5 (Relatively) Pain-Free Ways to Improve Your Flexibility at Home

5 (Relatively) Pain-Free Ways to Improve Your Flexibility at Home
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The most overlooked element of fitness is flexibility, easily so. When we talk about fitness, most often our conversations are centred on topics like cardio training or strength building. Or how to better sculpt your abs. And all of those things are relevant, sure. But flexibility is a hugely important part of our overall health and wellbeing. Poor flexibility leaves you at a higher risk of injury and impedes your ability to properly perform movements. For that reason, we chatted to Kate Kraschnefski, Head of Compliance & Training at the Australian Institute of Fitness, about the best flexibility exercises around.

Over email, Kraschnefski explained that “there are three ‘S’s’ in fitness? Strength, Stamina and Suppleness”.

“Ultimate fitness is across all three ‘S’s’, so it is important to dedicate time to each realm. Unfortunately, most of us tend to neglect suppleness, or flexibility, the most,” she said.

“Training for flexibility is important as it helps us conduct quality movement through all areas of our training, and a mobile body is one that not only feels more comfortable to be in, but also has less risk of injury.”

If you’re keen to get moving on your journey towards better flexibility, Kraschnefski has shared her top tips below.

Here are the 5 best exercises for improving flexibility

best flexibility exercises
Don’t forget to stretch! Getty

Yoga

Easily one of the best exercises you can do for improved flexibility is any form of yoga – even if it’s just a few minutes a day.

“Yoga is the first activity that springs to mind for most of us when we think of improving flexibility,” Kraschnefski explained.

“Poses held for several rounds of breath serve to create a deep connection to the muscle tissue, encouraging it to relax and stretch.”

How to best practice this flexibility exercise:

“A lot of people like the idea of yoga but the thought of a 60-minute class is overwhelming, Kraschnefski said. “So start small and gentle.”

You can search YouTube for free beginner’s classes if you need some guidance, otherwise, services like Apple Fitness+ have a range of yoga practices you can test out easily from home, too.

“Those who commit to a regular yoga practice will quickly find themselves leaner, more flexible, stronger and much more balanced. In addition to the flexibility gains, yoga will bring you benefit from the mindfulness aspect, too.”

Dynamic stretching

“This form of stretching is active, rather than static, and involves moving your muscles through their full range of motion,” Kraschnefski said.

“Dynamic stretching is typically done at the start of a workout, as part of the warmup to prepare the body for movement.”

She explained that this kind of stretching is useful as it helps warm up muscles and loosens muscle fibres.

How to do this flexibility exercise:

Great dynamic stretches include:

  • Hip circles
  • Leg swings
  • Arm circles
  • Lunging, with a reach or a twist
  • Spinal rotations

When trying these dynamic stretches out, Kraschnefski suggests trying 10 repetitions of each, starting slowly and increasing your range as you warm up.

Static stretches with a band or a towel

“Static stretching at the end of a workout is a great way to release stress and tension in your muscles, which can help you feel more relaxed. Not only can static stretching improve your flexibility and range of motion, it can also help your muscles recover faster, leading to less pain and stiffness,” shared Kraschnefski.

If these kinds of stretches are uncomfortable for you, however, the use of a band or towel may help you ease into the movement somewhat.

How to best use this flexibility exercise:

One useful example Kraschnefski gave was taking a hamstring stretch – “adding a prop can make it more comfortable and effective”.

“Lie on your back and lift your straight leg up as far as you can. Loop the band or the towel over your foot and gently pull it towards you, keeping your leg straight.

“Remember to breathe, and pull again after the first 10 seconds once your muscle relaxes. You should always hold stretches for a minimum of 30 seconds to get the best results.”

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching

Kraschnefski explained that PNF stretching “is a more advanced type of training that helps the muscles to relax more and gain more range of motion than static stretching. It involves contracting the muscles prior to applying the stretch.”

Often this kind of stretching is done with a partner, but there are ways to do them solo, too.

How to do this flexibility exercise:

“Let’s take the example of the hamstring stretch with the towel again. Once the towel is looped around the foot, rather than pulling towards you, push your foot into the towel to activate the hamstrings, but keep tension on the towel so the leg,” Kraschnefski said.

“Hold this for 4-6 seconds, release and then pull the towel towards you. Hold for 10-15 seconds, relax for 20 seconds and then repeat the whole sequence 2-3 more times.”

Stretch after your evening shower

This is a great way to introduce stretching into your daily routine. Plus, having a warm body before stretching will help the process along.

How to best practice this flexibility exercise:

“Grab a yoga mat, put on some relaxing tunes and sit down,” Kraschnefski said.

Do the following stretches, holding each one for a minute:

  • Chest stretch
  • Child’s pose
  • Seated spinal twist
  • Forward fold
  • Butterfly stretch
  • Lying quad stretch
  • Cobra
  • Finish with a minute of savasana

Try and stretch for 10 minutes after each shower and see how much of a difference you feel in your body afterwards.

With each of these flexibility exercises, your body will be in its best (most bendy) state in no time. Give them a go! And as always, if you’re unsure about trying out any new fitness routines, it’s a great idea to speak with your doctor or a fitness professional for advice first.

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