This one is not so obvious but dancing is a “terrific dynamic exercise for flexibility,” Clifton says. The truth is that whatever the environment in which you move your body you are moving it through a wide range of motion. Your hands, arms, legs, shoulders, etc., they are constantly in motions which result in you being swifter. “It’s fun, too,” she adds.
Strength training can help with flexibility but you need to work opposite muscle groups in one training session, Clifton says. “If the biceps are contracting, the triceps muscles are lengthening. If you allow the muscles to lengthen you’ll get a lot more power in contraction,” she adds. So if you’re too tight in one muscle, you’ll lose mobility in that group. You want to work all muscles. You want to even out your body.” The triceps stretch works all three heads of the triceps muscle. If you want to add intensity, pull your elbow behind your head as far as possible but keep the hand of the arm you’re stretching as close to the shoulder as possible.
DYNAMIC WARM UP
Remember side lunges and inchworm exercises? Do them before a workout. Research shows that dynamic stretching is in many ways a lot better than long stretches without moving. Other examples of include squats, pushups, and jumping jacks. Do three sets of 20 reps before you get on the treadmill for you cardio session.
Static stretching is very helpful for increasing your range of motion but you need to make sure you do it at the right time – never before a workout. Finish your routine by cooling down with hamstring stretching or with the lying hip stretch. Don’t forget the shoulder and calf stretches as well. Do each of these twice for about 20-25 seconds on each side.
A lot of people think hamstrings when it comes to stretching but don’t forget spinal and shoulder exercises to increase flexibility. “They can really help you out,” Clifton says. The spinal twist is a terrific example. It keeps the hips neutral and it’s very accessible. You can go as far as you can. “Anything that feels good and comfortable but is more than your usual range of motion is good.” Do 10 reps, holding final twists for 30 seconds each.
This one is a classic. It’s one of the best exercises for the groin muscles and for improving rotation. It also targets your inner thighs and hips. It’s crucial that you keep you back straight and upright during the stretch. Doing the butterfly stretch the wrong way can result in injuries to soft tissues and tearing of muscles.
FULL-DEPTH ON SQUATS
Strength exercises usually decrease mobility but you can adjust them so you perform exercises through a full range of motion for maximum flexibility. Do deep squats as opposed to the standard hips being parallel to the floor. You can add light weights if you want, although Clifton doesn’t recommend it. “Don’t use a lot of weights when stretching, especially when you do static stretching. Let you muscles relax.”
Yogic stretching loosens tight muscles, which trap lactic acid, the waste product that accumulates in the muscle cells intense workouts. There are many positions that act upon your entire body or several major key muscles at once, even those they you didn’t even know you had. When opposing muscle groups are worked on at the same time, flexibility will be improved quicker because the opposing muscle groups don’t work against or without each other.
Pilates is famous for helping people both build strength and improve flexibility. The workout is basically a series of movements that increase elasticity of the back, core, hamstrings and hips. An all-around body movement is the wall roll down. The spine stretch exercise is great for waking up the back and hamstrings muscles. Another recommended stretch is the so called “swan.” It’s a back extension exercise, and it provides a great counter stretch for the many forward flexion exercises.
Many fitness instructors are adding foam rolling to a workout routing in addition to stretching or entirely instead of it. Foam rolling helps stiff muscles relax and breaks down scar tissue, improving your range of motion. You can massage all major muscle groups, including thoracic spine for upper-back mobility.
BRIDGE WITH LEG REACH
This is another great exercise to increase range of motion, Clifton says. Bridge exercises in general help get rid of back pain; protect the spine from injuries during intense movements, and strengthen the spinal muscles. So lie on floor with knees bent 90 degrees and arms extended by sides. Lift one leg in front of you. The slowly lift your hips up until you form a diagonal line from the knee of the lifted leg to the shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat several times with each leg.
Such unilateral exercises are a great way to improve flexibility and balance. Place your feet six inches apart. Put your hands on your hips or carry light weights. The take a step back with one of your legs and put it behind the other. Lower the hips down until your knee is perpendicular to the floor. Do at least 20 reps. Try to stick your lunging leg out to the side more so you turn the standing leg’s hip forward. That way you stretch the deep hip muscles and glutes even more.
SINGLE LEG DEADLIFT
If your hamstrings are too stiff, do single leg deadlifts and you will feel the “good” pain. You are strengthening the muscles but are also working through your full range of motion into a stretch. As you are hinging forward from the hips until your upper body is approximately parallel to the floor. This way the leg that doesn’t carry the weight is extended behind you. These large ranges of movement require and develop good hip mobility and hamstring and hip-flexor flexibility. Do 20 reps with each leg.
HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
Stretching flexor muscles leads to the muscles lengthening more as you are working on them to improve strength needed to move in wider ranges of motion. Try not to lose tension in your glutes and keep contracting the muscle to force the hip flexors to relax. Keep your free hand on your hip so as not to risk injuring the knee. Hold for at least 30 seconds and do several reps.
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