How to get body flexibility with stretching exercises

People often talk about fitness and health but what about body flexibility? Is it really important and why? What are the health benefits of flexibility? My friends are always curious how could I clasp hands behind my back and lift it up to the shoulder level. Nothing impossible! It just requires short but regular body flexibility activity. In this article and video, I am sharing several key facts about how to get more flexible body and how stretching exercises will help you in your life in general:

Key topics are:

– Experts consider body flexibility as one of the four pillars of fitness: cardio/aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility.
– Flexible body makes daily life easier.
– There is strong medical evidence of health benefits.
– How flexible should we be?
– How to get more flexible if that’s what we need? Stretching exercises.

How much body flexibility do you need?

Flexible body is one of the key pillars of fitness (others being strength, core strength, cardio capacity and balance or coordination). With our age increasing (isn’t it?), flexibility gains even more importance, our body gets usually stiffer if we don’t stretch regularly. Of course, we have to keep eating properly and perform some strengthening exercises too – in order to preserve our muscle mass.

But how flexible do you have to be? That of course depends on how mobile you need to be in your life. No one needs to be as flexible as these circus contortionists, right? What type of activity you usually do in your day? Whether you have to frequently reach up for something, working in the office archive for example, or if you sit all day long in front of a computer screen. Your needs for flexibility will be different. If you are a runner, you don’t have to be as flexible as for example someone who enjoys martial arts like Aikido. In any case, if your body flexibility (or lack of it) impacts your body mobility and restricts you in your preferred activities, time has come to change something.

Of course stretching exercises work but you have to do them correctly. In case you have been stretching for some time already without required results, feel free to connect with me, share required details and I will get back to you with some ideas.

Link to the FREE ExFitt 10-Minutes Morning Moves Stretching Exercise Sequence.

Several key elements of proper stretching exercises

A short warm-up is very helpful before any stretching. Few jumps up and down, several squats, move your arms around to start your blood flowing through the body and get muscles and ligaments ready for the stretch.

Another vital element is to use dynamic stretching, in other words don’t stay in the stretch position immobile. Instead, keep gentle, slow movements in-and-out of the position. I usually do 5 repetitions but feel free to add. Breath could be successfully used to guide your moves. Another, even more efficient way is to combine dynamic and static stretching, so you would do a couple of movements in and out of the stretch followed by a final, more static hold of the position.

Third, don’t go through any pain. Unless you want to get into the Olympic team of gymnasts, you don’t have to experience pain while stretching (or doing anything else really…). Yes, you should feel tension in your muscles but no sharp pain.

Regularity. Random stretching for one hour is useless. Much better if you stretch for 10 minutes every day. Try to find your routine, e.g. always in the morning after brushing teeth. Or every evening before going to bed. Whatever works best for you, but stretching has to be regular.

Measuring results

How to measure results? Well, that’s a bit subjective, isn’t it? I would always argue that you should feel connected with your body (exercises, balanced diet, mindfulness, correct breathing help here) and then you know the best whether you keep improving or not. If you have any particular area where you feel more flexibility or mobility is required (in my case for example hamstrings), you can measure your progress by using always the same table for hamstring stretch and ask your partner or kids to take a picture of you. You will see how straight is your leg, what is the angle in the knee. After two weeks, take another picture and compare. I am sure you can design similar simple methods for any other area of your body.

Is stretching dangerous?

Sometimes you hear people talking about dangers of stretching. Like anything really, stretching can be problematic if not done properly. Stretching of cold muscles can lead to injuries. That’s why you should always do a short, low-intensity warm-up. Holding stretch positions for prolong time – unless you like to achieve extreme mobility for some martial art sport or ballet, simply don’t do it. (By the way, any extreme mobility can cause injuries later as stabilizing such joint is much more demanding. Often people who stop ballet or certain martial arts experience joint issues.) Stretching muscle that is already sore does not sound like a good idea and might make such condition worse. Use these practical tips and your common sense to prevent any injuries.

Why stretching?

You will be perfectly fine without stretching. Flexible body is not the MOST important feature of our life, that’s for sure! I use short daily warm-up and stretching routine to start my day in a positive way, oxygenate my body, start blood flowing, wake-up (without a coffee!) and simply to feel that I’ve done something for myself even if there is no time for any other physical activity on that day. Also, I like to keep my body mobile for anything the kids come up with – climbing, rafting, skiing, high rope courses…you name it. Feels great to be able to join them and enjoy these activities together. Find your own reason for keeping your body mobile and flexible.
Enjoy your stretching & have a great day!

Link to the FREE ExFitt 10-Minutes Morning Moves Stretching Exercise Sequence.

Studies mentioned in the video with evidence of body flexibility health benefits

1) Yamamoto, Kawano, et al. (Oct 2009): “Poor trunk flexibility is associated with arterial stiffening.” American Journal of Physiology, Heart and Circulatory Physiology 297(4): H1314-1318.

2) Cortez-Cooper, Anton, Devan, Neidre, Cook, Tanaka (Apr 2008). “The effects of strength training on central arterial compliance in middle-aged and older adults.” European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation 15(2): 149-155

3) Pollock, Franklin, Balady, Chaitman, Fleg, Fletcher, Limacher, Piña, Stein, Williams, Bazzarre (Feb 2000): “AHA Science Advisory. Resistance exercise in individuals with and without cardiovascular disease: benefits, rationale, safety, and prescription: An advisory from the Committee on Exercise, Rehabilitation, and Prevention, Council on Clinical Cardiology, American Heart Association; Position paper endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine.”

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