Psst, Here are 10 Easy Stretches for Flexibility and Mobility
The matter of when to stretch, how to stretch, and the benefits of stretching can be quite controversial, but if there is one universal truth to stretching, it’s that we should all be partaking, and likely that most of us aren’t partaking enough. So if you fall into that category (like me), it’s time to make stretching an integral part of our daily routines! (Not sure where to get started? Psst, here are 10 easy stretches for flexibility and mobility you can add to your day.)
- Mobility refers to how freely and efficiently you can move in your daily life; it is extremely important to our daily functioning; mobility is considered the cornerstone of fitness.
- Stretching isn't just for flexibility, it also limbers up all your muslces and joints
- Stretching a little bit every day will improve your fitness, mobility, flexibility, and overall good feeling within your own body
What is mobility?
Stretching, flexibility, and mobility get thrown around seemingly sporadically, but realistically go hand-in-hand. These three words may be current buzzwords in the health and fitness industry, but they are far from fads; research shows that static stretching and dynamic movements are critical for staying healthy and improving our overall quality of life.
Mobility is defined as the comprehensive range of motion that someone has within their body, particularly their joints. Basically, mobility refers to how freely and efficiently you can move in your day-to-day life and is extremely important to our daily functioning, routines, and tasks. Being sufficiently mobile is so critical that ACE (the American Council of Exercise) refers to mobility as the cornerstone of fitness.
Mobility is what allows us to run faster, squat deeper, and push ourselves harder during our workouts; additionally, it is what allows us to reap these benefits for years to come. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I think we all spend a little too much time sitting down. Behind a desk. Maybe for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Just me?
When we spend each and every day sitting, our internal connective tissues (called fascia: think of it as the saran wrap of the body) get tight and stuck; these collagen-based tissues can leave us feeling stiff as a board, precipitate pain throughout our body, and prompt us to moan and groan when we stand up (and leave us questioning whether or not we need a walker.) Essentially, we depend on mobility all the time; whether we’re taking the dog on a walk, hiking the Grand Canyon, performing a HIIT workout, gardening, or playing with the kids we nanny.
Specific benefits of mobility include:
- Stronger muscles via muscle activation
- Built-up tension release within our body
- Less pain and tightness
Mobility is the foundation to ensuring our physical health, as well as a key component to longevity. It may seem small and insignificant compared to lifting weights and running miles, but to be mobile means to move more freely. To move more freely means we can become stable and strong (via weights and miles!) And to become stable and strong improves our overall quality of life.
Why is stretching beneficial?
Mobility and flexibility are often used interchangeably, but realistically, they’re not the same. Flexibility is defined as the ability to lengthen your muscles and move through an unrestrained, painless range of motion, while mobility refers to moving the joints through their full range of motion.
While you do need some flexibility to have optimal mobility, you also need stability and strength. A big difference between the two: passive, static stretching (think touching your toes) focuses on improving flexibility, while active, dynamic stretching (think a lunge with a twist) focuses on improving mobility.
It’s really easy for stretching to take a backseat in our workout rituals, as it's hard to visibly see and actually appreciate the benefits. Regardless, here are some reasons to consider prioritizing stretching a little bit more every day.
- It increases flexibility and mobility
Stretching regularly will increase your muscle flexibility and improve your mobility (in turn showering you with all the benefits of mobility we talked about earlier!) Inflexible muscles tire more easily and can lead to injury. Stretches for flexibility can help you perform day-to-day activities with ease, and prevent reduced mobility that (unfortunately) accompanies aging.
- It improves your performance in physical activities.
Stretching doesn’t seem as important as barbell squats, half marathons, and being able to crank out some push-ups, but (while it is all relative) your ability to perform all the workouts you want to would be extremely limited without stretches for flexibility and moblity. It serves as a foundation and preparation for your workout and will keep your muscles strong and healthy, so you can do all the barbell squats and all the push-ups you want in the future!
- It increases blood flow to the muscles
Stretching regularly helps to improve circulation in the muscles; better circulation results in better blood flow, which can reduce the time it takes you to recover and help alleviate soreness that you feel after a tough workout. Overall, an improvement in blood flow provides the muscles with additional oxygen and nutrients that help to repair damaged muscle fibers.
- It improves your posture.
As you stretch, you put those muscles to work, which strengthens them as a result. As you put them to work over and over, they get progressively stronger, and you’ll notice your posture improving. Tight muscles equal bad posture. Additionally, stretches that eliminate tension in the lower back will help eliminate pain and leave you standing up straight in no time.
- It is great for calming your mind and body.
Stretching helps your mind: physically and mentally. Not only does it ease tension and headaches as a result of pent-up stress, but practicing mindfulness and meditation exercises while you stretch gives your mind a mental break. Regular stretching has been shown to increase serotonin levels (i.e. the hormone that steadys our mood, decreases stress, and makes us feel better) and has been linked to reducing feelings of anxiety and depression.
10 stretches for flexibility you can add to your day
Low and behold, after discussing all the benefits and reasons why you should add stretching to your daily ritual, it can be difficult to figure out where to get started. I’ve compiled a list of 10, staple stretches to add to your day. (I’ve also attached YouTube videos for how to perform each pose.)
1. Cobra stretch
Start by lying on your stomach and putting your hands beneath your shoulders. Tuck your elbows in and press up with your head and chest, keeping your hips down. You should feel this stretch in your lower back, chest, and abdomen.
2. Neck stretch
Relax your shoulders and move each ear toward the respective shoulder, using help from your respective arm. This stretch may seem small but makes a huge difference in releasing tension in your neck.
3. Standing quad stretch
Standing up straight (and holding onto a wall or chair if you need) reach back and grab your foot with the respective hand. Keep your thighs aligned and feel the stretch through the front of the leg.
4. Hamstring stretch
Standing upright, bend one knee gently and place the opposite leg out straight with your toes pointed toward the celing. Bend forward with your hips and feel the stretch along the back of your leg. (One of my personal favorites.)
Lying on the floor on your back, bring one knee into your chest and hold it tight with your arms and hands. You should feel a deep stretch through your lower back and your leg.
Lay on your back again (just like the previous stretch), raise one of your knees and twist to the opposite side. Keep your shoulders glued to the ground and bring one arm out to the side (if it feels comfortable) and keep it in line with your shoulders. You should feel the stretch in the sides of your upper body and lower back.
7. Pigeon pose
This is easily my favorite stretch of all time. This hip-opening stretch works your groin, thighs, back, and hip flexors. Bring your knee forward as if you’re going to step into a lunge. From there, bring your knee to the ground; your leg should be bent in front of you (close to a 90 degree angle if possible) and your back leg should be straight out behind you. Make sure to keep your hips square to feel this stretch in all the right places.
8. Butterfly stretch
Sitting on a mat or on the floor, bring your feet together so your knees go out to opposite sides and the soles of your feet are touching. Keeping your spine straight, lean forward and try to push your knees down toward the floor until you can feel the stretch working your inner thighs, groin, and knees.
9. Figure 4 stretch
You should feel this stretch in your hips, glutes, and lower back. Laying on the floor with your knees bent, cross one ankle over the other thigh and pull them in toward your body (like a hug.) Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
10. Side stretch
Standing or kneeling, raise your hands above your head and clasp them together. Push up and over to each side to feel the stretch down each side of your body. (Simple, yet effective.)
When it comes to stretches for flexibility and mobility, start wherever you are. Meet your body halfway, and don’t over exert yourself; stretching should be relaxing and peaceful. The more frequently you stretch, the more you’ll notice the benefits and the more your body will thank you! Remember, self-care is never selfish. Take a few minutes a day to give back to the body that does so much for you.
Written by Morgan Taylor