Choose the right stretches

Choosing the most effective stretches to help you increase flexibility is key. Incorrect stretching can cause more tension or limit your results. A stretch should feel somewhat relaxing and release muscle tension. “If you feel pinching or sharp pain while stretching, I strongly recommend that you seek a mobility specialist or your doctor for help. Pain is our body’s way of letting us know that something is not right,” says occupational therapist Lindsay Sudell.

Physical therapist Paul Tran says that because our bodies are multidimensional, rotational stretching is more effective than unilateral stretching, which addresses one plane of the body. Our bodies need to turn, twist, and bend to perform our everyday tasks. Rotational stretching allows the body to practice these moves so we can do them more easily in real time.

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    The Play Mat
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    It’s thick—eight millimeters, twice as deep as a standard mat—which provides ample cushioning for all types of stretching.



Hold your stretches

Once you’ve established the best stretch, hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. “Holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds allows your muscles to reset their stretching limitations via a feedback loop between the brain and the nerve innervation of the muscle fibers. Shorter stretches do not provide enough time to increase your progress toward flexibility,” says Roberts.


Avoid overstretching

You don’t need to stretch for extended periods of time. “Many people think that they need to stretch for an hour each day to gain flexibility, but you can increase your flexibility with small bouts of regular stretching,” says Roberts.

Stretching for shorter amounts is helpful, and it can be a better use of your time. In some cases, says Tran, stretching for long periods of time—especially while doing the wrong type of stretch—can increase tightness instead of improving flexibility.


Release muscular knots

It’s important that the knots in our muscles (or what Tran calls trigger points) are released—they can cause inflexibility and lead to pain and injury. Tran says, “They can be released through stretch therapy or acupuncture or on your own with a firm ball, like a lacrosse or medicine ball.”

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    Bala Ball
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Take deep breaths

Being aware of your breathing while you stretch helps you relax the entire body, allowing for a deeper stretch.


Create proper desk ergonomics

Sitting at a desk all day can put stress on your neck and shoulders and create tightness in your hips and calves. Having appropriate desk ergonomics can make a huge impact over time. Sudell is a fan of standing desks, because changing positions helps to prevent tightness throughout the body. She recommends alternating between three positions: standing, sitting, and half kneeling (i.e., with one knee on the ground, supported by a pillow, and the other leg bent and angled to the side). “Just make sure not to stand on one leg with your hip popped. Doing so puts lots of pressure on the ligaments of your hip, which is not good,” Sudell says. “Standing on both legs distributes your weight properly.”


Incorporate heat

Heat can increase circulation and help the muscles relax. “Whether you’re able to warm up your muscles before stretching with physical activity, a hot shower, or a heat pack, it can increase the pliability of the tissue and allow for a deeper stretch,” Sudell says.

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Massage your muscles

“I like anything practical that can help, like the Theragun massagers. You just press a button and you can quickly help your muscles loosen up,” says Roberts.

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    Theragun Mini Rose
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    PowerDot 2.0 Duo
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    These electrical-stimulation pads are designed to help temporarily relieve muscle pain. And they can be used just about anywhere.



Do yoga

Of course, doing activities that promote flexibility, like yoga and Pilates, is helpful, too.

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    Manduka GRP Yoga Mat goop, $130

    GRP Yoga Mat
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    This mat is a slip-prevention staple: It allows you to focus more on moves and less on making mat adjustments. Plus, it has a good cushion for support. You can conveniently stretch along with Kyle Miller or Adriene Mishler at home or on the go.



Stretch with a therapist

Creating a tailored stretching plan with a therapist helps you achieve your desired flexibility and mobility. “You get the most effective stretching when you’re physically relaxed (mentally and emotionally, too), doing the appropriate stretches for your needs, and holding the stretch for enough time,” Roberts says. “A stretch therapist can help you incorporate all these.”