Remember being a little kid and practicing gymnastics? In retrospect, it seemed like most of us could do cartwheels, handstands, and even splits. Unfortunately, with age comes a steady decline in flexibility, and those limber days are long gone for most people. What many of us tend to forget is that flexibility is, well, flexible. We may have less of it than we used to—and chances are, you're a good bit less flexible than you were in childhood—but we can also work on improving it, often leading to shocking results.
According to fitness trainer Traci Copeland, improving flexibility is important as it can enhance your range of motion and allow you to get deeper into certain fitness moves like sumo squats. If you've wanted to return your flexibility to the days of yore, you're in luck. It's possible to become more flexible again, especially if you focus on stretching enough. Ahead, we asked trainers Hailey Andrew and Jessa Olson to help us round up a full dozen workout moves, from stretches to rotations to lunges, to help you increase your flexibility.
Meet the Expert
Safety and Precautions
These moves are based on the fine balance of knowing when to say when. Stretching and flexibility moves are generally safe for people without injuries, but only you can tell when to push and when to relax when it comes to your flexibility. We encourage you to start gently and slowly with these moves and to take extra care with any places where you feel especially tight. Andrew says that "prior to exercise, the best way to increase your mobility is to perform dynamic stretches in order to stimulate your tendinous and muscle reflexes that aid in proprioception (recognition of where your body is in space). This prevents injury by increasing flexibility for your upper and lower body and gets your heart pumping blood."
- While standing or seated in a chair, relax your shoulders so they are as low as possible.
- Inhale and draw your shoulders up toward your ears. Olson tells us that "with the shoulders by your ears, it will look like a kid saying, 'I don’t know.'”
- Exhale and return to your starting position.
Standing Side Bends
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Raise your hands over your head and interlace your fingers. Olson says your palms should face toward the ceiling.
- Inhale and straighten your spine while you drop shoulders away from yours ears.
- Exhale and lean to one side. You should keep your shoulders down, stacked evenly over your hips.
- Inhale and return to the center, then exhale to other side. Repeat.
- Stand tall. Your legs should be together.
- Extend one arm straight in front of you, then step and kick the opposite leg straight up. Aim to touch your kicking toe with your extended hand.
- Return your leg to starting and switch sides as you walk, kicking the other leg up and the other arm forward.
To prevent injury, Andrew says to "begin slow and monitor how [your] hamstrings and back feel as you kick forward and reach."
- Sit on the floor. Your knees should be bent in front of you, hip-width apart.
- Rotate both of your knees to one side. Aim to flatten them to the ground while you sit forward through your torso. Andrew tells us to keep your truck "in an upright posture and squeeze shoulder blades back with shoulders down in order to protect spine."
- Rotate to the opposite side, and repeat.
- From a standing position, bend to plant one heel on the ground.
- Slowly lunge to the side. Lower as close to the ground as you can, turning your bent knee inward. Andrew says to push your glutes "out behind you, and rotate feet with knee rotation to not aggravate major ligaments in the knees."
- Return back to your starting position and repeat.
- While standing, place hands on a doorframe. Situate your feet close to the frame.
- Push your hips back, and allow your back to slowly release. Hold this V position.
- Hang as you are. Or for more of a challenge, Andrew says to walk your hands along the frame "to target sore areas of your back and shoulders."
- Stand tall with your feet forward and touch your heels together next to each other.
- Push up through your toes, aiming to land on your tiptoes. Olson instructs us to "make sure the heels are touching the entire time."
- Return to your starting position, then switch to your toes touching instead of your heels.
- Push up through your toes, aiming to land on your tiptoes.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat with both your heels and your toes.
- Standing with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips, step one foot forward.
- Lower yourself down into a high lunge with your knees bent 90 degrees. Olson says your "ankle and knee should align."
- Hold, pressing your back knee down toward the ground.
- Lift up through your front leg, and conduct the same movement on your other side. This move will make physical progress, like walking.
- Start in a downward facing dog pose.
- Step one foot forward to the outside of that side's hand. Exhale. As you do so, move your toes to be in line with your fingers.
- Inhale and press your elbows to the floor until your forearms are flat. If you're unable to do this, Andrew says to remain up on your hands, "but try to maintain bent knee on outside of arms."
- Exhale and straighten your arms.
- Inhale back to downward dog, then repeat on the other side.
Modified Back Bends
- Using a yoga wheel or ball, lay on your back over the equipment. if you are new to this exercise, Andrew recommends you "select a smaller ball and perform very slowly or have a spotter."
- Push your back toward the floor and plant your hands on the ground. Andrew says to allow your head and neck to follow your hands.
- Return to your starting position gently and slowly.
Directional Hip Swings
- Stand tall and hold onto a railing or barre. If you don't have a railing or barre accessible, Andrew suggests something else that is hip height and sturdy. A chair would work in a pinch.
- Swing one leg forward and back. Think of using your hip as a hinge. Andrew says to swing side to side, crossing in front of your body and then out to the side. She recommends you keep your core engaged "by imagining drawing belly button up and back to spine and not rotating trunk."
- Return to your starting position, and perform the move on the other side.
- Lay on your stomach on the floor or a mat.
- Lift up through your chest.
- Lift one leg up toward the hand on that side, drawing your heel in toward your glutes. Grab onto the toes of that foot.
- Release your toes and let your foot lower back to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
To prevent injury in this move, Andrew recommends padding underneath your knees.
No matter how tight your muscles are, these varied exercises can help improve your flexibility. They hit muscle groups throughout your body, enabling you to slowly regain the flexibility you thought you'd lost no matter which muscles of yours feel tight and inflexible. Be sure to start gently with these moves so that you don't strain or pull your muscles, and err on the side of caution if anything feels questionable. Little by little, with workout moves like these you can be more flexible than you thought possible!
McKay MJ, Baldwin JN, Ferreira P, et al. Normative reference values for strength and flexibility of 1,000 children and adults. Neurology. 2017;88(1):36-43.
Simão R, Lemos A, Salles B, et al. The influence of strength, flexibility, and simultaneous training on flexibility and strength gains. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(5):1333-1338.