It comes as a surprise when someone tells you flexibility increases strength and durability. For most, it’s a way to enhance your mobility at best. But have you looked at practitioners of martial arts like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Tae Kwon Do, gymnasts, calisthenic experts, free runners, and even MMA fighters? They all prescribe flexibility as the number one tool to improve your body’s natural defense against opponent-induced or self-inflicted trauma.
Flexibility and elasticity are synonymous but when it comes to our bodies, flexibility is the term we use because we can never be elastic. To attain a certain level of flexibility in our musculoskeletal systems, we have to train ourselves through stretch exercises that engage our muscles and bones in movements across the limit of their respective ranges of motion.
To make it simple, you should engage in flexibility workouts whether you’re into fitness, want to remain healthy, avoid injuries, or even just to get your heart rate going. While the obvious benefits of flexibility are plain in terms of allowing you to move freely, there are many long-term pros of stretching exercises such as its efficiency in increasing the time you stay active when you’re older and reducing the pain you’re likely to feel when your body starts to go through the effects of aging.
Here’s a list of the reasons why you should spend time doing flexibility workouts and a sample workout to help you get started:
Reduces Muscle Stiffness
The primary function of stretching and flexibility exercises is to reduce the stiffness that we all develop in our muscles due to mundane and inactive movements for long durations. Common desk jobs often come with the stress of developing muscle stiffness, cramps and even sprains because there’s a lack of flexibility and stretching in the daily life of the individual.
Increased Range of Motion
Although this one is self-explanatory, there’s a huge benefit of having comfortable motion ranges in your joints and bones. When you’ve achieved more flexibility, the movements that once required you to spend a lot of energy in achieving the motion you wanted will now require drastically less input. That’s because going to your full range of motion will always expend more energy as your body tries to maintain and stabilize the form and posture without breaking down. To put it simply, flexibility will help you attain a much more energy-efficient body.
The fact that flexibility and stretching are the go-to for physiotherapists when prescribing for patients reporting lower back pain proves the effectiveness of flexibility. There’s a reason why all warmups before workouts and cooldowns after your training sessions involve a considerable amount of stretching exercises. Since we’re not always engaging our muscles the way we do it in the gym, there’s a fair amount of risk involved every time you extend those stiff muscles.
This is one of the major reasons people experience sprains, strains and even injuries such as fractures. Stretching before you work your muscles ensures that they are ready to move in their respective ranges of motion. Since you’ve now ‘oiled’ up the joints, they’re more likely to function smoothly as they have wider extremes.
Improves Blood Flow
When you finally release the tension from your muscles and bones, not only are you able to breathe properly but your heart rate and blood levels stabilize as well. In many senses of the word, you achieve what can be described as physiological ‘harmony’. Your heart can pump the blood easily throughout the body and release muscle tension that can also cause disruptions in the flow of oxygen and essential nutrients.
As stated above, flexibility workouts and injury prevention go hand in hand. Whether you’re suffering from joint pains or muscle tension, you can avoid a significant number of problems just by stretching. Many have learned from the example of the legendary BJJ athlete and fighter, Rickson Gracie, who always relied on flexibility to increase the tension his body could burden. Rickson was always prescribing yoga and breathing to his students and practiced what he preached wholeheartedly.
In the documentary film, Choke, the athlete can be seen performing intense stretching exercises even for his neck and head that inevitably helped protect him from severe injuries throughout his fighting career. Although a legend in Gi BJJ, Rickson Gracie also participated in Vale Tudo (No Rules-Barred) fights and proved he was more than just a grappler.
Flexibility in our bones and muscles reduces the stiffness and rigidity in our bodies and allows us to move freely. Desk jockeys or even laborers involved in heavy lifting or construction work are likely to have muscle groups that aren’t worked as frequently as the rest of their bodies. This also brings about a very common problem of crooked postures that people develop over time.
Letting the ‘hump’ on our backs linger may not seem like an immediate problem, but will prove excruciatingly painful and irritating when we grow old. Stretching to release tension in our muscles and bones can help the body calibrate with its original position. What makes or breaks our posture boils down to our shoulders, chest and back, all of which constitute the major muscle groups that go unworked in our daily lives.
You can’t go about working out extensively just to relieve these muscles of the prolonged stiffness and tension with weight training sessions. Instead, you’ll have to spend some time developing flexibility in these areas on a regular basis. And these workouts will have to consist of exercises such as the ones described below.
Flexibility Workout Exercises to Try:
There’s a plethora of workouts and even sports like Gi and No-Gi BJJ, Judo, wrestling, that work extremely well in inducing flexibility. While these sports primarily teach you self-defense, they involve movements and positions that work almost every muscle of your body. Although you can find many other sports, a lot of famous athletes and personalities are putting on the BJJ Gi to reap the grappling martial art’s benefits for physical and mental health.
Your workouts should aim to work your joints, tendons, bones and muscles and extend their ranges of motion. You should make combinations of these exercises and perform them on a regular basis. Many experts recommend incorporating stretching exercises in your pre and post-workout routines such as warmups and cooldowns.
These exercises don’t involve lifting weights and thus, can be done almost anywhere and at any time. The point of stretching is to max out the range of motion that your joints and tendons allow and hold the position for 5-6 seconds. With each exercise mentioned below, try going for at least 5-6 reps following the same instructions.
Here’s a couple of flexibility and stretching exercises to help you get started:
- Seat Straddle Lotus
- Seat Side Straddle
- Knees to Chest
- Seat Stretch
- Forward Lunges
- Side Lunges
- Standing Quad Stretch
Ann Edwards is the fully qualified personal trainer from Elite sports. She has been helping people in the field of bodybuilding and fitness from more than a decade. Her career in nutrition and physical therapy has made her a fine addition for our team.