Dear Lifehacker, I've never been very flexible. I can't touch my toes and most yoga poses are a struggle. What are the least stretches needed, and most effective, to improve flexibility throughout my whole body? Thanks, Perpetually Hamstrung
Most fitness specialists will tell you that regular stretching is just as important as regular exercise. It has the potential to increase flexibility and range of motion, correct posture by loosening tight muscles and decreases the chance of injury by preparing your body for impending workouts. In activities like yoga, it can also help you to release tension both physically and mentally.
In terms of the type and number of stretches needed, this obviously comes down to the needs of the individual. My advice is to get a physical assessment from your GP so you can pinpoint problem areas and the amount of attention they need. (Here's a quick explainer that covers some of the basics.)
The first thing to do is make peace with the fact that you'll likely never be super flexible. Those extreme yoga moves you see on the internet take years and years of practice -- but they're also carried out by people who were naturally flexible to begin with. Trying to emulate these poses will likely result in a serious injury.
As we've noted in the past, instead of trying to stretch your entire body before and after exercise, focus on a key area each time. As you get into a proper routine, gradually spend longer on individual stretches and include more stretches for each area. If you are aware of muscles that are tight, then focus on those ones. You can find some tried-and-proven stretches to get you started here.
While it's possible to do all this at home, having the wherewithal to stick it out can be tough. Plus, there's no guarantee you'll be exhibiting correct posture or techniques, which could potentially make things worse. Instead, it might be worth joining a flexibility class, such as yoga or pilates. This will ensure you get proper training and should also increase the chances of actually sticking to it; especially if you can rope a friend into going with you.
Yoga can be more than a relaxing way to spend a rest day. It can be a challenge in itself. you can build serious strength working up to impressive poses like Crow or Dancer.
Have a question you want to put to Ask Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.