3 Things You Must Do If You Want To Be Flexible

Flexible Aerialist performing a split pose on an aerial silk apparatus

Do you want to be flexible? Flexibility is the ability of a joint to achieve a full range of motion. Contrary to popular belief, it is not only reserved for dancers, yogis, contortionists, and martial artists – flexibility is for everyone! Being flexible will help to increase circulation, reduce muscle soreness and fatigue, improve balance and coordination, and help maintain healthy joints.

According to M. Alter, the benefits of stretching include:

  • Enhanced physical fitness
  • Help to learn and perform skilled movements
  • Mental and physical relaxation
  • Increased body awareness
  • Less risk of injury (to joints, muscles, tendons)
  • Reduced soreness in muscles
  • Less muscle tension
  • More suppleness (better lubrication of connective tissues)
  • Less painful menstruation in females

One of the main complaints I get from clients is “I wish I were more flexible.” While Thai Massage has benefits in aiding flexibility; much like body-building, flexibility is something that needs to be trained and worked on independently. So, if you want to be flexible you have to work on it.

Woman receiving Thai Massage

So, how does one get more flexible? I’ll break it down for you simply. Here are three things you must do if you want to be flexible:

1- Make sure muscles are warm

Don’t stretch cold! Warming up the muscles before any activity is crucial in preventing muscle strain injuries. Since these injuries can slow down your progress, make sure to warm up your muscles. You can choose a dynamic active warm-up, a heat pad, sauna, shower, etc. Your goal with a warm-up is to increase your body temperature by a couple of degrees, so make sure your muscles are warm before you train your flexibility. According to this study, warm-up significantly increased hamstring flexibility in test subjects.

For a general active warm-up, start with joint rotations, then at least five minutes of aerobic activity. You can then add static and dynamic stretches to complete your warm-up. Finish this before attempting your sport or exercise, and complete your activity with a cool down. (Read about “how to stretch” here)

Flexible aerialist performing a back bend on an aerial silk apparatus
Exercising outside on a hot, sunny day can help you warm-up faster!

2- Stretch every day

There are many different types of stretching you can do, such as static, active, dynamic, isometric, ballistic, and PNF stretching. (Read more about the types of stretches here) Each type of stretch offers different benefits, and I like to use a combination of these when I train.

The ideal length of time to hold a static stretch is 30 seconds for maximum increase in ROM. In this study, the test subjects who stretched 5 days a week were able to achieve an increase in ROM. That would equate to 30 seconds per side per stretch, 5 days a week. For example, if you want to work on your hamstring flexibility as well as your shoulder flexibility, you could then do 2 minutes of stretching every weekday and see a benefit.

Aerialist practicing splits on an aerial apparatus
If the goal is splits: work on splits every day!

3- Focus on strength and flexibility

Stretching alone won’t improve your flexibility. Strength training should be combined with stretching to get optimal improvements in flexibility (Source). Not only can strength training increase your flexibility, it ensures you do so safely. To prevent injury, any increase in range of motion must come with the strength required to hold the joint at the higher end-range. (For more information, read on here)

You need strong muscles to support your body. To strengthen your muscles while you stretch, you can choose to do active or isometric stretching. Active stretching strengthens the antagonist muscles, whereas isometric stretching strengthens the agonist muscles. Both are necessary if you want to increase your flexibility. For more information on this, check out this resource.

Two women rock climbing
Strength-training doesn’t have to be lifting heavy weights!

There you have it! You only need to do 3 things to increase your flexibility! Stretching can sometimes be seen as an annoyance – I’m often told it’s “just another thing I have to do”. While time can be seen as a big inhibitor, you only need to change your mindset to accomplish this goal. See how your life can change if you instead tell yourself, “that’s just three things and just a few minutes a day”.

Namaste

If you are in Sioux Falls and interested in training your flexibility, Cirka Performance Arts has incredible instructors.


Sources:

Simão R, Lemos A, Salles B, Leite T, Oliveira É, Rhea M, Reis VM. The influence of strength, flexibility, and simultaneous training on flexibility and strength gains. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1333-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181da85bf. PMID: 21386731.

O’Sullivan K, Murray E, Sainsbury D. The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009 Apr 16;10:37. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-10-37. PMID: 19371432; PMCID: PMC2679703.

Bandy WD, Irion JM, Briggler M. The effect of time and frequency of static stretching on flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Phys Ther. 1997 Oct;77(10):1090-6. doi: 10.1093/ptj/77.10.1090. PMID: 9327823.

Hotta K, Behnke BJ, Arjmandi B, Ghosh P, Chen B, Brooks R, Maraj JJ, Elam ML, Maher P, Kurien D, Churchill A, Sepulveda JL, Kabolowsky MB, Christou DD, Muller-Delp JM. Daily muscle stretching enhances blood flow, endothelial function, capillarity, vascular volume and connectivity in aged skeletal muscle. J Physiol. 2018 May 15;596(10):1903-1917. doi: 10.1113/JP275459. Epub 2018 Apr 5. PMID: 29623692; PMCID: PMC5978284. – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29623692/

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