Living an active lifestyle isn’t just about fitting your workouts in each week. It’s also about maintaining your body so you stay healthy and pain-free. Becoming more flexible and mobile can help you move more efficiently and significantly lower your odds of injury.
If you’re not already incorporating flexibility and mobility work into your fitness routine, it’s never too late to start. But what if you’re new to these types of exercises? Where do you even begin? It might feel daunting at first, especially if you’re working out alone at home.
Luckily, increasing flexibility and mobility isn’t hard as long as you’re willing to put in the time and do the work. Let’s talk about some simple ways you can start building your mobility and flexibility today.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Flexibility and Mobility?
Even if your body’s stiff as a brick, you can become more flexible and mobile with a few basic techniques. I’ll expand on these techniques and their benefits in the section below, but in case you’re short on time, I’ve listed them all in this handy table for quick and easy consumption.
|Technique||Examples||What it addresses|
|Stretching||Yoga, Pilates, dynamic/static stretches||Flexibility; potentially also mobility|
|Mobility exercises||Lunges, windmills, arm and neck circles||Mobility; potentially also flexibility|
|Soft tissue work||Massage, foam rolling, myofascial release, trigger point therapy||Flexibility and mobility|
Before we go any further, let’s define flexibility and mobility—two interrelated but slightly different concepts. Flexibility refers to your muscles’ capacity to passively lengthen and stretch. Mobility, on the other hand, is the ability to actively move your joints through their full range of motion (ROM).
When flexibility is your main issue, usually the culprit is tight muscles. Mobility problems can be a bit more complicated; muscle tension may be a factor, but injuries, medical conditions, and aging can all have an impact as well.
What are some techniques for improving flexibility and mobility?
There are several basic categories of techniques for improving flexibility and mobility: stretching, mobility exercises, and soft tissue work. Let’s break these down in more detail.
- The best way to improve flexibility is with stretching, which helps lengthen your muscles and can indirectly increase your mobility.
- Mobility exercises are designed to increase ROM in different parts of your body. While these exercises don’t directly address flexibility, they get your joints moving and may help relieve muscle tension.
- Soft tissue work can include massage, foam rolling, or myofascial release. Techniques like these can help loosen tense muscles and stuck fascia, which may improve both flexibility and mobility.
There are plenty of specific techniques you can do within each category, and we’ll discuss those in the next section. But these are the basic ways to loosen a tight body and free up your movement.
And why would you want to get more flexible and mobile?
Having a healthy amount of flexibility allows you to move freely and comfortably. Flexible muscles are more supple, less apt to get sore after workouts, and less prone to injuries. When your muscles are tight enough, they can restrict your mobility and cause pain.
Although flexibility matters, your mobility will likely have a bigger impact on your quality of life in the long run. Problems with mobility can make it difficult or uncomfortable to do your day-to-day activities. Taking steps to become more mobile can help you move through your daily life with greater ease.
Some of the other benefits of increased mobility and flexibility include:
- Better posture
- Increased muscle coordination
- Reduced stress
- Enhanced physical performance
- Improved form during exercise
However, there is such a thing as being too flexible and mobile. Fortunately, most of us don’t have this problem, but being overly flexible can destabilize your joints and cause them to move in ways that aren’t natural. Research shows that this kind of hypermobility can leave you vulnerable to injuries—so be careful not to overdo your flexibility and mobility training.
5 Ways To Improve Flexibility and Mobility at Home
What is the best way to improve flexibility and mobility at home? If you’re determined to make it happen, there are simple ways to start working towards that goal. Here are some of my favorites.
1. Try some yoga or Pilates.
If you’re wondering how to improve your flexibility, yoga is one of the best options because it balances stretching with movement. The poses (asanas) gently lengthen your muscles, and the graceful, flowing movements are great for mobility. Yoga also incorporates strength work, which stabilizes your body and helps prevent hypermobility.
Most importantly, though, yoga is a mindfulness practice that will show you the intimate connection between your body and mind. You can learn how to tune into present-moment awareness while letting go of stress and tension. And you’ll stop muscle tightness at its source by allowing yourself to relax.
New to yoga? Not to worry—Do Yoga With Me offers classes online for all levels. If you want to try a few basic poses on your own without attending a class, grab a mat (or towel) and try some of these easy ones for starters.
Sit tall and upright with your legs crossed. Breathe in, lifting both arms overhead; as you exhale, gently twist to the right, bringing the left arm forward and the right arm back. Hold for several breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Areas of the body stretched: Chest, shoulders, back (upper and lower), core muscles
From a kneeling position, step your right foot forward into a deep lunge. Make sure your right knee sits directly above (not past) your ankle. Once you feel stable, lift your torso and raise your arms overhead, gazing slightly up. Hold for a few deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Areas of the body stretched: Hip flexors (psoas and quads)
Sit with the soles of your feet on the floor and your knees pointing up. Take your right ankle and cross it over your left knee, using your arms for support. Lean forward towards your crossed leg as far as feels okay. After holding for a few breaths, switch sides.
Areas of the body stretched: Deep hip rotators (good for relieving low back and sciatic pain)
Seated forward fold
Extend both legs in front of you. Ground your sit bones into the floor as you inhale, lifting your spine as tall as possible, and fold forward on your exhale. If you can’t touch your toes, it’s okay (I’m not touching mine!); just let your hands fall onto your legs. Stay here for several breaths, keeping your spine long (not arched).
Areas of the body stretched: Hamstrings, glutes, and back
Find a bolster, pillow, or rolled-up towel and lie down face-up on the floor, propping the bolster just below your shoulder blades. Let your head and arms rest on the floor; remain here for several breaths before removing the bolster.
Areas of the body stretched: Chest, shoulders, upper back
If yoga’s not your thing, you can also try Pilates. Pilates isn’t as meditative as yoga, but it does help relax and strengthen muscles. While some workouts require specialized equipment, there are plenty of basic moves that can be done with just your bodyweight. There are plenty of great home Pilates workouts for beginners, such as 28 by Sam Wood, that you can access through an app on your smartphone.
2. Add mobility exercises to your exercise routine
To improve your mobility, you can start incorporating mobility exercises into your workout schedule. Functional exercises are especially useful because they incorporate movements from everyday activities. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends exercises such as:
- Stationary runner (for foot stability)
- Standing plantar & dorsiflexion (for ankle mobility)
- Lunges (for knee stability)
- Walking hip openers (for hip mobility)
You can view their full article for instructions on how to do these and other functional drills. But make sure to sprinkle some of these moves into your routine.
3. Keep on moving
Our bodies were designed to move. Regular exercise is essential for so many reasons, but one major benefit is that it reduces pain and keeps us mobile. In a study of older adults in nursing homes, participants had much greater mobility and felt less pain after completing an exercise program than they had before.
Getting a few workouts in each week is ideal. But even getting up to walk and stretch throughout your workday can help keep you from becoming too stiff.
4. Drink your water
Hydration is crucial for flexibility and mobility. Our muscles and tissues need water in order to function properly and flush out waste. Dehydrated muscles become tight and leathery; the difference in muscle tone and texture when someone hasn’t been drinking their water is palpable. Don’t let that happen to you.
5. Use foam rollers and self-massage tools to loosen muscles
When your muscles are chronically tense, their health starts to deteriorate. Tight tissues restrict blood and fluid circulation, which blocks oxygen and water from reaching your muscle cells. Poorly-oxygenated (ischemic) muscles don’t perform well and can become damaged over time.
Soft tissue work is incredibly effective at relieving pain, promoting relaxation, and restoring muscles to optimal health. Foam rollers, massage balls, and other self-massage tools can be fairly inexpensive and easy to use at home. As an added plus, they can even soothe sore muscles and speed up recovery after intense workouts.
Common Questions About Flexibility and Mobility
1. What’s the difference between mobility and flexibility?
It’s easy to confuse mobility and flexibility because they’re closely related, and they can also affect one another—you need decent flexibility in order to be fully mobile. But an important difference is that mobility is more concerned with movement in the joints, while flexibility has more to do with movement in the muscles.
2. How long should I spend on flexibility and mobility per day or week?
Most adults should do flexibility and mobility training at least 2-3 times per week. According to Harvard Health, you should stretch all of your major muscle groups—that includes your neck, shoulders, chest, back, torso, hips, and legs—and hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds.
It’s also good practice to stretch before and after every workout. Pre-workout stretching should be dynamic (moving) because the movements help warm up your muscles and prepare you for exercise. But after your workout, static (non-moving) stretching helps the muscles deactivate and relax.
3. What things should I not do?
As with any type of training, flexibility and mobility work come with potential safety issues. Here are three of the most important things to avoid doing.
- Don’t put yourself in pain. Stretching should never hurt. Being at the edge of your comfort zone is okay; pain means you’re overdoing it. Overstretching can strain or tear muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
- Don’t stretch or do mobility exercises immediately after an injury. Stretching and mobility work can worsen injuries. Give your body the time it needs to heal and repair itself.
- Don’t forget to do strength work. Your muscles need to be able to support your joints. Becoming more flexible is great to an extent, but as I mentioned earlier, having too much flexibility without enough strength can lead to hypermobility problems.
It takes intention and awareness to train safely. But as long as you take the right precautions, you can become more flexible and mobile at home without hurting yourself. Knowing how to improve flexibility and mobility can make your everyday life better and easier, and if it’s a goal of yours to do so, with time and effort, you can absolutely get there.