Stretching may not be the most exciting part of working out, but doing flexibility work is just as important for a well-rounded fitness routine as strength and cardio work. Incorporating some stretching exercises into your workout schedule will help you improve flexibility, reduce tightness, and ultimately, make your workouts more efficient and safe.
“Tight muscles can cause undue strain on the neighboring joints during normal daily function, or they themselves can become injured,” Sasha Cyrelson, D.P.T., clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy in Sicklerville, New Jersey, tells SELF. As we age, our muscles get shorter and less elastic, she adds. “We need to take an active role in maintaining and improving the length of our muscles so we can continue to enjoy our abilities without pain.”
It’s true that stretching is neither glamorous nor hardcore, and it probably won’t give you the same rush that a run or HIIT class will. “It is uncomfortable and it takes time, so people don’t like to do it,” Cyrelson says. “However, you can’t just do strength training and cardio without putting yourself at risk for injury and pain.” By doing a ton of work that contracts the muscles (which shortens them) and never stretching (lengthening) them, your muscles will end up imbalanced. Imbalances in the body increase your risk for injury because they can cause some muscles and joints to overcompensate for other ones that are too tight to engage properly. This leads to strains and discomfort.
Also, when your muscles are loose and stretchy, they’re less restricted. This allows you to move them wider a full range of motion (ROM). For example, greater range of motion in your hips and knees will allow you to sink deeper into a squat. Ultimately, having a greater ROM will make it so you’re able to do more exercises—and do them properly.
Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., instructor at Soul Annex in New York City and creator of Le Stretch class, tells SELF that she likes to use the word mobility instead of flexibility to hammer home how important stretching is for everyday life. “For me, it’s about about daily things that become harder the older you get, like bending down to tie a shoe, walking upstairs, picking your kid up from the floor, or even just getting up off the couch.” Improving your mobility makes these daily activities easier—”you can move more freely,” Atkins says.
Luckily, improving your flexibility and mobility isn’t hard. It just takes a little time. Try adding the stretches for flexibility that Atkins demos below into your routine to help relieve muscle tension and increase mobility—so that you can move through both the gym and life more freely