Chances are some of your favorite fitness influencers post photos of themselves in headstands, backbends, twists, and all kinds of other hard-to-get-into positions and poses all the time. It’s natural to wonder How do they do it? Well, it’s pretty likely that they’ve devoted a big chunk of their time to getting bendy. In other words, they’ve been working hard at it.
As it turns out, the benefits of spending a few minutes every day on gaining flexibility go way beyond being able to post highly likable Instagram photos. Not only can stretching help you feel better in general, but it can also help you get the most out of your workouts. From being able to squat low enough to actually activate your glutes to being able to enjoy yoga classes instead of only focusing on how painful it is, being more mobile has some major pluses.
Ahead, find out why experts say it’s so important to work on your flexibility, plus the stretches that get their stamp of approval.
Why Being Flexible Matters
It might seem like stretching isn’t that crucial when it comes to your workout routine (admit it, you've skipped out on the stretching part of your SoulCycle class), but workout pros say it really does play a role in your overall health and fitness. “It’s essential for daily movements, as well as creating blood flow and lubricating the joints by reaching maximal movement patterns,” explains Daniel Conn, Chief Athletic Officer at F45 Training. And it’s not just in your day-to-day life that being flexible will help you out. It can also enhance your workouts in a really concrete way. “Mobility and flexibility will help you move better, go harder, and go for longer,” Conn adds.
How Often You Need to Practice
Experts agree that the more often you work on your flexibility, the better. “Incorporate flexibility work into your daily routine,” suggests Amy Opielowski, Senior Manager of Quality and Innovation at CorePower Yoga. Even just five minutes in the morning and before bed can make a big difference, she says. Change into some clothes that are easy to move in and create wake-up and bedtime routines. And don't worry if you occasionally mess up your schedule. “If you miss a day or two, simply pick up where you left off,” she notes. As you get more comfortable with flexibility work, you can increase the amount of time you spend in each session.
When Will You See Results?
Pretty quickly, actually. “By working on mobility and flexibility for 10 to 20 minutes a day, you will see improvement within a week very easily,” Conn says. "Then, it’s about getting into a good stretch routine that suits you and your body—and sticking with it.”
Opielowski cautions, though, that it’s important to be patient and tune into how your stretching regimen makes you feel overall. “Just five minutes a day creates space for your nervous system to relax and unwind,” she explains. “The exact amount of time it takes to increase your total flexibility depends on your degree of tightness, commitment to your daily stretching routine, and your genetics.” She adds, though, that you should be seeing improvements (even if they’re minor) from week to week if you’re stretching regularly.
STRETCH IT OUT:
Your Flexibility Routine
Start with this set of exercises once or twice a day, and as you get more comfortable with it, do two rounds each time instead of just one. Each stretch should be performed for 30 seconds, or 30 seconds per side.
Supine Hamstring Stretch
“Lie down on a mat and stack your heels under your knees. Use a strap, belt, or towel to lasso the bottom of your right foot,” Opielowski instructs. Then, hold the ends of the strap and extend your leg up to the ceiling. Stack your right hip, knee, and ankle in one line and flex your toes toward your shin. Repeat on the other side. For a deeper stretch, you can extend your other leg long onto the mat instead of having it bent. This stretch works on the back side of the leg, aka your hamstrings and calves.
Figure 4 Stretch with Twist
This stretch works on your glutes and back at the same time, making it super efficient. “Sitting on your bottom, cross your right knee over your left leg, which is extended out straight,” says Conn. Then place your left elbow on your bent knee and twist to the right. Switch sides.
Runner’s Lunge With Front Thigh Stretch
Start on all fours and step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. “Reach your right arm up and twist your torso to the right. Kick your left heel toward your glutes and grab the pinky toe side of your left foot, using a strap or towel for support,” Opielowski says. If the stretch on your thigh is too intense, simply perform the twist on its own. Repeat on the other side. This exercise stretches the front and outside of the hips, as well as the shoulders, chest, and arms.
This stretch, which is one of Conn’s go-tos, is great for loosening up tight hip flexors and improving ankle mobility. Sit in a squat position with your hands in prayer position. Use your elbows on the insides of your knees to press them outward.
Another rotating stretch, this one works your lower back, the side of your legs and chest, biceps, and shoulders. “Lie down and pull both knees into your chest,” says Opielowski. “Extend your left leg long and extend your right arm out at shoulder height. Draw your right knee over to the left until your right hip is stacked over your left hip. Ensure your right upper thigh is in line with your hip. Use a block or blanket under the right shoulder and right knee as needed.” Repeat on the other side.
Dead Hang Underhand Grip
For this one, you’ll need to find a sturdy bar to hang onto, like one used for pull-ups at the gym. Rotate your palms so they’re facing your body. Then grab onto the bar and lift your feet off the ground. “Let the body relax,” Conn says. You should feel a stretch throughout your shoulders and back.
What are your favorite stretches? Let us know below!