Young Asian man doing leg stretches in the park

Except for the five-minute pre-workout stretch, many people tend to overlook the benefits of flexibility in enhancing their overall fitness. According to Harvard Health, however, flexibility activities that extend muscle can prevent pain and injury as well as improve balance.

Stretching can help wake you up in the morning and help you relax at night. Muscles that are properly stretched can do more movements which then furthers athleticism. Stretching can also build your strength as it ensures your muscles will have a sufficient amount of tension that will help support your weight.

If you’re looking to boost your overall fitness, you should start looking into programs that will bolster your flexibility. Here are some activities to try.

Use Foam Rollers

A foam roller is a long, plastic cylinder wrapped in thick, textured foam. You put it under a particular body part, such as the calves, back, or thighs, and roll it using your body weight. This motion kneads your muscles, and you get a self-myofascial release that relieves tension. Foam roller routines, according to an article on Harvard Health, can help prime your muscles for exercise, loosen tight muscles, and make recovery easier.

Moreover, a review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy says it also increases muscle springiness and amplifies the range motion—though only in the short term. It’s a good start, but other specialized exercises are better geared towards developing flexibility.

Start Doing Yoga

is one of those exercises that experienced a revival during the pandemic. Classes were easily adapted online and their numerous mental, social, and physical benefits served to counter the stress of quarantine. Famous yoga practitioners include LeBron James, David Beckham, and Justin Timberlake.

You don’t need to do a sirsasana or headstand to reap yoga’s promises of better flexibility. Taking two or three classes a week will contribute greatly to your physicality. Or, you can try to do daily 10- to 20-minute yoga stretches that target specific areas of the body. Various yoga programs are available on YouTube.

Practice Pilates

Though Pilates in recent years has been associated with female gymgoers, it was created by a man, the eponymous Joseph Pilates, to help injured World War I soldiers recover.

The practice revolves around eight principles: relaxation, concentration, coordination, alignment, breathing, flowing movement, center, and stamina. It is largely cardio, but it has been proven to strengthen muscles and core, straighten posture, alleviate back pain, and improve the components of skill-related fitness, including flexibility.

Known Pilates practitioners include BTS’ RM, Robert Downey Jr., Tiger Woods, and the late Kobe Bryant.

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Try Some Tai Chi

If Jet Li in his 1993 film Tai Chi didn’t motivate you to get into this ancient martial art, then maybe its numerous health perks will. Tai Chi is a gentle, low-impact exercise that features a series of fluid motions, breathing, and meditation. According to an article on Harvard Health, it is a mind-body practice that can help treat and prevent many health problems.

Tai Chi isn’t your usual exercise in that nothing is forced or “pushed,” muscles are kept relaxed, and you don’t finish the hour feeling out of breath. However, it encourages muscle strength, flexibility, and balance.

Li, the famous kung fu movie star, has been performing Tai Chi for over 30 years.

Aim for Active Stretching

You don’t have to adopt a whole new to up your flexibility. Sometimes you just need to make tweaks to your existing one. We all know that stretching is important before a workout, but most of us associate this with static or passive stretching, which targets a particular body part at a time by holding a stretched-out position for a certain number of seconds.

Active or dynamic stretching, on the other hand, hits the major muscle groups at once. Examples of these include lunges with the arms reaching upwards or forwards and front kicks with extended arms touching the toes.

Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine observed that static stretching could likely cause muscle weakness, whereas numerous studies, including one by Northwestern University, suggested that dynamic stretching improved power and performances and decreased injury.

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