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Future-proofing Your Body: 7 Flexibility Training Methods to Switch Up Your Stretching Game

Flexibility training is an oft omitted part of exercise training but can be the difference between a loss of mobility with age or being able to move easily well into your 70s, 80s, and 90s. This week, we’re taking a look at flexibility and offering up 7 training methods for you to incorporate into your training routine.

This is what we found.

A Primer on Flexibility and Why It Matters

Flexibility is the ability to move your joints through a full and unrestricted range of motion without pain. When we talk about stretching and flexibility, we’re talking about moving parts of our body using our skeletal muscles—one of three types of muscle found in the body and the only one under conscious control. Skeletal muscle is described in different ways depending on the context; in flexibility training we’re primarily concerned with muscle function/action. The majority of skeletal muscles function like a lever—for every one that pushes, there’s one that pulls. 

Source: Movement Analysis

For example, your biceps and triceps are a lever system of muscles. The biceps brachii is the prime mover or agonist for your elbow, while the triceps brachii offer an opposing force to help move the joint (antagonist). There is also a subset of stabilizer muscles called synergists which help to neutralize an extra motion caused by the agonist. If we go back to our example, while the biceps flex the elbow, its two synergist muscles, the brachioradialis and brachialis, help to modify the amount of force generated by the biceps; this keeps the motion stable, smooth, and proportionate to the amount of resistance placed on the elbow joint.

Source: Fittr

There are three main types of flexibility:

  1. Static-active—extend and hold a position using only the antagonists muscle strength. Example: Holding your arm or leg out in front of you using only the strength in that limb
  2. Static Passive—extend and hold a position using an external force. Example: Holding your leg in front of you while resting it on a chair or block
  3. Dynamic—perform dynamic muscle movements (i.e., lateral, linear, diagonal, rotational) through a joint’s full range of motion. Example: Twisting the trunk side to side

Flexibility training is a crucial part of exercise training that can both enhance or help maintain mobility as we age. While flexibility varies among individuals, our individual flexibility can change or be greatly diminished with injury, inactivity, or neglecting flexibility training. Additional internal and external factors that might limit your flexibility:

Internal

  • Type of joint (some are immobile by nature)
  • Health of soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, skin) around the joint
  • Dehydration
  • Calcium deposits and adhesions in connective tissue
  • Loss of supple muscle fibers and accumulation of fatty, collagenous fibers 

External

  • Ambient temperature
  • Time of day
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Clothing restrictions
  • Injury and/or stage of recovery

Because of these factors, flexibility is joint-specific such that flexibility in one joint or set of joints doesn’t necessarily mean all or most of your other joints are flexible. Consistent flexibility training can also mitigate some of the causes of immobility and restore or help maintain range of motion and stability over time. 

The current American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) flexibility training guidelines suggest stretching at least 2-3 days/week as part of your normal exercise routine; however, stretching is one form of exercise training that can be done safely 7 days per week without rest days. 

Go Deeper: Click here for more information on ACSM flexibility training guidelines.

Our Top 7 Flexibility Training Methods

There are a lot of different training methods we uncovered in our search that can aid in restoring or maintaining flexibility. Below we list our top 7 training methods which we selected based on level of ease, time and/or equipment-constraints, and applicability across various fitness levels.

Static Stretching

Static stretching entails stretching a muscle to its farthest point and holding that position for several seconds (15-60 seconds depending on age). Static stretches are likely what comes to mind when you think about flexibility training and are a good place to start if stretching isn’t a regular part of your exercise routine. Static stretching is best for after a workout or if you’ve been dealing with a particularly tight muscle group after a day of sitting.

Some of the benefits of static stretching include:

  • Improving flexibility and range of motion
  • Helping to relax tight muscles
  • Alleviating sore muscles (either due to DOMS or inactivity)
  • Being a safe, easy, and effective stretching method for all levels of fitness

A few good examples of static stretches include:

  • Child’s pose
  • Cobra pose
  • Forward fold

Go Deeper: Click here to try this 15-minute static stretching routine.

Passive Stretching

Passive stretching is often referred to as relaxed stretching and entails stretching a muscle and using either your hands or some object to assist in deepening and/or sustaining the stretch. Passive stretching is a good option for people with low flexibility as it can start to loosen up tight joints and muscles without putting strain on them. 

Some of the benefits of passive stretching include:

  • Improving flexibility, range of motion, and mobility
  • Lowering risk of injury while stretching
  • Stimulating muscle growth
  • Preventing muscle weakness and decline

A few good examples of passive stretches include:

  • Runner’s lunge using stairs
  • Lying hamstring stretch
  • Seated side bend

Go Deeper: Click here to try this 4-minute passive stretching routine for tight hamstrings

Active Stretching

Active stretching entails stretching a muscle and using only its antagonist to hold the stretch. Active stretches are a good add-on for higher fitness levels but can also be performed by beginners. As most active stretches are difficult to maintain for an extended period of time, holding the stretch for up to 10 seconds is enough to reap the benefits. Additionally, because some active stretches require steady balance, it’s a best practice to try these stretches with a partner or trainer to avoid falls or serious injury.

Some of the benefits of active stretching include:

  • Improving flexibility
  • Increasing muscle strength and tone
  • Reducing pain
  • Improving blood flow to muscles and joints

A few good examples of active stretches include:

  • Good mornings
  • Piriformis stretch
  • Star openers

Go Deeper: Click here to give this 10-minute active stretching routine a try

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching entails gentle and controlled movements of a body part (e.g., leg) through its full range of motion. Dynamic stretching is similar to ballistic stretching but carries a much lower risk of muscle and joint injury and can be safely performed in a normal exercise setting. Dynamic stretching is best performed before a workout as it can help warm up your muscles for activity.

Some of the benefits of active stretching include:

  • Reducing likelihood of injury
  • Improving athletic performance
  • Reducing pain
  • Reducing muscle tightness

A few good examples of dynamic stretches include:

  • Cat cow back stretch
  • Leg swings
  • Arm circles

Go Deeper: Click here to try this 5-minute dynamic stretching warm-up 

Isometric Stretching

Isometric stretching is perhaps one of the most unique forms of stretching because it entails creating tension in the muscle by contracting stretched muscle fibers. Isometric stretches are not recommended for children and adolescents as they may harm growth plates. In adults, isometrics are generally considered safe.

Some of the benefits of isometric stretching include:

  • Improving static flexibility quickly
  • Strengthening muscles
  • Decreasing pain 

A couple of good examples of isometric stretches include:

  • Push-the-wall calf stretch
  • Isometric quad stretch

Go Deeper: Click here to give this 2-minute isometric stretching routine for your legs

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching is an advanced type of passive stretching that combines both passive and isometric methods to train muscles. PNF entails passively stretching the muscle while simultaneously contracting it. PNF is an advanced practice that should only be performed with a partner or a trainer to prevent serious injury.

Some of the benefits of PNF stretching include:

  • Improving passive flexibility 
  • Increasing range of motion
  • Strengthening muscles
  • Decreasing pain 

A few good examples of PNF stretches include:

  • Glute stretch
  • Adduction stretch
  • Supine hamstring stretch

Go Deeper: Click here to try this 25-minute PNF stretching routine for your lower body

Loaded Stretching

Loaded stretching entails the use of resistance (e.g., weight) to increase the amount of stretch and tension experienced in the muscle. Because this type of stretching pushes your muscles and joints past their usual limits, this type of stretching is only recommended for more advanced fitness levels and should be performed with a partner or a trainer to prevent serious injury. 

Some of the benefits of loaded stretching include:

  • Improving range of motion
  • Strengthening muscles
  • Reducing muscle tightness
  • Inducing muscle hypertrophy (growth in size) 

A few good examples of loaded stretches include:

  • Jefferson curl
  • Split squats
  • Banded chin-ups

Go Deeper: Click here to try these 3 load stretching exercises

Flexibility training is about taking a long-term view of your fitness to ensure that your muscles and joints stay healthy and strong into old age. If you aren’t used to stretching, don’t worry about starting with limited flexibility. The most important thing is getting started and with consistent effort, you’ll start to see results. If you’re already regularly stretching, incorporating some of the more advanced methods can help you maximize whole body flexibility and can even be used to meet specific flexibility and fitness goals. 

Go Deeper: 

Learn the do’s and don’ts of flexibility training in this article from the American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Add a few more stretches wo your routine with these 3 easy stretches for beginners

Do you regularly train for flexibility? What’s you go to method? Share your experience with us: info@nowgevity.me

This content is general in nature and for informational purposes only. Nowgevity content is not intended to constitute medical or other professional advice and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, procedure, or treatment, whether it is a prescription medication, over-the-counter drug, vitamin, supplement, or herbal alternative. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have on Nowgevity’s website or emails. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk. 

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