One thing that helps everyone achieve their fitness goals is improving their range of motion. The more flexibility you acquire, the easier it'll be to perform assorted movements and workouts. Have you been looking for flexibility exercises that gently help improve your range of motion? We've got you covered with 10 different ones.
These exercises are dynamic stretches, meaning you'll feel a stretch as you move through them but won't have to hold any positions for extended periods of time. Many of these exercises focus on the upper and/or lower back because our core is so integral to our fitness, and the more range of motion it has, the more varied exercises we can perform. We asked two trainers for their favorite flexibility exercises; read on to discover how you can improve your range of motion.
Meet the Expert
- Nico Gonzalez is an integrated movement specialist, a master instructor for Balanced Body Education, and a master trainer for Vital Online Wellness.
- Joy Puleo is a PMA-CPT, Balanced Body Education Program Manager, and Pilates expert.
Safety and Precautions
A balance of caution and stretch is everything here! Never overextend yourself in any move. Start slowly, possibly not even completing moves fully, until you are warmed up and feel that a greater range of motion is possible. Little by little, work up to bigger moves and stretches. If you have any injuries, take care in those areas and avoid any exercises that cause pain.
Standing Roll Downs
- Stand tall, with your knees and toes facing forward.
- Slowly tuck your chin downward toward your neck.
- Continue the motion by rolling your head, chest, and ribs down toward the floor. Gonzalez says to "imagine rolling a towel and keep the roll right toward your legs," noting that your back should round and your knees should not lock.
- Pause for 4-8 breaths at the point just before your knees bend, then slowly roll back up. Puleo says that "if you feel at all vulnerable on the return to upright, bend your knees and place your hands on your thighs as you roll up."
Cross Back Side Stretch
- Stand tall and place one foot behind the other, so that your feet are crossed behind you.
- On the side with the foot you've crossed behind, reach up with that arm overhead, and gently stretch toward the opposite side. Gonzalez instructs: "As you pull, gently shift your hips toward the side to increase the stretch."
- Gently return your arm back, then repeat. You should feel this in your lower back and hip flexors.
Puleo recommends trying this exercise in a doorway. When you stretch your arm up overhead, grab on to the doorway, stretch, then rotate your full body toward it to get an additional stretch through your entire side.
Rockin’ Figure 4
- Lay down on the floor or a mat on your back. Draw your legs up so that your knees are bent.
- Place the ankle of one leg atop the knee of the other by crossing your leg. Gonzalez says that " this will look like a seated wide leg crossed position."
- Use your hand to press into the thigh of the top leg, helping it to stretch, then rock your hips and legs from side to side. Puleo tells us that " the rocking is essential as it makes the stretch dynamic and also relieves the lower back."
- Release your leg and repeat on the other side.
Seated Knee Sways
- Sit on the floor or a mat with your legs bent. Your ankles should be on the floor hip-width apart.
- Place your hands behind you.
- Move your legs in a rocking motion from side to side. Gonzalez says that you should "work on pressing your hands into the floor to keep your shoulders from shrugging. Imagine showing off your neck the entire time." This warms your hips and improves the flexibility of your lower back.
Kneeling Thread the Needle
- On the floor or a mat, kneel on your hands and knees. Your hands should be under your shoulders, and your knees under your hips.
- Release one arm and swing it out to the side, keeping your abs braced. Gonzalez says that it should look "like an airplane wing."
- Glide the moving arm back down and under your support arm, like threading a needle. Your moving arm is the thread, and your stable arm is the needle's eye. Your moving shoulder should be near the floor.
- Slide your arm back out and repeat. You should feel your shoulder blades loosening as you perform the move.
- Kneel on the floor with your arms slightly in front of you. Your knees should be under your hips, but your hands should be several inches in front of your shoulders.
- Rock your hips forward, through which you should feel a strength in your hip flexors.
- Press your chest forward and up, so that you feel a stretch through your torso and your abs.
- Continue the motion, rocking back and forth to loosen your hips, back, and torso.
High Kneeling Reach Back
- Kneel on the floor, sitting tall, with your arms out in front of you at chest level. Gonzalez says to imagine a straight line from your ears to the side of your knee, and to keep that straight line through the movement.
- Hinge your body back, and reach one arm out behind you.
- Twist and touch that arm to that side's foot, keeping your hips pressed forward.
- Return to your starting position and switch sides.
- This move works an assortment of muscles. To perform it best, Puleo says that "when you lean back, you should feel the front of your quads work as they lengthen, the hip flexors open, and the torso lengthen. Adding the rotation as you lean back mobilizes the spine while lengthening simultaneously. "
Standing Round & Extend
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your chest proud.
- Bend your knees slightly as you round your back and lift your arms, rounding them as well. Gonzalez tells us to "imagine hugging the biggest tree, with your arms wrapping around it."
- Lift yourself back to standing, reaching your arms back behind while lifting your torso to the sky. Puleo says that this "quick and easy stretch gets your spine moving between flexion and extension," which prevents injury as your move through life.
Side Lunge Twist
- Stand with your toes and knees pointing forward and your legs out several inches wider than your hips. Gonzalez instructs that "staying in parallel will keep your knees in a safe position throughout the movement."
- Bend one knee, and lower and twist your torso toward it. Your other leg should not move. Reach your arm on the opposite side toward the ceiling as you bend into your knee.
- Slowly return upright, and repeat on that side or switch sides.
Kneeling Shoulder Glides Front & Back
- Kneel on the floor or a mat, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders.
- Lower your chest toward the floor by squeezing your shoulder blades together. You should feel the pressure in your upper back as you press into that area.
- Spread your shoulder blades back apart, and press into the floor with your hands. This should feel like your upper back is extending upward. Gonzalez instructs us to "try to keep your spine long without flexing or extending it" throughout the move, focusing the motion only in your shoulder blades in your upper back.
- Repeat. Puleo says that this movement will help you get better results with both sit-ups and chest presses.
Improving your range of motion and flexibility can enhance your fitness and help you achieve your goals. By performing dynamic exercises that focus on loosening and stretching your muscles, you can accomplish more in your fitness regimen. Start slowly with flexibility exercises, and remember that it's okay not to perform full ranges of motion at first. If you have any injuries, exercise additional caution, and avoid any moves that cause you pain. Little by little, you can become a more flexible person, with a larger range of motion, and exercises like these can help get you there.