Flexibility is not only about yoga and acrobatic tricks. There's a very vital aspect to being able to move, reach, stretch, turn and be mobile. There are a few approaches to stretching as well, static and dynamic being two, offering different results. Instead of trying to throw yourself into some stretches, set yourself up for success by following along with very simple guidelines throughout the day. When it actually comes time to stretch, it won't feel so impossible! Check out these 20 yoga moves for beginner benders!
Drink up! You need to hydrate. The body needs water for all of its functions from gastrointestinal to circulatory to neurological. In this case, your body uses water to lubricate the muscle fibers. There's something called fascia, which is like a "3D spiderweb of fibrous, gluey, wet proteins" laid out in a thin sheet-like structure over and around the muscles. When you get dehydrated, the fascia becomes stiffer and limits your muscle fibers. You can use the "8x8" rule: drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Drink more if you're exercising, out in the heat, breastfeeding, pregnant or have other medical conditions that require more water.
Dynamic or static? When you bend over and reach for your toes and just hang out there, that's a static stretch. You're not moving, just holding. When you bend over to touch your toes, step out into a lunge and repeat, it becomes dynamic. You're incorporating heat into the equation when you move. you're also adding an aerobic factor, meaning your blood flow and heart rate increase. Getting the blood into the muscles is key so they can use the blood oxygen to create ATP, which is the fuel for contractions. Click here to learn more about how your cardio fitness affects your body's abilities. Static stretching is wonderful for after a workout while dynamic stretching is better for warm-ups and increasing flexibility.
Use assistance. Pick up a resistance band and a yoga block or rolled up towel to help you get deeper into your stretches. For example, when you lie on your back and wrap a band around your foot, you can pull the leg in closer to you for a bigger stretch. Blocks and towel rolls can prop the tail bone, hips or forehead while you stretch. Using these props will encourage the best alignment and make stretching more comfortable.
Go all the way! With flexibility, the goal is eventually gain full range of motion. Use bodyweight exercises and stretches for muscle groups that don't seem to be as flexible as others. For example, if your legs are pretty stiff and tight, you don't want to throw a bunch of weight on a barbell for squats if you're barely hitting parallel when you squat. If you're struggling with shoulder mobility, no need to throw weight into the exercise if your arm cannot fully extend overhead. Know what your limits are and try to break through them by keeping your focus on full range of motion instead of weight and reps. Quality over quantity!
Don't forget to breathe. Sounds silly, but you don't even realize you do it! When you're trying to hold a stretch, many people tend to hold their breath, too. The trick is to inhale as you relax from the stretch and exhale as you try to go deeper. The exhale will help relax you and your muscles; the inhale should be deep to get more oxygen into the body. When performing a static stretch, pull back from the stretch to inhale and then fall deeper into with an exhale.
>> Read more: Have You Heard of the 4-7-8 Breathing Trick?
Take five. Commit five minutes a day to stretching. Focus on the areas that seem to stiffen up or bother you the most, like the hamstrings and lower back. Get into these stretches, using dynamic moves at the beginning of the day and more static stretches as you get closer to bed time. Do what feels good to you.
Get that massage. When life ties your muscles into knots, there's only so much that stretching and a hot bath can do. Get yourself some massage therapy! It's not just a luxury, but a necessity. Click here to see how massage therapy can help your body. You can also try giving yourself a foot massage every night or after a tough run — a great solution to sore feet and self maintenance.