Improving flexibility is an essential component of any training program. Refining your flexibility relative to the activities you need to perform, may enhance the ability to execute those various movement skills.

For example, let’s say you train in Crossfit. If you have poor shoulder range, you will have a poor snatch position. If you have a poor snatch position, you may compensate by extended through the back. This may eventually lead to injury.

Or maybe you have poor calf flexibility and you’re trying to go for a 1RM in the front squat. You will only be able to load your barbell so much during a front squat position before your torso bends too far forward to manage the weight.

Flexibility matters.

The list is endless and the unfortunate myth around flexibility is that you only need to work on your flexibility if the goal is large ranges like that of the splits. But this is just not true.

Everyone needs flexibility, we just need to understand the flexibility required specifically for our needs and get working on that.

Once you have the flexibility necessary for your activity, then it’s time to get to work on the amount of strength and control you can produce within that range.

The Benefits Of Training
For Flexibility

Flexibility training isn’t just about splits and backbends. When you incorporate flexibility training into your life, you begin a beautiful relationship with your own body. You learn what your body feels like to move through different stretches and positions.

You get the greatest insight into what you need at that moment. In this day and age, we are so used to ignoring our body. The aches and pains we feel are pushed aside to get through the day’s stress.

Flexibility training not only allows you to give back to your body, but it helps you to build an awareness of how your body feels, what it needs, and more importantly, can help you slow down and calm the system after a long day.

  • Reduces Injury Risk

One of the most important benefits of flexibility training is that it can help reduce your risk of injury. When you have increased range of motion and mobility in your joints, you’re less likely to experience strains, sprains, and other types of injuries.

Let me explain.

As mentioned in the opening, flexibility training will help reduce the risk of injury because it provides a base from which to build strength. What I mean is, once we understand the requirements of an activity or movement, we can test our body to see if we have the ranges required of us to produce said movement.

If we don’t have the basic range needed to complete the movement safely, we are at risk of injury.

On the other hand you may not be able to produce a certain range of movement because your muscles are tight from repetitive stress which can lead to muscle tears therefore stretching is necessary to loosen up the tissues to enable the required movement.

  • Lessens The Risk Of Falling

As we get older, the risk of falls increases due to the decline of flexibility in our joints. Tasks as simple as putting pants on, tying up our shoelaces, or picking up something off the ground can become harder without the flexibility within our joints.

“Improving lower limb flexibility should be a particular priority for the elderly since it has been associated with poor balance and chronic low back pain, both of which can increase the risk of life-threatening falls (Reddy & Alahmari, 2016; Hasarangi & Jayawardana, 2018).” Dan Van Zandt explains.

  • Improves Posture

This, you could argue, is the classic case of what came first? The chicken or the egg? Is our posture poor from countless hours at a desk? Are our muscles shortening, lengthening, and weakening? Or do we have poor flexibility, which hinders our postural positioning at the desk?

Either way, flexibility is an important factor in our posture and our ability to keep good posture throughout sitting, exercising, cooking, cleaning… you know, everything!

  • Improves Athletic Performance

Whilst I truly believe it can improve performance, I think it’s important to distinguish what “performance” actually means, and this, I’m afraid, will be different for everyone. I believe flexibility training helps to build the foundations in which performance is built upon.

Again, when we bring the conversation back to the Crossfit athlete; if their shoulder range isn’t where it should be to perform the overhead portion of a snatch, the movement becomes inefficient, their ability to increase weight isn’t available and they risk getting injured. Their performance is hindered.

If they were to improve their flexibility within the joints necessary, they will inevitably find the movement easier to complete, they’re able to increase weight at a quicker rate, they reduce the risk of injury, therefore, increasing their training consistency and improving their performance.

  • Combats The Negative Effects Of Prolonged Sitting

We’re all guilty of it – sitting at a desk for hours on end. But prolonged sitting can have some nasty side effects, like tight hips and hamstrings, low back pain, and poor posture.

Flexibility training can help combat these negative effects by loosening up the muscles that have become tight from sitting all day. This can help improve your posture and alleviate pain.

  • Reduces Joint Pain

Simply put, if you are asking your joints to perform a specific task (let’s use the Crossfit athlete again), and you do not have the range to perform that task for whatever reason, this will increase strain on the joints resulting in joint pain.

Flexibility training tailored to your goals and training will help to reduce pain when programmed correctly.

  • Increases Range Of Joint Motion

This is the point of Flexibility training, right?! And the great part is we not only increase our range of motion, we can increase the joint strength and stability. This all comes down to the type of flexibility training you do.

Whilst most people will be familiar with static stretching, adding a contraction and actively holding the stretch will strengthen the muscles of the joint. This is where active stretching and dynamic active stretching can be really beneficial. Especially if you are someone like the Crossfit athlete where you are moving heavy weight in extreme shoulder end range positions.

  • Reduces The Effect Of Aging

Ok while there is no cure for aging, there are some really important benefits of stretching throughout your older years.

As we age, our muscles and joints can weaken and Muscles and joints weaken and range of movement declines as we age. Stretching can help improve the development and maintenance of strength and flexibility and increase circulation which will provide a greater quality of life and healthy aging.

Not only does this have great physical benefits but also psychological benefits, too, as with greater strength and balance comes confidence to exercise and execute everyday movements with ease.

  • Strengthens And Lengthens The Muscles

What many people fail to understand is that flexibility training is not only about lengthening and performing the splits. Introducing eccentric focused stretching, we can build muscle quicker, and improve our ability to produce force.

When the tissues are adequately prepared, eccentric-focused stretching can be a very powerful tool in your training arsenal for increasing flexibility, strength, power, stretch-shortening cycle functions, and treating tendinopathies.1

1O’Sullivan, McAuliffe, & DeBurca, 2012; Douglas et al., 2017; Murtagh & Ihm, 2013
O’Sullivan, K., McAuliffe, S., & DeBurca, N. (2012) The Effects of Eccentric Training on Lower Limb Flexibility: A Systematic Review. British Journal of Sports Medicine vol. 46, no. 12, pp. 833-834.
Dougas, J., Pearson, S., Ross, A., & McGuidan, M. (2017) Chronic Adaptations to Eccentric Training: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine vol. 47, no. 917-941.
Murtaugh, B. & Ihm, J. M. (2013) Eccentric Training for the Treatment of Tendinopathies. Current Sports Medicine Reports vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 175-182.


Types Of Flexibility Exercises You Can Do

Now that you know all about the benefits of flexibility training, it’s time to learn about the different types of exercises you can do.

Below are a few of the most common exercises:

Static Stretching

  • Goal: to lengthen the target muscle by holding the stretch for a period of time
  • Examples: yoga poses, athletic stretches

Static stretching is one of the most popular types of flexibility training. It involves holding a stretch for a period of time (usually 10-30 seconds).

The goal of static stretching is to lengthen the targeted muscle, use your breath to calm the nervous system and relax into the stretch. Some try to push into a static stretch causing themselves discomfort which in turns fires up the nervous systems fight or flight response.

This is the opposite effect we want. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you are able to breathe as normally as possible through a stretch. If you start to hold your breath, back out of the stretch. Studies show that performing static stretching for as little as 5 minutes, 3 times a week, improves joint flexibility.

Research by Santonja Medina et al. (2007) shows that stretching two days per week and four days per week both produced significant improvements in range of motion. (4 days per week was more beneficial, proving to increase more range of motion compared to 2 days per week).

Santonja Medina, F. M., Sainz De Baranda Andujar, P., Rodriguez Garcia, P. L., Lopez Minarro, P. A., & Canteras Jordana, M. (2007) Effects of Frequency of Static Stretching on Straight-Leg Raise in Elementary School Children. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness vol. 47, pp. 304-308.

Dynamic Stretching

  • Goal: to lengthen the target muscle by moving in and out of the position in a way that mimics the range of motion
  • Examples: squats, lunges, arm/leg swings

Dynamic Stretching can involve whole body movements that are controlled and actively move a joint through its range without holding the movement at its endpoint.

Dynamic stretching can be used to help warm up your body before exercising as they can mimic the movement of the activity or sport you’re about to perform.

Active Static Stretching

  • Goal: to contract the opposite muscle to the one you’re stretching, letting you stretch with comfort
  • Examples: standing stretches for the hamstrings and quadriceps

Active Static stretching is when you hold your stretch using your muscles.

The active component is the muscle engagement of the agonist muscle that will elicit a relaxation response of the antagonist muscle.

Agonist muscles – Muscles contracting to produce movement
muscles – The opposing muscles that relax or lengthen for the movement to be

For example; Lying on your back, lift one leg up until you feel a hamstring stretch.
The agonist, which is the hip flexor and quadricep are actively engaging to lift the leg, forcing the hamstring to relax and stretch.

We also call this reciprocal inhibition, which is the body’s mechanism of inhibiting (relaxing) the antagonist muscles while the opposing muscles are contracting.

Myofascial Release

  • Goal: to release tension of the muscles or fascia (connective tissue) and restore function.
  • Examples: Myofascial release with a Remedial Massage Therapist or Active work done yourself using foam roller, trigger ball etc.

Myofascial Release is the gentle application of pressure or sustained low load stretch to an area of tension. A Remedial Massage Therapist can perform this technique on you or this can be done yourself using a foam roller, trigger ball, or any other massage tool.

The key is to find the area of tension, very slowly sink into it with the ball for example, breathe, and slowly move over the ball to stretch the underlying tissues. This is not comfortable to perform which is why slow movements using your breath to calm your system will help. It is very beneficial in loosening tension.

How To Improve Your Flexibility

Now that you know all about the different types of flexibility training, it’s time to learn how to improve your flexibility.

Below are a few tips:

Stretch Regularly And Correctly

The best way to improve your flexibility is to stretch regularly and properly. This means stretching 3-4 times per week.

Make sure to stretch correctly as well by using the right form and technique. This will help ensure that you’re getting the most out of your stretches.

It’s crucial to get enough fluids. Dehydration can lead to poor flexibility. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts.

Focus On Entire Muscle Groups

Instead of focusing on individual muscles, try focusing on entire muscle groups. This will help improve your flexibility and mobility in the joints.

Don’t Over Do It

Don’t overdo it when stretching. This could lead to injuries and setbacks. Start out slow and increase the intensity as you become more flexible.

Focus On Entire Muscle Groups

Whilst it’s important to isolate and stretch muscles that are tight, it’s also beneficial to move in a way that provides a full body stretch. Think large, flowing movement routines like sun salutations or even rolling patterns on the floor.

This will help to free up tension through the entire body and also give you a great idea of what movement patterns elicit tension or feel a little more resistant. These movements can be repeated taking care to go slow and use your breath to work within your range and gently go deeper on each round.

  • Encourage A Variety Of Exercises

It’s very common to only stretch the areas that are flexible! That’s because it feels good and is much easier than the muscle groups that are tight and in need of releasing.

Try doing a full body stretch. This will give you a good idea as to what needs the most attention. That way you can program your routine around what needs the most work especially if you’re short on time.

How Often Should You Train
For Flexibility?

When you’re first starting out, we recommend 3-4 sessions per week. As you become more flexible, you can reduce the frequency to 2-3 times per week. For a more tailored approach to complement your training, please ask an instructor.

And if you’re short on time, you can even break up your session into 10-15 minute blocks throughout the day.

  • How Often Should I Stretch?

When you’re first starting out, we recommend 3-4 sessions per week. As you become more flexible, you can reduce the frequency to 2-3 times per week. For a more tailored approach to complement your training, please ask an instructor.

And if you’re short on time, you can even break up your session into 10-15 minute blocks throughout the day.

​​Now that you know all about the different types of flexibility training, it’s time to learn how to improve your flexibility

When Should I Stretch?

Whilst I could suggest great times to stretch, what it comes down to is when you can! If you are someone who needs to put it in your schedule, then make sure you schedule a stretch session at a time that feels convenient to you and you know that you will do it!
If you feel the only way you will get it done is after exercise, then make sure you schedule 10-15 minutes to stretch after your workout.

This will also feel easier and more enjoyable to do as the body is already warm.

Or a stretch before bed is a great night time routine and is helpful in winding down before sleep. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits also suggests “habit stacking”. This means add the new habit you want to adopt (stretching) onto a habit/routine you already have like brushing your teeth, cooking etc. I have been known to complete full stretching routines in the kitchen whilst the food is cooking!

The most important thing to remember is, do it when you will do it!

Get The Most Out Of Your Training

So, is flexibility training right for you? If you’re looking to improve your range of motion, reduce your risk of injury, or simply feel better in your own skin, then the answer is most likely yes.

Start slowly and build up the frequency and intensity as you get more comfortable with the exercises. And, most importantly, listen to your body – if something hurts, ease up or stop doing it. With a little patience and persistence, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel after incorporating some regular flexibility training into your routine.

Want to know more about flexibility and stretching?

Listen to our podcast episode with Dan Van Zandt for everything you need to know!