Stretching Exercises for Increased Flexibility

What causes poor flexibility?

Poor flexibility can be caused by a number of contributing factors. Possible causes include:

1. Sedentary Lifestyle

Lack of physical activity or inactivity for long periods can cause muscle tightness and stiffness.

2. Age

As we age, our muscles lose elasticity.

3. Inactivity Due to Injury 

Inactivity due to injury or surgery can cause muscle stiffness and reduced flexibility, just as a sedentary lifestyle can. It is best to consult with a healthcare provider for appropriate strengthening and stretching following an injury.

4. Genetics 

Genetics can play a role in determining how flexible someone is.

5. Muscle Imbalance 

Muscle imbalance or weakness can cause poor flexibility. Muscles can be overused and tight or underutilized and weak.

6. Poor Posture 

Poor posture can cause muscle imbalances. It is best to change your posture throughout the day. For example, try to stand at least every other hour if you have a desk job.

7. Chronic Medical Conditions 

Certain medical conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or multiple sclerosis can cause joint stiffness, leading to poor flexibility.

What are ways to improve poor flexibility?

Routine stretching exercises can help improve flexibility. Focus on stretching the muscles that feel tight or restricted, and hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds for a static stretch. 

Static stretching, dynamic stretching, contract-relax stretching (PNF), and passive stretching are all types of stretching. Practicing yoga can help improve flexibility, balance, strength, and relaxation. Starting with a beginner's class or video is recommended to avoid injury. 

Similar to yoga, Pilates is low-impact and places emphasis on core activation, form, and flexibility. It involves a series of exercises that help improve flexibility, strength, and proprioception. Regular massage can help improve flexibility by reducing muscle tension, which can improve range of motion.

Massage can also increase blood flow to a tight muscle or area. Engaging in regular physical activity and avoiding being sedentary can help with overall flexibility and wellbeing. Exercise can improve flexibility and keep your muscles from being tight and weak.

Be conscious of your form and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your flexibility exercises over time.

Overexertion can lead to injury. It's important to consult a physician, physical therapist, or qualified fitness professional before beginning any new exercise program, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.

Do these gentle stretches and range of motion exercises to improve flexibility.

1. Posterior pelvic tilt in supine

  • To perform this exercise, lie on your back on a yoga mat or other firm surface with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. 
  • Think about the points of your pelvis coming towards your ribs.
  • Your low back should round down onto the mat or floor, and the space between your pelvis and front ribs should shorten.

2. Cat/Camel or Arch/Curl in quadruped

  • To perform this exercise, get on your hands and knees. If you have wrist issues, you can make your hands into a fist and put your knuckles on the floor. 
  • To perform the cat portion of the exercise, round your mid and lower back and curl your core in. Look down towards the floor. 
  • To perform the camel portion, arch your back, lift your chest, and look forward.
  • Alternate between the two for the desired number of sets and reps.

3. Thread the needle

  • To perform this exercise, get on your hands and knees. This should be done with both sides leading, but for the purpose of being concise, I will explain this as if the right arm is moving. 
  • Keep your left hand on the ground and lift your right arm overhead while twisting at your midback. 
  • You should open your chest towards the right side of the area you’re in and look up towards your right hand. Next, bring your right arm back towards your body and bring it across your body towards the left.
  • Thread the right arm behind the left arm and twist at your midback to "thread the needle".
  • Repeat on the same side for the desired number of sets or reps, then perform on the other side.

4. Lower trunk rotation stretch

  • To perform this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. 
  • Exhale as you let both knees fall to one side, inhale and hold, and bring the legs back to the starting position as you exhale again.
  • Repeat on the other side and alternate.

5. Supine hamstring stretch with a strap

  • Place your foot into a loop at the end of a strap. I prefer to use a stretch-out strap, but this can also be done with a towel, for example, if needed. 
  • Try to avoid using objects that would stretch and make it difficult to pull your leg, such as a theraband.
  • Once the strap is in place, keep both legs straight and use your arms to pull your strapped leg up until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg.
  • Hold for about 30 seconds for the desired number of reps.
a person doing a demo of Supine-hamstring-stretch-with-strap Gentle Stretching Exercises for Increased Flexibility

6. Arch/Curl in sitting

  • Sit in a chair that is low enough for you to be able to place both feet flat on the ground. 
  • Feel your weight evenly distributed between your sits bones.
  • Feel both of your heels on the ground and act as if a string is pulling the crown of your head towards the ceiling to sit up straight.
  • To arch, perform an anterior pelvic tilt.
  • Your low back should arch, and your hip pointers should tilt forward and down towards the ground. To curl, perform a posterior pelvic tilt.
  • You should feel your low back round, and your hip pointers should go towards your lower ribs to curl.

7. Side stretch in sitting

  • Sit with your weight evenly distributed in your sits bones. 
  • Place your left hand on either your arm rest or thigh on the same side.
  • Reach your right arm overhead and lean towards the left.
  • You should feel a stretch in your side.
  • Try to avoid lifting your sitting bones off the chair.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

8. Sitting figure 4 stretch

  • Sit with your weight evenly distributed on each leg bone. 
  • Bring your right leg up with your knee bent.
  • Bring your ankle on top of your left knee.
  • This should create a "4" shape.
  • Sit up straight and push down on your right knee.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.
a person doing a demo of sitting figure 4 stretch

9. Kneeling hip flexor stretch

  • Half kneel with your right knee on the floor. 
  • Perform a posterior pelvic tilt (see #1) and lean forward onto your left leg. 
  • You should feel a stretch on the front of your right hip.
  • Repeat on the left.
a person doing a demo of Kneeling hip flexor stretch

10.  Standing runners calf stretch

  • Stand with your hands on the wall or a stable surface. 
  • Place your right foot behind you with the heel touching the ground.
  • Lean into your left leg.
  • You should feel a stretch in your right calf.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.
a person doing a demo of standing runners calf stretch

It's important to identify the cause of poor flexibility to fully address it. A qualified fitness professional or healthcare provider can help determine the underlying cause and develop a guided plan to improve flexibility and/or strength, if that is your goal.

Learn more HERE.

Click on our blog to learn 7 stretches with the Stretch Out Strap.

Local to the Austin area? Give us a call at 512-215-4227 to learn more about how we can help you improve your flexibility with our physical therapy, Pilates and Gyrotonic programs.

Claire earned her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of St. Augustine in Austin, TX. She graduated with honors in 2021. Throughout her time here, she became passionate about outpatient orthopedic physical therapy and decided to stay in Austin. Prior to physical therapy school, Claire graduated from Louisiana State University in 2018 with a degree in Kinesiology. She decided to pursue a career in physical therapy early on in college. The science behind human movement and process of diagnosing and treating different injuries was always fascinating to her. Since early 2021, Claire practiced in other outpatient orthopedic clinics before joining CORE.
Dr. Claire Watkins