Health and Fitness Benefits of Flexibility Training

Flexible woman touching her toes

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Working to become more flexible has a wide range of benefits including improving your range of motion, reducing fatigue, and even improving overall well-being. But many people tend to overlook the importance of flexibility assuming it is only needed for those looking to boost sports performance.

Instead, incorporating flexibility into your day could equate to improved fitness for everyday activities and enhanced overall health and well-being. What's more, if you frequently experience muscle fatigue, muscle stress, or poor joint health, these could be signs that you could especially benefit from flexibility exercises. Here is what you need to know about flexibility and how to make it part of your daily routine.

Flexibility and Range of Motion

Many times people confuse flexibility with range of motion. Range of motion (ROM) is the movement of a joint without pain in all directions possible. Flexibility, on the other hand, is the ability for the muscles, ligaments, and tendons to elongate through the ROM.

When you improve your range of motion through flexibility exercises, this helps decrease your risk of injuries and avoid tightness and soreness around your joints. Plus, having proper range of motion can impact your other workouts and activities. For instance, you are more likely to use proper form and activate your muscles.

One way to improve flexibility is through consistent stretching exercises. Not only should you stretch as part of a regular workout routine but you should also stretch after you exercise. Even stretching after sitting in your office chair for an extended period of time is important.

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Hyper-Flexibility

There also is such a thing as being too flexible. This phenomenon is called hyper-flexibility or joint hyper-mobility. Hyper-flexibility could be a sign of a connective tissue disorder, such as Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (EDS).  If you can move a joint past a normal range of motion, you might have joint hyper-mobility.

This excessive range of motion can cause joint pain, joint swelling, joint dislocation, joint cracking, tiredness, and widespread pain. These symptoms typically come on during or after exercise. If you suspect that you are dealing with hyper-flexibility, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Benefits of Flexibility

Poor flexibility can impact your health and well-being in a number of ways. For instance, you may experience muscle fatigue, stress on your muscles, and poor joint health. Increasing your flexibility helps you avoid these problems and reap a variety of benefits. Here are some potential benefits of flexibility.

Improve Muscle Condition

One way to reduce injuries and improve the condition of your muscles is through using flexibility-enhancing activities like foam rolling and dynamic stretching. For instance, foam rolling can help loosen tight muscles and is particularly useful with contracted or tight muscles that fail to fully release.

When you use a roller to roll along the length of your muscle, you are helping loosen your muscles by encouraging them to return to their original and intended length. Having lengthened muscles that are not tight or contracted will improve your flexibility in the long run.

Meanwhile, stretching increases the blood flow to your muscles. This improved circulation nourishes your muscles and helps rid them of waste byproducts. Plus, improved circulation can help shorten your recovery time, particularly after a hard workout. This is particularly important if you have experienced any injuries like a pulled or strained muscle.

One option is to incorporate dynamic stretching before your workout and foam rolling after. In fact, one study showed that dynamic stretching boosted muscle strength and decreased muscle stiffness.

Achieve Better Balance

Having good balance is something many people take for granted. But having good balance can help make you lighter on your feet and improve your athletic performance. It also is particularly important as you age because it can help prevent injuries and falls.

Improving flexibility and balance also can help strengthen the core and improve your stability. In fact, one study asked a group of adults over 65 to participate in stretching and mobility exercises twice a week for 12 weeks. As a result, they experienced improved balance, which decreased their risk of falls. Participants also experienced improved flexibility and lumbar strength.

Reduce Risk of Injury

Flexibility reduces your risk of injury and, when combined with exercise, can reduce back pain and stiffness. A systematic review suggests that aerobic exercise increases blood flow to soft tissues and muscle in the back, while flexibility improves the range of movement for muscles, ligaments, and tendons. When muscles and the surrounding structures are well-nourished and mobile, there is less likelihood that injury will occur.

If you're looking to reduce the risk of injury, this review suggests specifically stretching the muscles in the back, hamstrings, and hip flexors may help. Stretching can even help you in everyday activities like walking, bending, and reaching. The act of stretching lengthens muscles and improves blood flow (which promotes recovery and healing), so investing a few minutes in gentle, targeted stretching may pay off in the long run.

Types of Flexibility Training

You can improve flexibility with four different types of stretching exercises. These include static stretching, dynamic stretching, activated isolated stretching, and myofascial release.

It's also important to avoid over-stretching. Pushing yourself too hard or trying to stretch beyond your capabilities could actually work against your progress. Take it slow and steady, and stop if you feel any pain. Here is what you need to know about the different types of stretching.

Static Stretching

Static stretching is moving into a position that lengthens certain muscles and then holding that stretch for 30 seconds to start, working your way up to 60 to 90 seconds, Move into the stretch and stop when you feel some slight discomfort (not pain).

You've overstretched if you feel pain. Bring it back a bit. Move out of the stretch gently. Aim to stretch all of your major muscles, muscles used during your workout routines, and muscles that need flexibility improvement.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching, unlike static stretching, is a movement that stretches your muscles and joints. This type of stretching provides a warm-up while you stretch, and is done before exercise. It improves power, jump, and sprint.

Dynamic stretching is much like the movements you're preparing for in whatever exercise or sport you're performing. For example, runners may do hip circles, lunges, and leg pendulums. Swimmers may do shoulder rolls and arm circles.

Active Isolated Stretching

Active isolated stretching is done by stretching a muscle while simultaneously contracting the opposite muscle, holding it for 2 seconds, and then relaxing. You go a little bit further into the stretch each time and repeat 8 to 10 times.

Active isolated stretching requires the use of a resistance band, towel, or hand to provide resistance to contract one muscle. For example, you can stretch your quads by starting in a kneeling lunge position. With your hands on your hips, move your front knee forward. In this stretch, you're contracting your glutes while stretching your quad.

Myofascial Release

Foam rolling is a type of myofascial release that targets the fascia, a connective tissue, to increase flexibility and relieve tension. Foam rollers can be used on muscles on your legs, arms, and back. For example, to roll your calf, you need to start in a sitting position with the foam roller under your calf. Then you move your lower leg back and forth over the roller for 30 to 60 seconds.

Stretching exercises lengthen muscles to improve flexibility, which is vital for joint health and overall health. Stretch daily to improve your flexibility, whether it's with static stretching, dynamic stretching, foam rolling, or a combination of all three.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the impact of age on flexibility?

    Aging causes a decrease in your range of motion and progressively worsens as you get older. Stretching and exercise can reduce the decrease in range of motion.

  • How do you regain flexibility?

    You can lose flexibility by not stretching. But, the best way to regain it is by stretching on a regular basis. Incorporate some static stretches every day, but don't forget to warm up first.

  • When is the best time to do flexibility exercises?

    You can do stretching exercises anytime you want, but it is most beneficial after a workout when your muscles are warm. However, you can add a stretching routine anytime as long as you warm-up for at least 5 minutes before.

A Word From Verywell

Stretching on a regular basis will improve your flexibility, which is crucial for joint health and overall well-being. Plus, you have numerous options for achieving your goals. You can use static stretching, dynamic stretching, active isolated stretching, or foam rolling to improve your flexibility and range of motion.

Aim to incorporate stretching into your routine every day. Even stretching multiple times a day, particularly if you are sitting a lot for work, can be beneficial. Just be sure to contact a healthcare provider if you have recurring joint pain or muscle fatigue or if you notice hyper-flexibility. They can help you determine what is causing your discomfort and offer a treatment plan.

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16 Sources
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