Stretching for Flexibility Tips
The following are some general flexibility tips. They are based on my own experience on what makes stretching more comfortable (or less uncomfortable) and leads to improved flexibility with less risk of injury.
When doing yoga stretching to improve flexibility, you can warm up by doing easier stretches first and then work gradually towards more challenging stretches. When doing easier "warm up" stretches you may find it helpful to repeatedly (and slowly) activate and release the muscles being stretched.
When doing yoga for flexibility exercises or stretches, move slowly and smoothly.
If you've never practiced moving slowly and smoothly then you'll find that it takes focus and concentration, exactly what you need to bring you into the present and into your body and into what you are doing.
As well as forcing you to focus this also improves your ability to control your body. And that's important for flexibility gains since controlling whether muscles are active or relaxed is what will help get you more flexible.
Stretching Modes (and the Use of Tension)
Several stretching techniques you can use when doing yoga for flexibility stretches and exercises include:
- activating and then relaxing the muscle being stretched.
- activating the driver muscle (the muscles that stretch the muscle being stretched)
- activating both driver and target muscle (so that muscle being stretched, muscle that drives the stretch are both active) but activating the driver muscle with greater force so that general movement is deeper into the stretch.
- relaxing the target muscle.
You may find that activating both driver and target muscle takes you deeper into the stretch. But it can depend on how you feel each day.
The above suggestions may not work in all situations. Experiment to find what works and what doesn't work.
Pairing Yoga for Flexibility Exercises for Balance
Yoga for flexibility exercises and stretches can be paired as follows for balance.
- Hip stretches for the back of the hip and hamstring stretches can be paired with quadriceps and hip flexor stretches for balance.
- Glute and piriformis stretches can be paired with inner thigh and internal rotation hip stretches for balance.
For arm and shoulder stretches,
- pair internal rotations with external rotations,
- arms up and back with arms down and back,
- arms out to the sides and back with arms across the chest.
Balancing stretches (and yoga poses) can be important in the long term since it helps avoid one set of muscles being overworked or overstretched in relation to opposing muscles. Improving muscle balance may be one factor that can help you better improve flexibility while remaining healthy.
Reactivate Stretched Muscles
This flexibility tip is particularly important when doing relaxed stretching. After relaxed stretching you may find that your muscles feel weak or inactive. Stretching your legs you may find that you have to walk carefully afterwards. This is one reason for not doing relaxed stretching as a warm up for other exercises, especially before weight lifting.
Doing reactivation exercises helps to turn on the muscles that you've just stretched. For hip stretches I find balancing on one leg to be a particularly helpful exercise since the leg and hip muscles have to turn on to help keep you balanced.
If you do decide to do relaxed stretching prior to other exercises, make sure that you transition to the next exercise slowly, smoothly and with awareness.
Vary the Way you Do Your Stretches
One any one day you stretch you may find a particular way of doing the stretch that seems magical. But then the next day you try to repeat the technique and it doesn't work. To continually improve your flexibility play with different techniques. As you get more experience, on any given day you'll then know which technique to use. In this case flexibility is a mindset. Are you flexible enough in your mind to change the way that you do a stretch?