If you’ve never been able to touch your toes, fear not: It’s totally possible to increase flexibility. But like getting stronger, faster, or better at anything in your life, you’ve gotta work at it, and that starts with targeting the right muscles.
Certain spots in our bodies get tighter than others, mostly because of the way we use them on a day-to-day basis. And considering the large majority of us spend hours on end hunched over our desks, we tend to wind up feeling inflexible in a lot of the same places. While I won’t go so far as to call sitting the new smoking, sitting is responsible for issues like hip pain and spine compression because of the way it crunches up our bodies. And if you don’t stretch things out regularly, it can leave you with too-tight muscles that can mess with your overall flexibility.
The best way to limber up, then, according to stretch pros, is to hit those spots one at a time. “Go up through the body and thinking about what sitting hunched over shortens,” says Aaron Alexander, author of The Align Method: 5 Movement Principles for a Stronger Body, Sharper Mind and Stress-Proof Life. “Then, go through with a stretch routine and open those things up.”
Even if you aren’t particularly worried about figuring out how to increase flexibility to, say, drop down into the splits, loosening these muscles is still really important. “There’s nothing separating flexibility from calisthenics and strength—they all work together. In order to do [certain movements], you need to have the range of motion to do them and you also need to have strength,” says Alexander. Because of this, simply moving the muscles that are hunched over your desk all day can help, to an extent. “Any time you’re going through any kind of functional movement or workout, you’re naturally elongating all of these tissues and teaching them how to function in a healthy way,” says Alexander.
But if you really want to learn how to increase flexibility (and loosen up those screaming hip flexors), though, it’s worth putting the time into your recovery routine on the reg to see results. “It’s absolutely possible to become more flexible, and it really comes down to consistency and routine,” says Keren Day, DC, founder of Racked Stretch. She recommends utilizing dynamic (or “moving”) stretching techniques to get the job tone, because “by moving through the stretches, you trick your body into staying relaxed which means longer lasting results and more range of motion,” she says. For a few moves to help you get the job done, try the below. And you’ll be touching your toes in no time at all.
1. Shoulders: doorway stretch
Standing in a doorway, bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle and hold onto the doorjamb with your hands. Place one foot out in front of you, and lean forward to open up your chest and shoulders (aka undo all of the slouching you may be doing throughout the day). Rock slowly back and forth for 30 seconds, then switch feet.
2. Adductors: foam roller release
Starting face down on the floor, bend the knee of the leg you’re working on. Grab a foam roller, and angle it under your bent leg (perpendicular to your inner thigh), and begin rolling slowly from above your knee up to your hip, stopping briefly in any areas that feel particularly tight. “Try not to stop for too long or your body can start to resist the release which is exactly what we don’t want,” says Dr. Day. Roll back down to directly above your knee, and repeat three to five times on each leg.
3. Hip flexors: psoas stretch
Lying on your back on top of your bed or a bench, scoot your glutes to the edge and bend both knees all the way into your chest. Allow one one leg to straighten out in front of you, and keep it as straight as possible as you slowly lower it down to the floor, keeping your other knee hugged toward your chest. Allow each movement to take two to four seconds, and repeat it six to eight times on each leg. To kick things up to a notch, place a band around your raised foot and use your hands to pull it toward your body.
4. Quads: wall stretch
Kneeling on the floor with your back toward a wall, bend one leg back behind you so that your calf is up against the wall and your toes are pointed toward the ceiling. The closer your knees are to the wall, the more intense the stretch will be, so you can move around a bit to figure out where you’re most comfortable. In addition to getting deep into your quads, this move also helps to open up your hips. Slowly rock back and forth five to six times (holding it for 30 seconds to a minute) then repeat on the other side.
Now try this full-body stretch as an added bonus:
No matter what your flexibility level is, this is the stretch a pro says everyone should be doing every day. And if you still can’t touch your toes, cycling through these yoga moves can help.
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