Stretching can feel like a pain in the ass — something you begrudgingly get on with before and after a workout because it has to be done. But while it may not get you the big muscles or shredded abs, flexibility is still critical for your overall wellbeing. Think of it as a third pillar of physical fitness; strength and cardiovascular conditioning get the top spots, but flexibility is just as important.
If you’ve been focusing all your attention on the first two up until now, it’s definitely time to start catching up on the latter. Why? Because keeping your body supple can help prevent injury, improve your posture and performance in the gym, and even fend off conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis. There are a few different ways to improve flexibility — here are five to start you off:
One of the obvious ways to get a little more bendy is to join a yoga or Pilates class. They overlap in many ways and either one will do wonders for your flexibility, so take your pick. We should be past the stage where this type of exercise is considered to be reserved for women, old-timers and contortionists, so there’s no need for us guys to feel self-conscious about doing it.
2. Dynamic Stretching
If you’ve been doing static stretching (where you hold for a few seconds and release) before your workouts, stop right now! It’s a terrible way to warm up, and can actually reduce your performance or even cause injury. Dynamic stretching — which involves performing light, full-range movements like squats, pushups and jumping jacks — is much more effective, and safer too. It’s also a great way to loosen up if you’ve been sitting for a while.
3. Full Range of Motion
Whichever exercises you choose to incorporate into your strength training routine, using your full range of motion when performing them is the best way to stay supple. A great place to start is with your squats. You might be used to squatting until your thighs are parallel to the floor, but going deeper will improve flexibility in your hips in a big way.
4. Massage & Rolling
Used in conjunction with some of the other tips here, this is a great way to improve flexibility and recover from workouts faster. If you haven’t already, invest in a foam roller and use it both before and after your exercise sessions. It will help prepare your body for movement, and then flush waste products from your muscles afterwards. Regular deep tissue massages do the same thing, and you’ll feel incredible afterwards!
5. Eat Healthy
Believe it or not, staying flexible is not all about moving your body — diet plays a role too. Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, B-vitamins and adequate fluids are all essential for the maintenance of joints and tendons. You can get all of these in abundance by eating a healthy, balanced diet and drinking plenty of water.
Q: How do you maintain your flexibility? Let us know in the comments below.