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Normally we look to stretching exercises, and then yoga as ways to increase flexibility.

If you don't enjoy stretching and yoga, then increasing flexibility becomes a chore. What other activities are good for increasing flexibility?

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  • 3
    Perhaps we could help if we know what you needed the flexibility for? Are you a contortionist, basketball player, martial artist, etc? Mar 18 '11 at 18:54
  • 4
    @Sparafusile: I'm just a regular guy who can't touch his toes. :-) My flexibility is generally bad all over.
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Mar 19 '11 at 4:51
  • This is like saying, I want bigger muscles but I hate weights. Or, I want to run faster, but I hate running. Or, I want to lose weight but I can't stop eating cake. I could go on.
    – Chris
    Jan 5 at 17:17
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Any activity that requires a large range of motion will increase your flexibility, assuming you do it consistently and strive for proper technique: gymnastics, olympic weightlifting, martial arts, break dancing, parkour, climbing. Of course, dedicated stretching is going to be most effective of all, but doing some of these is better than nothing.

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  • Does anyone who uses this cite even look at science? Please give us some references for you claims.
    – Chris
    Jan 5 at 17:14
  • For anyone looking for references, some are available in my answer below.
    – max
    Jan 7 at 12:16
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The only activities I know of to increase flexibility are stretching. Don't look at it as a chore, look at it as a way for you to relax.

I personally find that I'm more likely to enjoy stretching if the environment is right. If I have to stretch in the middle of the weight room because the gym I'm in doesn't have a stretching area, I find that I don't enjoy it and feel like I'm going to get stepped on.

If it's a quiet area, then I find it more beneficial and relaxing.

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    +1 for don't get stepped on. I have munchkins running around, and every time I lie down they jump on me!
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Mar 19 '11 at 5:30
  • @Jay - That would drive me nuts :) But yeh, you know what I mean. Even in the gym it's easy to get self conscious when several people are grunting around you and you are trying to focus on your breathing.
    – jmort253
    Mar 19 '11 at 7:32
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    Couldn't agree more, the environment really helps.With the summer on its way, take off to a remote peaceful place in the countryside and just stretch out / meditate, its awesome! Also (this works for me) have a whisky, it instantly relaxes me and allows me to get to my maximum stretch much faster, and sometimes further!
    – user155695
    Apr 11 '11 at 18:31
  • There are numerous ways, beyond "stretching" that increase flexibility. Barbell good mornings, as an example, will stretch the hamstring and glutes as well as strengthen them.
    – Eric
    Jul 20 '15 at 21:24
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Tom Kurz' Flexibility Express, though not the most polished DVD, is a good source of mobility and flexibility exercises that go beyond basic stretching. He touches on dynamic strength exercises like back bridges, deep wide squats, overhead pressing from a squat, deadlifts, and divebomber push-ups as ways to work towards, for instance, the splits.

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You could technically focus on activities that rely on a large range of motion, however, in order to properly execute these activities, you need a certain level of flexibility to begin with (unless you want to risk a tear!) - so I'd stay away from those.

If you don't like basic stretching (assuming that you are talking about static stretching / holding one stretch for a certain amount of time), then try other methods of stretching. Dynamic stretching involves more movement and is more fast paced than static stretching. Foam rolling is like giving yourself a massage.

There are many options aside from static stretching!

Once your muscles are warmed up, they will be less stiff and the stretching will be less difficult. Also keep in mind that you really just need to hold each stretch for 30 seconds (min.) for the stretch to be effective.

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Great question. I agree with the other answer about regularly doing activities that require a large range of motion, but would like to add some technical detail to that. The key here is loaded stretching. You specifically select exercises with resistance curves that stretch the target muscles under load in their eccentric phase.

  • romanian deadlifts & back extensions -> hamstrings
  • pec flies & deep pushups -> pectoralis
  • dips -> anterior deltoid, pectoralis
  • bulgarian split squats -> psoas, rectus femoris
  • overhead tricep extensions & pullovers -> tricep long head, latissimus

You will notice that by just incorporating these exercises your flexibility will improve without any passive stretching. It's also superior in many ways to passive stretching (check references below) and also saves time! Passive stretching still has its place though, for example you won't be able to achieve a full pancake or split without it.

Edit: adding references.

https://www.bspnova.com/stop-wasting-your-time-with-stretching/

http://www.yorkvillephysiotherapy.com/video-blog/pub:39/Flexibility-workout-Stretching-vs-Strength-Trainin

https://www.strengthandpilatesphysiotherapy.com/post/strength-training-for-flexibility-and-injury-reduction-why-your-stretching-routine-isn-t-working

https://sweetscienceoffighting.com/stop-stretching-to-get-flexible-for-mma/

https://garrettmclaughlin.com/2019/05/15/5-movements-to-improve-lower-extremity-flexibility-without-stretching/

Here's the conclusion from a study "Strength Training versus Stretching for Improving Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis" https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9032/9/4/427/pdf

Overall, ST and stretching were not statistically different in ROM improvements, both in short-term interventions [71], and in longer-term protocols [78], suggesting that a combination of neural and mechanical factors is at play. However, the heterogeneity of study designs and populations precludes any definite conclusions and invites researchers to delve deeper into this phenomenon. Notwithstanding this observation, the qualitative effects were quite similar across studies. Therefore, if ROM gains are a desirable outcome, both ST and stretching reveal promising effects, but future research should better explore this avenue. In addition, the studies included in this review showed that ST had a few advantages in relation to stretching, as was explored in the discussion. Furthermore, session duration may negatively impact adherence to an exercise program [93]. If future research confirms that ST generates ROM gains similar to those obtained with stretching, clinicians may prescribe smaller, more time-effective programs when deemed convenient and appropriate, thus eventually increasing patient adherence rates.

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  • Does anyone who uses this cite actually read science? Please give us some citations for your claims.
    – Chris
    Jan 5 at 17:13
  • @Chris This is my anecdotal experience. Countless experts with decades of experience have the same opinion, google will tell you that. This site does not mandate citations for each answer.
    – max
    Jan 7 at 10:49
  • @Chris I've added references. Hope it makes you happy.
    – max
    Jan 7 at 12:01
-2

AFAIK there are differences between different kinds of exercise. Runners tend to be stiff, Zumba, Salsa etc is good for the hips.

Also I think warm stretching can be more efficient than (normal cold) Yoga. Martial Arts like Ta-know-Do with stretching should be very efficient. There is also fitness "Yoga" like Bikram and Asthanga where the body is warm. (Real Yoga is IMHO better in the long term)

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    While I've also found that yoga helps flexibility, so does running. Tae kwon do is also frequently taught with very inefficient stretching methods. Oct 7 '12 at 19:22
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    +1 on that, @DaveLiepmann - Too many martial arts instructors teach the same things they learned, whether or not it's good.
    – JohnP
    Aug 8 '13 at 22:24
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Try Stretching 5-10 minutes every day before you go to bed. at the end of the day, your muscles are loose so it will be easier to stretch before bed than after breakfast.

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    It would help if you could make your answer a bit longer and explain whether you are basing it on your own experience or maybe quote from an article that gave you this idea.
    – Baarn
    Oct 7 '12 at 18:57
  • And -1. While your muscles may be "looser" in the evening, they are still what is considered "cold". If you want to stretch in the evening, you should do at least 10 minutes of activity using the targeted stretch areas to warm up the muscles and prepare them. Stretching on cold muscles is a good way to injure yourself.
    – JohnP
    Aug 5 '13 at 14:48

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