynamic. Static stretches are when you slow go into a stretch and hold the position. Dynamic stretches involve movement, such as gentle bouncing. Some basic guidelines about stretching:

  1. Always stretch after your workout. Studies show dynamic stretching is better before exercise, while static stretching is better afterward. In fact, static stretching cold muscles prior to physical activity can lead to decreased power and performance. If your goal is to increase flexibility, it's best to stretch after your workout when muscles are warm and pliable. You can also stretch after a hot bath or a soak in a hot tub.
  2. Perform dynamic stretching before a workout. Dynamic stretching before exercise is a great way to warm up. These movement-based stretches help to activate and warm up muscles.
  3. Don't bounce after. When doing static stretches after your workout, don't bounce. Hold a comfortable position until you feel a gentle pull on your muscles. It shouldn't hurt and bouncing warm muscles could cause you to stretch beyond your range of motion and lead to a pulled muscle.
  4. Stretch the muscles you worked during your workout. If you don't have much time, focus on your major muscles or the muscles that tend to be the tightest such as the hips, quads, hamstrings, calves, and chest.
  5. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds to get the most flexibility benefits.
  6. Stretch throughout the day. Stretching when warm can increase flexibility, but stretching throughout the day can also help you reduce tension and stress. If you're stuck at work, try these seated stretches for office workers.

Your Flexibility Workout

A solid flexibility workout doesn't have to take a long time. In fact, you can get a great total body stretch with just a few basic exercises.

The exercises below are designed to stretch all the major muscles, especially the muscles that tend to be tighter like the chest, hamstrings, and hips. Do these stretches after your workout and throughout the day to promote less stress, more relaxation, and better circulation.

  • Hamstring Stretch. Standing, take one leg straight out in front of you, resting on the heel on a bench or chair. With a flat back, tip from the hips until you feel a stretch in the back of the legs. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Calf Stretch. Standing, take one foot back behind you, leg straight. Press the back heel into the floor as you bend the front knee, feeling a stretch in the calf. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Chest Stretch. Seated or standing, put your arms behind you, lacing the fingers together if you can (if not just take the arms back as far as you can). Straighten the arms and lift them slightly, feeling a stretch in your chest.
  • Triceps Stretch. Seated or standing, taking one arm straight up and bend the elbow, taking the hand behind your head. Use the other hand to gently pull on the elbow, feeling a stretch behind your arm. Hold and repeat on the other side for 30 seconds.
  • Shoulder Stretch. Seated or standing, take the right arm straight across you chest so that your fingers are pointing to the left wall. Use your left hand to pull on the arm, stretching the shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
  • Hip Stretch. Lying on the floor, cross left foot over right knee. Clasp hands behind right thigh and gently pull the leg in toward you, keeping upper body relaxed. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
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Article Sources
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  1. Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to Prevent or Reduce Muscle Soreness After Exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011. 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD004577. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3.

  2. American Council on Exercise. Stretching Techniques for Alleviating Muscle and Joint Pain (Part 2).