h3>GO WITH THE FLOW
“Natural bodyweight exercises recruit numerous muscle groups, and don’t limit your range of movement, which can help improve flexibility. Yoga, Pilates, and animal flow workouts are a great example of this,” explains PT Chloe Bowler (Follow Chloe @chloebowler). “Start on a front plank then bring your left knee up to your left elbow. Alternate sides, and you can start walking along the floor Spiderman-style! This still improves strength, but also flexibility as you stretch to reach your elbow on each step,” Bowler tells us.
Perfect your plié and improve your posture and balance. Ballet dancers are renowned for their flexibility and using the very same stretching techniques, you can keep your muscles supple and significantly reduce joint and muscle pain associated with intense workouts.
As with any stretching routine, always ensure your muscles are warm before you begin, in order to avoid injury. The ballet butterfly is the perfect overall stretch, improving flexibility in the hips, buttocks, hamstrings and inner thighs. Start on the floor in the sitting position, the soles of the feet together with your knees bent and falling to the floor. Leaning forward over the legs, stretch as far as your body will allow, keeping your buttocks on the floor in order to achieve maximum benefit. Hold the stretch for at least one minute for best results. For more advice, visit balletbefit.com.
TAKE IT UP
“Many of us are guilty of forgetting about the importance of a warm-up and tend to jump on the fixed machines when at the gym. But in order to get your core temperature up and lubricate the joints you need to focus on getting some mobility work in,” says Jamie Lloyd, fitness writer, speaker and coach. Try this workout to see fast results:
1 UP AND OVERS
Take a broomstick/mop/barbell overhead and behind your body to mobilise your shoulders and the shoulder joint. If you need to take it down a notch, try taking your hands wider and focus on keeping your arms straight. Do 10-15 reps.
Hold the broomstick/mop/barbell at chest height in front of you and rotate side-to-side to mobilise your trunk and back. Do 5-10 reps.
3 OVERHEAD SQUATS
This one wakes up the core, opens up your hip flexors, shoulder joint and fires up the glutes. Hold onto your stick, bend forwards and hang. Then squat as deep as you can and place the stick overhead. Try keeping your arms overhead and lift your chest. This is great as it mobilises the whole body. Do 5-10 reps.
“An active lifestyle is key to improving flexibility. It’s especially important to incorporate exercises like yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates into your workout routine, as these are fantastic at improving flexibility, balance and co-ordination,” says Dave Kyle, head trainer at Les Mills (lesmills.com). “Classes like BODYBALANCE that combine these exercises are perfect for people who are looking to become more bendy, as they focus on a carefully constructed series of stretches, moves and poses that strengthen and tone key muscle groups and allow the body to feel supple. What’s more, by including meditation, these classes are fantastic for reducing stress levels.”
EXTEND YOUR WORKOUTS
“Stretch when you’re warm. A cold elastic band is more likely to be damaged than a warm one,” says Chris Ward, UK personal training manager at Fitness First. Give the following exercise a go for improved flexibility:
- Give your muscles time: Hold a static stretch for at least 30 seconds to ‘teach’ the muscle to retain a longer state.
- Comfortably uncomfortable: Stretching should be relaxing, but you should feel the pull to gain maximum effect.
- Work in all directions: Most muscles don’t just pull in one plain, so stretch in different directions to gain a fuller effect.
- Stretch with speed: When you’re ready, incorporate more dynamic stretches to relate the stretch to movements you might execute in the gym.
- Give it a rest: Pushing a damaged muscle is like stretching an elastic band with a tear in it – so rest between sessions and let the muscles recover before loading up again.
TOP OF THE CLASS
“If you want to improve your flexibility, get yourself to a yoga class at least twice a week,” advises yoga teacher and holistic health coach, Mel Wells (thegreengoddesslife.com).
“But if you can’t fit this into your schedule, try this easy 10-minute routine every morning when you wake up:
- Stand with your legs apart as wide as you can, feet turned in parallel, and fold your body forward so your hands reach the floor. Walk your hands back in line with your feet and lengthen your back, so your spine is straight. You are aiming to try and touch the crown of your head down onto the floor. You should feel a strong hamstring stretch here.
- As you exhale, breathe into the stretch. Your body naturally relaxes on every exhale, so it’s a chance to deepen the stretch and improve your flexibility. Hold here for 10 breaths.
- From here, walk your hands towards your right foot, to deepen the stretch in your right leg. Hold here for 10 breaths. Then, repeat on the left side, walking your hands around to your left foot. Hold here for 10 breaths. Bring your body back to centre, hands on your hips and carefully come back up to standing.
Flexibility plays a huge part in allowing the body to activate the all-important core muscles. If you sit down for long periods during the day, it’s easy to build up tightness in the hamstrings and lower back, which really limits your ability to move in and around the pelvis
Start seated, with your legs out straight in front, feet wider than hips, arms reached wide at shoulder height. Rotate your torso to the right from your waist, flex at the hips, reaching your left hand to the outside of the right foot. Reset to upright position and repeat other side. Visit tenpilates.com for more information.