It’s important to do flexibility exercises on a regular basis because physical health isn’t just about strength. As we age, our musculoskeletal system naturally degenerates, causing us to experience muscle weakness and reduced mobility. We can counteract the effects of aging by incorporating flexibility exercises into our regular training regimen.
Flexibility is an indicator of how fit we are, according to research published in Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte (opens in new tab). Our muscles need to be stretched and strengthened to maintain our mobility.
Therefore, consider adding these flexibility exercises to your exercise routine to ensure your body is getting everything it needs to stay fit and healthy. It is always a good idea to use one of the best yoga mats (opens in new tab) to practice these exercises to support your knees.
Reclining big toe pose
A big toe reclining position is great for improving and maintaining hamstring flexibility. Tight hamstrings can cause a number of problems, such as postural changes and musculoskeletal pain, so stretching them is important. If you have trouble touching your toes, you should see an improvement if you do this pose regularly.
Step 1: Lie on your back and take your left leg straight across the floor and your right foot toward the ceiling. Bend both feet by pushing your heels out and try to get your knee as straight as possible.
Step 2: You can grab the back of your right thigh with your hands. If you can’t reach your right leg easily, consider bending your left knee and placing the left foot on the floor.
Step 3: Stay in this position for a minute, breathing in and out slowly before switching to the other leg.
Top Tip: To maximize the effectiveness of this position, while holding, activate your quadriceps by pressing the leg into the air in your hands as you pull the leg toward you.
Research published in the South African Journal of Physiotherapy (opens in new tab) has shown that passive stretching (where you use an external force – such as gravity – to stretch) improves flexibility, but that activating opposing muscles during the stretch can actually have a greater impact on increased flexibility.
Using this pose as an example, our hamstrings help our knees bend, while the quadriceps (in our thighs) help extend our knees, turning them into opposing muscles. By stretching one set of muscles and activating the other, we have a greater chance of improving their flexibility.
Lunges have so many benefits for maintaining lower body flexibility. They open up the hip flexors as well as the deeper muscles of the psoas, quadriceps, and ankles. Not only that, but lunges can also help strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, core and muscles of the hips.
Step 1: Step from one hands to all fours with your right foot between your hands. If necessary, walk back with your left leg. You can always support your left shin with a folded blanket if you experience discomfort in your back knee.
Step 2: Bring your hands on either side of the foot or rest them on your right thigh.
Step 3: Let your hips move forward and down as you actively press your feet into the floor.
Step 4: Stay for a minute before switching sides.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (opens in new tab), found that different types of lunges also provide different strengthening benefits. After a six-week period, there were noticeable improvements in hamstring strength for participants who practiced lunges, and improvements in sprint running for those who practiced lunges.
Cross leg sits to stand
Did you know that a measure of your fitness is whether you are able to stand up from a cross-legged position without using your hands? Harvard Health Publishing (opens in new tab) noted that the no-hands test can reveal a lot about our strength and flexibility.
Standing from a cross leg (or other seated position) uses both our core and leg muscles and tests our balance and flexibility. Therefore, it is recommended to do this exercise to increase your flexibility and maintain your mobility.
Researchers in Brazil, as noted in a study published in the Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte (opens in new tab)developed the ‘sit-stand-up test’ as a clinical trial to help health professionals evaluate ‘lower limb joint flexibility, balance, motor coordination, and the relationship between muscle strength and body weight’.
They noted that this “may be characterized as minimal functional muscle fitness.” They believed that “based on the SRT results, health professionals are likely to have better resources to encourage adoption of a more active lifestyle and provide advice on physical activity programs in a more scientific way.”
Step 1: Sit cross-legged on the floor or on a cushion. If you have bad knees, sit with your legs straight.
Step 2: Start pressing into your legs and feet to try to stand up without using your hands.
Step 3: Make sure you have something or someone you can use (that won’t move) if you need to use your hands to get up.
Step 4: Lower yourself back to the floor without using your hands, if you can, and try to get up again without support. Keep doing this for 10 rounds and then rest.
Top Tip: You can always do this from a chair.
Striped Shoulder Rotations
How to use the best resistance bands (opens in new tab) during exercise it is often thought to increase strength, but research has shown that it can also be effective for increasing flexibility.
A meta-analysis study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science (opens in new tab) found that using resistance bands was effective in improving the “functional range” test score (a flexibility test) of older participants living in the community. Therefore, this suggests that resistance bands can be used for increasing flexibility and not just building strength.
Image 1 from 3
Step 1: Hold one end of a resistance band (or yoga belt) in each hand and stretch it so that it is pulled tight.
Step 2: Inhale and lift your arms, keeping your elbows straight and not bending your wrists. Bring your arms up and over your head.
Step 3: Exhale and continue the movement, bringing your hands behind you and toward your hips. Your arms should have gone up and over your head.
Step 4: Inhale and lift your arms back up above your head.
Step 5: Exhale and bring them back to the front of your body, near your hips.
Step 6: Repeat this 8-10 times before resting.
These striped shoulder rotations help to open up the muscles of the shoulders, upper back and chest.