The best way to increase muscle flexibility is through regular, gentle stretching. Increased flexibility is important because it can improve balance and coordination, improve posture, prevent injury while exercising, and shorten recovery time after an injury. Stretching should be an important part of every workout, but to increase muscle flexibility, it is important to stretch properly.
In the past, it was often recommended that one stretch before an aerobic workout, while the muscles are still cold. This recommendation has changed, however, as it has been shown that stretching cold muscles can lead to injury. Instead, warm up before a workout with a brisk walk, and wait to stretch until the muscles are warm. Most people generally just wait until the end of their workouts to stretch.
The most basic way to stretch is simply to gradually and gently stretch the muscles until you can feel the physical stretch. Never bounce into the stretch, which can cause the muscle to rapidly expand and contract, leading to muscle pulls. Try to stretch muscles in all areas of the body. If sharp pain ever occurs, stop stretching immediately, as this can be a sign of an injury.
Some people use tools to help them stretch and increase muscle flexibility, such as a large exercise ball or foam roller. Often, lying back on the foam roller or fitness ball can stretch and open the muscles of the chest and abdomen, which can be challenging to stretch otherwise. It is important to stretch these muscles, however, because increasing flexibility in this area can increase muscle flexibility in the back, which can help to prevent lower back injury.
One common type of stretching to increase muscle flexibility is known as Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF. This type of stretching is done with a partner, and involves one person stretching a muscle until it is tight, then contracting the muscle while the partner holds the limb in place, or provides resistance, then trying to gently stretch the muscle further than before. Before trying this type of stretching, be sure to research it thoroughly and understand how it works.
Yoga and Pilates are two excellent methods of increasing muscle flexibility. These strengthen, stretch, and tone the muscles over the entire body, and an instructor may be able to make modifications for individual people. Finally, some people use massage to relax tired muscles; though this may not increase flexibility, it may allow muscles to heal more easily after an injury or a tough workout.