Flexibility and range of motion are two terms in the fitness world that most people are familiar with. However, many overlook these two critical components of health and well-being.
Put simply, flexibility and range of motion (ROM) play a vital role in helping us to perform daily tasks, such as walking a flight of stairs or picking up groceries. In scientific terms, the ability to perform these tasks is called a functional movement, which is very important for your health and lifespan, especially at an older age.
Whether you’re an experienced athlete or a busy parent, improving your functional movement through increased flexibility will benefit your physical fitness and mental health.
But before we get into ‘how to’ improve your physical form and abilities, let’s take a quick look at the differences between ‘flexibility’ and ‘ROM.’ Yes, there is a difference.
The difference between flexibility and range of motion
Most people, even experienced fitness buffs, fail to understand the difference between the two concepts.
ROM is the ability of the joints to move in multiple directions without feeling any pain. On the other hand, when we’re talking about ‘being flexible’ we refer to the muscles, ligaments, and tendons’ ability to work through the range of motion.
Being flexible has many advantages at any age, including the following:
Being flexible at adequate levels can also enhance other areas of your life, such as improving your balance, which is particularly important as you age. Additionally, displaying a good ROM can help improve technique, mitigating the chance of serious injury.
Seven ways to develop and maintain your flexibility and mobility
Improving your ROM can positively impact your lifespan and different areas of your life, like relieving pain, improving functional movement, and reducing stress. Let’s look at 7 easy-to-implement steps you can perform today to enhance your physical characteristics and mobility.
1Start using a foam roller
Foam rollers get a bad rap because many people find them uncomfortable to use, but truth be told, once you get used to it, foam rolling is one of the best ways to improve muscle flexibility.
Research on foam rolling shows that when performed daily, it has similar positive effects as regular stretching. This is because foam rolling enhances and increases blood flow and oxygen throughout the body, helping to quicken recovery.
When starting, wrap a towel around the foam roller to help soften the impact on your muscles. Your legs are the best place to start, particularly your hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. Foam rolling is well worth the effort, and you can begin to loosen tight areas in just 5-10 minutes a day.
2Use dynamic stretching to warm-up
In this day and age, dynamic stretching has become one of the most popular types of stretching out there. Whereas traditional static stretching has you holding your stretch, dynamic stretching works your muscles and joints through a range of motion, making it perfect for warm-ups.
A simple example of a dynamic stretch would be leg swings. Here one leg is balanced on the ground while your palms are on the wall, and the other leg is swinging back and forth through the entire range of motion. One study showed that runners who performed dynamic stretching before running perceived less effort while exercising.
The great advantage of dynamic stretching is the more you do, the more flexible you become. I recommend starting gradually and not trying to ‘overdo it’ before incrementally increasing the stretch.
Yoga is an excellent activity for general fitness and increasing your lifespan, but one of the most significant benefits of yoga is improved flexibility and mobility. It works to strengthen your muscles, joints, and ligaments, all of which improve functional movement.
One study showed that after just two months of yoga, some participants increased their flexibility and range of motion by as much as 35%. There are different types of yoga, so be sure to choose the one which suits your needs.
4Be specific with your stretches
While it’s great to stretch every part of your body, you are best advised to focus on specific areas of tightness. Let’s be honest, most of us lead busy lives and don’t have an extra 30 minutes a day to stretch.
You can get the most bang for your buck when performing dynamic or static stretches by focusing on tight muscles. If you’re like me and have tight hamstrings and hips, you can dedicate most of your time to those muscle groups.
Generally speaking, I target those areas first before moving on to other muscle groups.
If you spend ages at your desk every week, then you should dedicate some time to stretching the following areas:
For those who are flexible and display high levels of mobility, the focus should be on maintaining it rather than pushing yourself beyond a comfortable range of motion and risking injury.
Consistently stretching is the key to improving your ROM and mobility. If possible, stretch frequently during the day, even if it’s only for 2-3 minutes at a time. Think about it, if you stretch five times a day for just 3 minutes, you’ve stretched for 15 minutes by day’s end.
That’s more than enough time to build good stretching habits and improve your ROM and mobility. Remember, flexibility and mobility are tough to gain yet incredibly easy to lose, which is why you should dedicate time each day to stretching.
6Use static stretching in your cool-downs
Static stretching requires you to hold the stretch for a specific amount of time, generally between 15-30 seconds. Research has shown that static stretches are best performed during the cool-down while the body is warm because it helps relax the muscles in a safe and low-impact way.
Static stretches are easy to perform and only require limited physical exertion. Examples of muscle groups that can benefit from static stretching are:
Typically, it’s best to hold each static stretch for 30 seconds and repeat them 2-3 times while paying specific attention to areas of tightness.
Last, but not least, you must ensure that you’re performing the stretches in a slow and controlled fashion in order to reduce the risk of injury. Far too many people overstretch and, in turn, further damage the very muscle they’re trying to repair.
When stretching, you should feel no pain at all. If you do feel pain, then stop immediately. To get the most out of your stretching routine, you need to be consistent with it, and an injury, no matter how minor, can set you back.
The mistake most people make when trying to improve their physical fitness is not sticking to a consistent daily routine. Most think they can stretch once or twice a week, and that’s enough. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. We recommend prioritising 15 minutes daily to stretching as it will work wonders for your ROM and can help alleviate chronic pain. As with most tasks, it’s important to designate a specific time that you will prioritise to stretching. Whether it’s in the morning, before bed, or 15 minutes at lunchtime, it doesn’t matter. Stretching is critical to our well-being and quality of life, particularly as we get older. But here’s the good news; the more flexible you are, the better you feel. It’s a win-win. Don’t approach stretching as a chore; rather, view it as a non-negotiable activity that benefits your mobility and lifespan.
Fun & curious facts
Stretching daily can significantly improve your posture by strengthening your stabiliser muscles and helping with correct body alignment.
Stretching helps increase blood flow and oxygen, speeding up recovery, particularly after a strenuous workout.
For those who work at a desk, getting up and moving around regularly throughout the day is essential, especially at an older age. We recommend taking regular short walks or performing basic stretches to help blood circulation.
Let’s sum up
At the end of the day, consistency is vital to improving your flexibility and mobility. That’s right, setting aside time each day to stretch is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your body’s health.
Remember to stretch in a controlled fashion and don’t overdo it. Incorporating yoga, foam rolling, and dynamic stretches are also fun and challenging ways to improve your ROM and physical fitness at any age, and increase your lifespan.
Hungry for knowledge? Here is more!
Start improving your mobility today by following the routine demonstrated in this video. Blake Bowman, a holistic personal trainer, shared the full body mobility exercise to do at home on his GuerrillaZen Fitness YouTube Channel.
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