If you struggle with being less flexible than you’d like to be, you’re not alone.
Most of us could stand to be a little more flexible, and some of us more than just a little!
- tight hamstrings or shoulders
- feeling stiff and immobile
- restricted physical movement
All of these things are common symptoms of poor flexibility.
The problem with most flexibility programs/articles is they present a cookie-cutter approach for everybody in general. And they have to, because it’s difficult to prescribe a specific approach if you don’t understand an individual’s particular needs and current condition.
The trick to getting flexible fast is figuring out what you need to work on in particular and getting the job done efficiently. It takes a bit of self-reflection and assessment but you’ll make much better gains than just following someone else’s routine.
In this article, I’ll show you four simple steps to rapidly improve YOUR flexibility.
Why Forcing Yourself Won’t Improve Your Flexibility
It seems that as people begin and continue on with their exercise and fitness regimens, they always feel as if they should work on their flexibility, even if they already have a dedicated practice in place.
Why is that? Is it because everybody says you should?
If so, well, that’s not a very good reason. And maybe you don’t have to spend so much time on your flexibility after all.
It seems strange for us to say that, since flexibility training is a big part of our programs here at GMB. But if you are getting through your day and your recreational activities without sensations of stiffness or tightness, then you probably don’t need to make flexibility training your top priority.
If however, you do feel stiffness or tightness and can’t seem to put your shoes on in the morning without some serious effort, then some flexibility training may be exactly what you need.
Below, I’ll show you how to improve your flexibility quickly (and safely). It just requires having focus, motivation, and ironically, a lot of patience.
4 Steps to Getting Flexible Fast
In our hectic lifestyles, going from home responsibilities to work responsibilities and back again, we barely have time to get a regular workout routine in.
It’s hard enough to find even 45 minutes for the whole training session, let alone another 20 minutes or so to stretch out where we need to.
Instead of wasting time with inefficient, cookie-cutter routines, follow these steps:
1. Figure Out Your Flexibility Goal
First of all, let’s clarify why you want to stretch and work on your flexibility. There are a lot of reasons floating around out there as to why you should stretch.
- Decrease soreness after a workout
- Decrease risk of injury
- Improve performance
- Improve range of motion
- Reduce pain
Actually, it may be surprising you to learn that the benefits of stretching are controversial and far from conclusive. In fact there is a fair amount of evidence that stretching isn’t as helpful as you’d think for decreasing pain and chance of injury.
In this article the author eventually comes to the conclusion that stretching is only good for improving flexibility… and it “feels pleasant.”
Well, frankly those are the only reasons to stretch!
Our stance on flexibility work at is that “if you cannot actively attain a position you’d like, then you need to find a way to get to that range of motion.”
Yes, it really is that simple.
So how do you know if you need to stretch?
- If you have poor form in a handstand because your arms don’t fully raise above your head, then you need to stretch.
- If you want to play with your kids but you have trouble getting down on the floor because you’re too tight, then you need to stretch.
As we’ve said before, you have to find your right motivation.
Many people may tell you “that you MUST stretch” for a variety of reasons, but don’t worry about it. Instead, focus on the motivating factor for you.
Find your own personal reason, as that will get you to your objective much quicker and take you much further than some other contrived justification.
2. Determine What’s Holding You Back
Once you have that goal in mind, you’ll next want to find out what in particular is hindering you from achieving it.
And it’s much more than “I have to stretch out more.” Sure you do, but do you know what you need to stretch? Everything? Well, that would take a pretty long time!
It may be that you have a difficult time bending forward to touch your toes, and that would naturally make you think that your hamstrings are too tight but there are quite a few other things that could be restrictors as well, such as your low back, hip flexors, glutes, etc.
So you’ll need a good way to quickly assess what is specifically binding up your movement.
I developed a series of Basic Assessment Positions that cover the whole body and lead you to find your tightest positions.
You’ll start by working on those primary restrictions, as resolving those tends to help everything else as well. It’s like untangling a rope – once you find the primary knot, the rest unravels pretty easily.
The stretching you do will now be more efficient and is the best use of your time, since you’ll be working on the most important stretches for your needs.
3. Get Flexible Faster By Slowing Down
The difficulty in trying to get flexible as quickly as possible is that most people need to tone it down.
You don’t improve stretching tolerance by going so far that it hurts.
In fact, that would likely impede your progress. It is both a reflexive and conscious action to draw back from a painful stimulus.
The inability to move in a certain range of motion because of “tightness” can be related to several factors:
- Soft tissue scarring (actual structural adhesions preventing motion)
- Joint hypomobility (restrictions at the joint itself due to injury or congenital factors)
- Higher resting muscle tone (the muscle’s resistance to stretch at rest)
The first two factors are best addressed by consulting a professional in person, but the last leads to the reason why most people need to go a bit more slowly in their stretching regimen.
Muscle Tone, Not Intensity Determines Your Flexibility Gains
Though there are some medical conditions that can cause a very high muscle tone, most of us just have varying degrees of the level, and this explains why some people are naturally more or less flexible than others.
It’s only natural to go for intensity when you are exercising and are focused on a goal.
This is great for pushing through fatigue to build stamina and endurance but for improving flexibility, fighting this natural tone is a losing battle.
Instead, you are better off coaxing your body into improved flexibility.
Easing into it rather than going “hardcore” is going to get you better results. Here’s why:
Across the board, clients that have listened to this advice are achieving much better success.
I took my time and really focused on Jarlo’s advice about not pushing. Toward the end I began to feel how my muscles would resist straight pushing but relax into softer rhythmic pushing cycles letting me get deeper. A very nice session.
- Kevin K.
There are periods of time where really pushing yourself harder into the stretched position is useful, but these are at more advanced levels of flexibility training.
And by no means will it be the majority of your training, they are done a small percentage of the time to make a small percentage of gains. If you feel so tight that you have trouble touching your toes, you definitely don’t need to be doing this style.
4. Follow Your Plan As Consistently As Possible
You’ve now figured out your personal goal, identified your restrictions, and improved your approach to stretching by toning it down. The last, but not least, thing to do is to follow a consistent plan of attack and do it as regularly as you can.
Your plan has been formed from your personal goals and mobility restrictions.
For example, in our stretching program there are sample routines for people that are stuck at a desk all day at work and want to counteract that posture and improve their hip and back flexibility, and for runners that need some extra work to keep their running technique perfect and efficient.
Those are just a couple of examples of the various plans that are made based on an individual’s personal situation.
The gains from this plan build up from session to session and that’s a matter of consistent practice and giving your body a chance to adapt to those gains.
Getting Specific with Your Stretching Routine
The answers to what you need to do to improve your flexibility lie within you and your current condition and specific needs.
And that’s why getting a baseline assessment of your abilities is important for creating a program that is fully customized for you.
Retaining Your Flexibility Once You Have It
You may have experienced the phenomenon of improved range of motion at the end of one workout, only to have it nearly disappear the next time you work on your stretching. It doesn’t do you any good to make a change only to lose ground again. This certainly won’t get you where you want faster if you are getting pushed backwards again and again.
This may happen to people because of the body’s natural tendency to revert to what it perceives as the normal condition. Our bodies are actually averse to big changes in short periods of time.
Homeostasis and the set point theory indicate that our bodies like the status quo.
And big swings away from your current condition can set off alarm bells. It’s one of the reasons behind yo-yo weight changes where people lose or gain a bunch of weight only to revert back to their previous condition again.
A great way to prevent this from happening is getting your body accustomed to this new flexibility.
Actively explore your movement in and out of new ranges of motion and your body will interpret this as a “new normal.”
This is more than just contracting your muscles in that stretched position.
You should take some time to concentrate and go slowly in and out of the new positions. Doing this in a variety of ways and really exploring your movement will reinforce your flexibility improvements and help you keep the gains in your range of motion.
To Get Flexible, You Have to Get Started
It can be difficult to know where to start with flexibility training. There’s a tremendous amount of information out there, and much of it is conflicting. Do this, don’t do that, it’s enough to stop you before you even begin.
Well, the four steps outlined above will help you get to where you want to go. Here’s a quick review:
- Determine your real flexibility needs
- Figure out where you’re most stiff
- Be patient and consistent with your flexibility work
- Stick to a stretching plan (don’t try to wing it)
One thing that won’t work is doing nothing.
You simply can’t expect to improve your flexibility by sitting around wishing you could do a split. You have to get started if you want to get results.
Whatever you do, remember that flexibility doesn’t come easy to most of us. Almost everybody you see doing splits had to work hard to get there.
Our free Flexibility Resource Guide is specifically designed to give you stretching exercises that target your hips, shoulders, back, and hamstrings.
Our guide also helps you troubleshoot tricky situations like what to do if you can’t get into the right position, what to do if a certain stretch causes pain, or what to do if you get stuck and can’t make progress.