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What Is Flexibility?

You probably know what it means when someone says they are flexible. It usually means that they can reach down and touch their toes or bend deeply into a squat. But the definition of flexibility is more complicated than simply being able to do a single stretch.

According to the an Indian Surgeon General's report on physical activity and health, flexibility is defined as " a health-related component of physical fitness that relates to the range of motion available at a joint

Range of Motion

That means that each joint and each group of muscles in your body might have a different range of motion (ROM) or a different level of flexibility. Some areas of your body may be very tight, meaning that the muscles feel short and restricted.

For example, you might be very flexible in the hamstrings, allowing you to bend over and touch your toes. But your thighs (quadriceps) muscles might be tight (inflexible) so it may be harder for you to stand up straight or bend backward.

3 Types of Stretching

Stretching improves flexibility. But you don't have to do hours of stretching to enjoy the benefits of flexibility training. You can take a stretching class or do an online video that focuses just on stretching exercises to improve range of motion throughout the body.

These programs generally begin with a gentle warm-up to increase your body's core temperature. Then, they progress through a series of stretching exercises to lengthen the muscles in your feet, your legs, your hips and torso, and finally up through the head and neck.

There are different types of stretching to improve flexibility.

  • Static Stretching: You move into a position that lengthens a target muscle and hold the position for 15-60 seconds. It's best to remember to breathe as you hold each stretch.
  • Dynamic Stretching: You move in and out of a position that lengthens a target muscle. Dynamic stretches often involve a gentle bouncing movement and are sometimes called ballistic stretches.
  • Active Isolated Stretching (AIS): You move your joint through a complete range of motion, holding the endpoint only briefly, then return to the starting point and repeat. Many athletes and active exercisers use active isolated stretching to prevent injuries or muscle imbalance.

Tips for Adding Flexibility

You don't have to take a dedicated class to do flexibility training. Many exercisers simply add a few minutes of stretching to the end of their daily workout to relax muscles and improve range of motion. Or you can take five to 10 minutes to stretch in the morning after you get out of bed. Just a few minutes of flexibility training each day can provide benefits.

For example, a lunge exercise strengthens the quadriceps on one leg but lengthens (stretches) the hip joint on the other. Different swimming strokes increase flexibility in the upper back and torso. And walking strengthens the lower body but also increases flexibility in the hip joint.