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How important is flexibility? It depends on your fitness goals



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There is no need to pursue a cat’s flexibility.

Harris Hui / Getty Images

People pursuing fitness often let flexibility slip away to pursue other goals, such as muscle building, lose weight and improvement of health markers. After all, we only have so much time to exercise, and flexibility training doesn’t offer the same benefits as run or weightlifting.

While everyone needs a little flexibility, you may be surprised – and glad – to learn that you don’t need to stretch as much as you think. In this article you will learn the benefits of flexibility (and the dangers of inflexibility), plus how flexible you really need to be.

Read more: Do you have to pay someone to help you stretch? I’ve been trying to find out

While you can certainly work on twisting yourself like the woman above, most of us never need to be that flexible.

How important is flexibility?

Flexibility is important – up to a point. However, it has been overhyped and glorified in the fitness industry, and it has become yet another seemingly unattainable fitness goal, as contortionists on Instagram want you to believe that flexibility means bending yourself into a human scorpion.

If you are an inflexible person, you will be happy to know that unless you really want to, you never have to be that flexible. However, everyone needs some degree of flexibility to avoid pain and injury.

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Amanda Capritto / CNET

How flexible do you have to be?

Not to sound vague, but everyone has to be flexible enough, and “enough” means different things to everyone. As a personal trainer, I have to say that this is the best way to put it. Everyone must be flexible enough to support their lifestyle and goals.

Not everyone needs the ability to do the splits, fold them in half, or twist their shoulders. Training for those feats is a waste of time if you just have to run, fall into a squat, or lift weights overhead. Common exercises require flexibility, but not to the same degree as the splits.

Your level of flexibility should reflect your physical pursuits and, like everything else in fitness, flexibility is fluid and can change over time to reflect new goals.

You can also view this from a daily functionality. Everyone must be flexible enough to complete daily activities without pain. Putting on socks, tying shoes, putting plates on high shelves and getting into the car all require some flexibility. If you’re not flexible enough to do these things without hurting, that’s the case definitely time to start stretching.

Benefits of flexibility

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Your stretch should reflect the activities you want to do in life.

Amanda Capritto / CNET

It’s that easy to do it cooling down part of your workout, but spending a few minutes stretching after exercise can significantly improve your flexibility over time. When your muscles become supple, you will reap these benefits:

  • Less risk of muscle and joint injuries
  • Less daily aches and pains
  • Ability to perform more types of workouts and exercises
  • Improved attitude
  • Better technique and form during sports

It’s worth noting that studies have shown that stretching does not reduce muscle soreness when performed right after a workout, contrary to popular belief. But after the workout, it’s still a good time to stretch, as your muscles are already warm from the workout.

What happens if you are not flexible?

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Working on your flexibility can save you some aches and pains.

Caroline Tompkins / Refinery29 / Getty Images

Imagine an old, unused rubber band lying in a desk drawer for years collecting dust. If you try to use it, it will likely break once it is stretched. It is tight and brittle from disuse. A nice new rubber band extends far beyond its static shape without any problems. This is the difference between rigid and flexible muscles.

Not stretching will shorten and tighten your muscles, putting them at greater risk of injury while you move. Muscle strains (also known as pulled muscles) occur when a muscle is stretched beyond its capacity. In severe cases, the muscle can tear completely. If your muscles are not flexible to begin with, it will be easier to bear a load.

However, there is more to it than just injuries. Limited flexibility can also lead to all-body discomfort on a daily basis and limit your ability to exercise and perform your daily tasks. For example, someone who is very inflexible may feel muscle pain when getting in and out.

Inflexibility also leads to muscle imbalances. Get a office worker, for example. Office workers sit with their hips at a 90-degree angle for hours. The quadriceps and hip muscles are shortened in this position while the hamstrings are extended. Tight hip flexors then pull on the pelvis and lead to a lower back pain.

If these dangers of inflexibility prompt you to stretch, keep in mind that contortionist tricks are no more helpful than simple stretches – just remember to be flexible enough.

Read more: The best workout equipment for your desk so you can exercise while you work

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.


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