How to Become More Flexible

A man props his foot against a wall to stretch his hamstring in preparation for exercise.

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We could all stand to be a bit more bendy. Most of us spend the majority of the day hunched in front of computer screens or over smartphones. The result? Poor posture, stiff joints, tight muscles, and nagging aches. 

Becoming more flexible is about much more than being able to touch your toes. It’s about improving your quality of life, reducing daily aches and pains, and being able to engage in activities you love without limitation. 

If you’ve been hoping to become more flexible, you’ve come to the right place. Ahead, learn how to improve your flexibility and the best stretches to incorporate into your daily routine. 

Understanding Flexibility

According to Merriam Webster, “flexible” means “able to endure strain without being permanently injured.” This definition perfectly embodies what it means to be a flexible human: Your muscles should be able to endure strain—stretching—without injury. The human body is meant to be rather supple, exhibiting elasticity in some scenarios while displaying strength and stability in others. 

The physiological definition of flexibility is “the ability of a joint or series of joints to move through an unrestricted, pain-free range of motion.” This means your muscles and joints work together to achieve positions needed for performance, whether that means daily responsibilities, workouts or recreational activities.

For example, if your job requires you to reach up high and put boxes on shelves, you require flexibility in your shoulders, arms and back to get that job done. Achieving the squat position requires flexibility in your hips, knees, ankles and spine. 

Without proper flexibility, reaching up overhead and dropping into a squat would cause pain and discomfort. With very limited flexibility, you may not even be able to achieve those positions. 

Best Lower Body Stretches

Now that you know what it means to be flexible, it’s time to learn how to become more flexible. These stretches for your lower body are some of the best, and they’re simple to incorporate into your daily or weekly stretching routine

Forward Fold

forward fold
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also known as the toe-touch or standing forward bend, the forward fold is the simple (but not easy) action of bending over and touching your toes or the floor. Ideally, one should be able to touch the toes without overly rounding the spine or shoulders, and without pain the the back of the legs.

Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Pigeon pose is a popular stretch in yoga, but you can practice it even if you don’t do yoga. When done correctly, pigeon pose opens up the hips, inner thighs, glutes, and lower back.

Butterfly Stretch

butterfly stretch
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Tight inner thighs (hip adductors) can limit you in many movements, especially squats, lunges, deadlifts and even hiking or walking. To combat tight inner thighs, add the butterfly stretch to your routine. It’ll loosen your hip adductors and allow for greater range of motion in most leg movements.

Knee-to-Wall Stretch

Many people have very tight ankles without knowing it. You may not think of your ankles when considering your overall flexibility, but your ankles play a huge role in your ability to squat, lunge, rotate, run and walk. So it’s important to keep them supple! 

One great way to do so is with the knee-to-wall stretch, in which the goal is to touch your knee to the wall without lifting your heel off of the ground. To try it, follow these steps: 

  1. Face a wall and stand about six inches away from it. 
  2. Extend your left foot behind you as if you’re about to do a lunge. Keep your right foot planted six inches away from the wall. 
  3. Keep your right heel flat on the ground and press your knee toward the wall. You should feel a stretch in your right heel, ankle and calf. 
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat two to three times. Then, switch to your other leg. 

World’s Greatest Stretch

Called the world’s greatest stretch for a reason, this dynamic flexibility move loosens up common problem areas, including the hips, hamstrings and spine. To do the world’s greatest stretch, follow these instructions: 

  1. Drop into a low lunge position on the floor. Place your right knee on the ground with the top of your foot resting on the floor. Plant your left foot in front of you, creating a right angle with your knee. 
  2. Press your hips forward until you feel gentle pressure in the front of your hips. 
  3. Place both hands on the ground inside of your left ankle. 
  4. Lift your back knee off of the ground (keep your hands on the floor). If this feels tough, stay here and skip step 5. 
  5. If you feel unchallenged at step 4, lower your left elbow to the ground. For an additional challenge, lower both elbows to the ground. 
  6. From your position in step 4 or 5, lift your left arm up to the sky and rotate toward your left leg. You should feel the rotation in your spine. 
  7. Return your left hand or elbow to the ground. 
  8. Repeat the rotational movement five times and then switch sides. 

Best Upper Body Stretches

Here's a look at some of the best upper body stretches.

Thread-the-Needle

The thread-the-needle stretch is gentle and improves flexibility in your shoulders, neck and upper back. It’s a beginner-friendly stretch you can do slowly. You can also modify it to be a static stretch or a dynamic stretch, depending on how you feel. Here's how to perform the thread-the-needle stretch:

  1. Get on all fours in a tabletop position: ensure that your hips are perpendicular to your knees and that your shoulders are perpendicular to your wrists.
  2. Lift up your left arm and follow it with your gaze. Then sweep this arm between your right arm and right leg.
  3. Lower your upper body into the stretch into your mat, carpet or floor until you feel a stretch in your upper back and shoulders. Keep your hips and lower body up.
  4. Hold this stretch for a few seconds or up to an entire minute if you can manage doing so.
  5. Un-thread yourself and swing your left arm up again and let your gaze follow your left hand.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

Seated Clasp Neck Stretch

If you struggle with neck tightness and pain, you need to try the seated clasp neck stretch. You can do this stretch anywhere and you don’t need any equipment. In the short-term, this stretch relieves neck pain, and in the long-term, it improves range of motion. Here's how to perform the seated clasp neck stretch:

  1. Sit on the floor or in a chair. Keep your core tight, bring your shoulders back and down, hold your back straight. Keep your chest high.
  2. Bring your hands behind your head and clasp them together by interlocking your fingers.
  3. Press your clasped hands on the back of your head.
  4. Push down on the back of your head until you feel a stretch in the back of the neck.
  5. Hold this for about 45 to 60 seconds and return to a neutral position.

Anterior Shoulder Stretch

anterior shoulder stretch
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Tight shoulders are common in people who sit all day, thanks to posture problems. The anterior shoulder stretch is a feel-good stretch will open up the front of your shoulders and your chest. The best part? It’s beginner-friendly and you can do it anytime, anywhere.

PVC Pass-Through

This is an advanced shoulder and upper back stretch. Use caution if you’re a beginner to stretching, or have a certified personal trainer supervise you. When performed correctly, PVC pass-throughs create healthy and complete joint movement in the shoulders, as well as the thoracic and cervical spine. 

To do PVC pass-throughs, you’ll need a segment of PVC pipe. A broomstick also works. Once you have your equipment, follow these steps:

  1. Hold the PVC pipe with a wide grip. 
  2. Slowly raise your arms up above your head and rotate your shoulders to bring the PVC behind your back.
  3. Complete the movement by returning your arms to the front of your body. 

How to Create a Stretching Routine

You know you should stretch to become more flexible, but when and how often should you stretch? It’s helpful to cater your stretching routine around your workout routine if you already exercise on a regular basis. 

For instance, if you plan on doing a leg workout, you can add dynamic lower-body stretches into your warm-up and some static leg stretches into your cool-down. The same goes for upper body workouts. You can also try starting and ending your day with a few stretches for both your upper and lower body.

Sandwiching your day with stretch sessions can have a big impact on your flexibility over time. Stretching for 10 minutes a day is a good goal to start with. As you become more flexible, you can practice deeper stretches for longer periods of time.

A Word From Verywell

When trying to become more flexible, the most important thing is to avoid over-stretching, which can cause pain or injury. As you work to improve your flexibility, respect your body’s range of motion and don’t push yourself too far. 

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