If you’ve tried time and time again to do certain activities that require flexibility to no avail, you might be wondering whether or not you’re just not cut out for the whole “flexible” thing. And if you’ve seen someone else, who seemingly doesn’t train or practice to do certain activities that require flexibility, do so with total ease, you’re probably thinking that they have to be genetically predisposed to have this level of flexibility.
As it turns out, flexibility, or the ability to move freely without being restricted, such as when doing certain yoga or stretching poses, is indeed a genetic trait that’s passed down through families. That being said, however, it is quite possible to train and practice to become more flexible. For example, people who have been practicing yoga for many years have developed flexibility, explains Reda Elmardi, R.D., certified nutritionist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Trainer, and founder of The Gym Goat.
What’s more: A person’s flexibility can change over time. In fact, when we’re younger, our bodies are still developing and changing. “As we get older, our muscles get stronger and stiffer and our bones harden and our ligaments tighten,” explains Elmardi. “These changes make it harder to move and bend.” The good news is that, as long as we keep working at it, we can continue to improve our flexibility.
There are several factors that play a role in determining one’s flexibility other than genetics. One of those is exercising. “A person involved in any kind of sport tends to be more flexible since even a basic warm-up and cool-down includes some stretching exercises,” says Oleksiy Torokhtiy, a professional athlete with 20 years of experience in Olympic weightlifting under his belt. Another factor is muscle mass. “Huge muscles can turn out to be an obstacle and limit the range of motion in particular body parts,” says Torokhtiy. “Additionally, muscles become stiff after lifting weights, therefore, it is very important to perform stretching regularly if you want to remain flexible enough rather than bulky and clumsy.”
Finally, as we already mentioned, age definitely influences a person’s flexibility. “It is no secret that children can bend in all directions easily, but, as years go by, the level of water and collagen in our connective tissues decreases and makes us less flexible and even able to develop this quality,” says Torokhtiy.
If you’re looking to level-up your flexibility, it’s not too late. Just follow these tips from fitness pros.
You probably already know the importance of stretching. Not only does it warm you up for whatever workout you’re about to do, but it helps prevent workout injuries. “Stretch exercises help increase range of motion and improve flexibility and should be done regularly to maintain good posture and prevent injury,” says Elmardi. He recommends starting slowly and working up to higher intensity levels.
Switch things up
If you want to be flexible, it’s a good idea to vary your exercises instead of doing the same exercise repeatedly day after day. “Flexibility is just the same as other qualities and increases when we put some stress on muscles,” says Torokhtiy. “Once your body adapts to a particular load, it stops progressing.” He recommends alternating exercises, changing your load and developing different positions to become confident in them.
One of the most stretch-oriented workouts is yoga, which has been around for centuries and utilizes a myriad of stretching techniques to improve balance and lengthen muscles. Joe Johnson, certified fitness instructor and owner of 9 to 5 Nutrition, recommends a regular yoga practice—even just 15-20 minutes a day—as an easy way to enhance your flexibility.
Pilates is a series of exercises designed to strengthen core muscles and improve flexibility, explains Elmardi. “It focuses on building muscle control and stability and is often performed using equipment, but can also be done at home without equipment.”
A staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture involves inserting needles into specific points along the body’s meridians to stimulate healing. “Acupuncture is commonly used to treat pain and inflammation, so it can help alleviate the tension that can be caused by various workouts and stretching positions,” says Elmardi.
Massage and chiropractic care
To help your body adjust to being more flexible, it’s a good idea to give yourself a little TLC in the form of massage and/or chiropractic care. “Massage helps relax tense muscles and promote circulation and can incorporate various techniques to achieve these goals,” says Elmadri. “Chiropractic care is a natural treatment that uses spinal adjustments to relieve pain and restore normal function.”