Stretching doesn’t just prevent stiffness. It’s a natural – and fundamental – human movement. Take a step back from your usual exercise schedule, or spend the day hunched over an office desk, and you’ll soon feel the effects. As well as avoiding those unforgiving creaks and crunches when you stand up or bend over, staying stretchy plays a huge role in both mental and physical wellbeing.
Here are 6 benefits of flexibility exercises that’ll give you the extra edge in your training and stronger functional fitness in day-to-day life.
Flexibility helps with joint movement and muscle control during workouts and everyday activities. This both prevents stress and allows the body to withstand more physical stress, helping you push further and harder in your training. A 2007 injury prevention study from the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology found that flexibility training helps to significantly reduce injuries and recovery time.
There’s a reason yoga has been practised for thousands of years. The mental benefits have been widely researched. It’s known to reduce stress and depression by bringing union between the mind and body. This study into the therapeutic effects of yoga showed that it can increase the quality of life. With a large amount of stretching, the flexibility exercises in yoga reduce both muscular and mental tension, decreasing tightness and pain while also boosting serotonin levels, our feel-good hormone.
The physical benefits of flexibility exercises go way beyond being able to touch your toes. They can help you move better, press more, pull more – basically improving any activity that needs good mobility. Now, imagine a cold, untouched elastic band. Pull it with enough force and it’ll snap – not what you want with your muscles. Flexibility training stretches and lengthens your muscles, making them less tight and more pliable for you to work out harder, without hurting yourself.
Lengthening and loosening your muscles creates less pain, soreness and cramp. Flexibility exercises such as stretching the hamstrings, hip flexors, latissimus dorsi and spinal erectors can reduce lower back pain and stiffness, according to a 2016 Healthcare systematic review.
Any good athlete knows the benefits of flexibility exercises on their performance. Whatever physical activities you enjoy, the key is to tailor your stretching to the movement or sport being performed, as shown in this 2000 Strength and Conditioning Journal. For example, focusing on stretching your joints, hips and shoulders is important if you’re lifting weights. Whereas flexing your hamstrings, ankles and calves will help when running. In sports, greater flexibility can be the difference between saving a goal and losing the game. Even in less strenuous activities, such as golf, it can help drive more powerful shots.
From shoulder rolls to forward bends, the posture benefits of flexibility exercises are plentiful. Stretching strengthens muscles, kicking them into action (especially after a day of driving or being stuck at your desk). Regularly stretching forces muscles to do their natural job – resulting in a gradual improvement in posture and balance. You’ll stand up straighter, stronger and more confidently – win, win, win.
Ready to reap the benefits of flexibility exercises? This 60-minute core strength and flexibility routine blends core training with stretching for the ultimate bodyweight workout.