• Introduction
  • Basics of increasing flexibility
  • Best methods for increasing flexibility
  • Static stretching
  • Passive stretching
  • PNF stretching
  • Isometric stretching
  • Sample routines for increasing flexibility
  • Suitability for developing athletes and physical education
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources


Increasing flexibility is especially important for athletes because it can substantially help prevent injuries. Added mobility can also be especially important for technique in certain sports. These include aesthetic activities, such as figure skating, gymnastics and dance.

We’ve also written a theory page on the mechanics of overall flexibility and why it is so important. So if you haven’t read it yet we highly suggest you do it here.

If you already know the main factors of overall mobility and want to maintain or even improve it, you’ve found the right article! Here you’ll be able to learn all you need to take your flexibility increasing exercises to the next level. There are even a few free samples to try out!

Basics of increasing flexibility

Increasing your flexibility requires longer stretches. It is as simple as that. So, if you want to be more flexible you should perform very long stretches ranging from 45 seconds to several minutes at a time. As the goal here is to increase the flexibility of your connective tissue and increase your stretch tolerance, the only real limiting factor here is your own level of comfort. While deeper stretches can sometimes be uncomfortable, you need to learn the difference between good pain and bad pain. The most common rule of thumb is that you should experience light tension in the muscle during a stretch, while still being able to relax in that position for an extended amount of time. If you feel any discomfort or even pain, you should back off from a stretch immediately or stop stretching altogether. The last thing you want is to injure yourself by stretching the wrong way.

Because increasing flexibility relies on your ability to hold the same position for a long time, you must also find a way to be as comfortable as possible during a deep stretch. Therefore, you must maintain controlled breathing throughout every flexibility exercise. Not only does this have a relaxing effect on the nervous system which helps you go deeper into each stretch, but it can also be used for moving from one position to another. If you want, you may even use equipment such as blocks or yoga straps to make each stretch more manageable.

”Increasing your flexibility is a marathon, not a race.”

Warming up is another crucial element in increasing your flexibility. In fact, it might be even more important for longer static stretching than it is for dynamic stretching. The reason for this is that a proper warmup reduces the friction inside your muscles and improves your range of motion. Thus, it lets you go deeper into individual stretches without the fear of getting injured.

Long and static flexibility exercises should also be trained separately from other training sessions. Meaning, you should have a specific training routine that focuses purely on increasing the flexibility in your body. So, leave weight training and high-intensity exercises for another time.

Here’s how you should create a stretching routine to improve your flexibility.

Increasing Flexibility

Long static stretches, Yoga etc.Bodyweight or lightly assisted stretching45s - 5min stretches1 - 3 setsNo rest between stretches3 times a week as its own training session

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Best methods for increasing flexibility

While every stretching method that aims to improve overall flexibility consists of very long stretches, there are still a few different methods on how to perform them. Since you must maintain a certain position for a longer time, increasing flexibility relies on four different stretching styles; static stretching, passive stretching (also known as static-passive stretching), PNF stretching (partner-assisted stretching) and isometric stretching. 

Static stretching

Static stretching refers to flexibility exercises that involve no movement. While this sounds very similar to passive stretching they still have some minor differences. For example, static stretching describes your ability to stretch a muscle to its farthest point and maintaining that position whereas passive stretching refers to stretching a relaxed muscle by using external force. 

Static stretching is the most widely used stretching method and a great way to relax after training, return muscles to their resting length and boost recovery. It can even be used for increasing flexibility when performed as its own training session. The biggest benefit of static stretching is its versatility – it is safe regardless of your age or athletic background and offers flexibility and performance benefits for a wide variety of individuals. 

Passive stretching

Passive stretching, also known as static-passive or relaxed stretching, refers to stretching a relaxed muscle with the help of external force, such as your body weight, gravity or even light additional weight. You can even ask your training partner to apply light pressure on you while you stretch. The most important factor in passive stretching is remembering to stay relaxed and not contracting the muscles you are stretching. If you are stretching with a partner, you can ask them to gently move you from one position to another to stay relaxed throughout the whole exercise. Staying fully relaxed also makes sure that you can stay in specific stretches for longer periods at a time.

Because passive stretching is very gentle for your muscles, joints and ligaments, it is widely used for rehabilitation purposes as well as increasing flexibility for athletic purposes.

PNF stretching

PNF stretching, also known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, is a form of pre-contraction stretching that refers to flexibility exercises performed with a partner. PNF stretching is also currently the fastest known method for increasing overall flexibility. 

The theory behind PNF stretching is that it inhibits the body’s natural stretch reflex that forces muscles to contract during stretching in an attempt to prevent overstretching injuries. To silence the painful signal your brain sends, you must first assume a static stretching position for 10-30s and then contract the same muscles you are already stretching for 5-6s. This stops your muscles from contracting during a stretch, letting you gradually go deeper into a stretch. As a result, you’ll be able to improve your flexibility relatively quickly. 

Because PNF stretching utilizes resistance on a stretched muscle, it is not suitable for inexperienced athletes. In fact, this type of stretching is one of the most injury-prone flexibility training methods out there, which is why it is often performed with an exercise professional and usually in a clinical setting during rehabilitation. For extra safety measures, you should never put too much pressure on your stretch – light muscle tension is enough as long as you don’t feel any discomfort. 

Isometric stretching

Isometric stretching is a form of static stretching that involves tensing a muscle that is already being stretched. The word isometric refers to any sort of muscle work that involves no motion or change in a muscle’s length. These types of stretches are also considered to be way more effective in improving overall flexibility than static or passive stretching. Furthermore, since isometric stretching utilizes a muscle contraction, it can even improve strength in a new range of motion. However, you must keep in mind that isometric stretching is an advanced stretching method and therefore often requires professional guidance to perform safely and effectively. 

Isometric stretches are performed by first assuming a comfortable static stretch and then tensing those very muscles. Much like with PNF stretching, this silences your body’s natural stretch reflex and prevents your muscles from contracting during a stretch. This, of course, lets you go deeper and challenge your flexibility even more.

Longer static stretches improve your stretch tolerance, which lets you go deeper into stretches without pain.

Physiological benefits of very long flexibility exercises

Long static stretches offer a number of benefits for both your performance and your overall well-being. These include improved range of motion, better posture, reduced injury risk as well as stress relief. However, while these can be beneficial in some sports, you should remember that there is no real reason to improve flexibility past the needs of your own sport. In fact, added flexibility may even have a negative effect in activities that rely on elastic energy of the stretch-shortening cycle. After all, the tighter the rubber band is, the faster it will spring back. 

Improved range of motion is the biggest benefit of a consistent stretching routine. While the relationship between stretching and increased mobility are well documented in sports science, we are still somewhat unaware as to why we become more flexible in the first place. Some studies have found that longer static stretches can temporarily elongate the muscles, but this effect does not last for long. Additionally, stretching doesn’t make tendons and ligaments more flexible either, because their whole purpose is to maintain the structural integrity of the body. Too much flexibility can even destabilize joints and make you more prone to injuries. The most well-known explanation for increased flexibility is that your stretch tolerance becomes better. In a way, you get used to stretching because your nervous system stops sending a painful signal warning your muscles from stretching too far. This lets you go significantly deeper without your muscles involuntarily contracting as they try to prevent possible injuries. 

Better posture is another huge benefit of regular stretching. The reason why this happens is that consistent stretching improves joint range of motion as well as maintains the active length of a muscle. This means that while you are not able to increase the length of a muscle because they are connected to fixed points in the bone, regular stretching ensures that they are not in a constant contracted or stiff state. In fact, tight and stiff muscles can steadily pull your limbs towards unwanted positions, leading to bad posture and unbalanced muscular strength between working muscles (agonists) and their opposing muscles (antagonists). This can also make your muscles fatigue quicker, which can significantly hinder your athletic performance and increase the risk of injuries. 

Stress relief is also a significant benefit of long stretches, which is due to the fact that consistent and controlled breathing has a relaxing effect on the nervous system. Focusing fully on your breathing also helps take your mind off other daily activities, offering you a much-needed time off from work-related stress. On top of that, long stretches also relieve neck pain, back pain, headaches and other psychosomatic symptoms, providing plenty of mental health benefits too.

Increasing passive flexibility also improves your active flexibility.

Sample routines for increasing flexibility

We know that increasing your flexibility can seem like a daunting and time-consuming task. But, that’s also the reason why we wanted to lend you a helping hand. Here you can find a few different stretching programs for increasing your flexibility and say goodbye to those stiff muscles.

With these tips, you’ll even be able to perform better and stay free of injuries. Just click through to find the best fit for your needs.

Yoga style sample 1

1. Seated forward fold

  • Keep your legs straight and touch your toes
  • 4min stretch
  • Slow and controlled breathing

2. Seated butterfly

  • Bring the bottoms of you feet together and spread your knees
  • 4min stretch
  • Slow and controlled breathing

3. Pigeon pose

  • From a plank position, bring your other knee across your body and put weight on it
  • 4min stretch on both sides
  • Slow and controlled breathing

4. Seated half wide leg stretch

  • Spread your legs 90° and fold forward
  • 4min stretch
  • Slow and controlled breathing

5. Hero pose

  • Sit on your knees and bend backwards to stretch the quads
  • 4min stretch
  • Slow and controlled breathing

Note that we are not responsible for any injuries that may occur during these drills or practices. Always remember to train within your own limits and at the guidance of a professional instructor. 

PNF stretching is considered the most effective way to improve flexibility.

Suitability for developing athletes and physical education

Whether you are a young developing athlete or a seasoned professional, you can always increase your flexibility and enjoy the benefits that it provides. In fact, stretching is one of the most crucial factors in maintaining good posture and an adequate range of motion. This is especially important for growing athletes because they tend to forget the importance of body maintenance between sports-specific training. One of the reasons for this is that they’ve yet to experience any negative side-effects of reduced mobility or bad posture, which is why coaches and teachers should instill a habit of stretching early on. However, the good thing is that the early teenage years are considered to be the sensitivity period for flexibility training. This refers to the time in your life when flexibility is the easiest to maintain and improve. In fact, if you can maintain your mobility throughout puberty, you are more likely to remain flexible throughout your life. 

While longer static stretches have a positive effect on your range of motion, it is essential to remember that since they have a relaxing effect on your body, they can significantly hinder your strength, power and endurance capabilities if performed before exercise. With this in mind, stretches that aim to increase flexibility should always be performed as their own training routine, combined with a well-planned warmup. Another thing to consider is performing the two safest stretching methods, static and passive stretching, when working with growing athletes. These methods do not incorporate movement, contraction, or tensing a stretched muscle which makes them less prone to muscle and ligament injuries. If you are unsure how to increase flexibility in the safest way possible, feel free to consult a professional trainer to make sure you can progress and stay healthy in the process. 

Final thoughts

Flexibility may be the most overlooked physical attribute in an athlete’s training program. However, numerous studies show that maintaining or even increasing flexibility can have a tremendous effect on your overall performance.

Good flexibility is crucial for athletic development because it not only promotes good posture, but it also maintains the strength and flexibility balance between agonist (the muscle responsible for movement) and antagonist (inhibiting movement) muscles. If these two factors are not properly balanced, you’re putting your body at a greater risk of injury. Additionally, if your muscles are used to stretching even in sudden situations, they are less likely to tear. The same goes for the joints, ligaments and tendons.

Furthermore, it is easier to maintain your flexibility throughout puberty than trying to increase flexibility later on. One way to prevent your muscles from becoming stiff is by utilizing their full range of motion while exercising. With these beneficial factors in mind, there’s absolutely no reason to not perform longer stretches and improve your overall wellness. After all, there are zero downsides in being flexible.

But before you go and get your stretch on, there are still a few things you should consider. The easiest, safest and the most effective way to increasing your flexibility is to remember these few tips:

  • Improving flexibility requires its own training session, don’t combine it with strength training etc.
  • Warm up well! It reduces friction inside the muscle
  • Use the same range of motion that your sport requires
  • Perform long (45s-5min) flexibility exercises to stretch muscles and tendons
  • Perform every stretch 1-3 times
  • Control your breath while stretching
  • Great for mindfulness exercises

Did you learn anything new about increasing flexibility? Let us know in the comments below!


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