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Benefits of being flexible

The benefits of being flexible

Words: Melanie Dimmitt

Image: Marceau Photography

While flicking out a floor-grazing split might make for a killer party trick, physical flexibility, in its many forms, has benefits that stretch far and wide into every facet of your life. How do we get flexible? It’s a mixture of joint mobility and muscular flexibility. When you stretch a muscle, you elongate the muscle fibres and allow your body to move into a greater range of motion. The more flexible you are, the more you can do with your bod and (when combined with strength and stability) the healthier it will be. Then there are the psychological perks – such as stress-reduction – to consider. Need some inspiration to limber up? Here are a handful of the many benefits that come with flexibility.

YOU’LL STAND TALLER

Never will you see a slouching ballerina. Good flexibility improves our general posture and ergonomics, as our bodies – particularly those that are hunched over a desk all day – have a tendency to allow certain muscles (we’re looking at you hip flexors, hamstrings and traps) to tighten up. Those tense muscles take their toll on our spine’s alignment, so to be sure you’re rocking a healthy ‘S’ shape, stretch out every day. Added bonus: it’ll also lengthen your muscles for a longer, leaner look.

WORKOUTS WILL FEEL EASIER

You know how some runners seem to glide effortlessly along, looking light and springy as fresh soufflé? Flexibility helps your joints to move through their full range of motion and enables your muscles to work at their peak performance (if you’ve got it, might as well use it, right?). If you’re stretching for speed, the trick is to do it at the end your workout, as has been proven by recent studies that found stretching before you sweat can cramp your style.

YOU’LL TRAVEL BETTER

Flexible muscles make everyday activities (picking up things you dropped, wrangling small children, applying fake tan…) easier on your body – and never is this more apparent than in the confined space of an aeroplane seat. Here you’ll be able to contort yourself into more comfortable positions and knock out some in-flight exercises along the way. The same logic applies to expanding your options in the bedroom. You’re welcome.

YOU’LL IMPROVE YOUR CIRCULATION

Tension in your muscles affects the circulation of oh-so-important nutrients and oxygen to your organs, so when your muscles are flexible, they relax and improve your flow. Stretching also helps blood travel swiftly to your muscles and joints, and good circulation can stave off a bevy of nasty illnesses, from kidney disease to diabetes. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology found flexibility might even reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.

YOU’LL REDUCE YOUR RISK OF INJURY

…And back pain and muscle soreness, for that matter. In their book Chronic Pain Management, Carol Banks and Karen MacKrodt wrote that, “If the soft tissues have good elasticity they are less easily overstretched or torn, the individual is able to change direction more easily and is less likely to be injured.” So think about your muscles as elastic bands that loose their elasticity as we age – and need to be regularly snapped back into shape.

YOU’LL FEEL CALM, CONTENT AND CONFIDENT

Doesn’t that sound dreamy? Flexible muscles hold less tension, so flexible folk tend to feel less stress. Health professionals have also noticed a correlation between stretching and stress relief. Physical therapist Anne Whitis, for one, found that the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered with stress, causing our bodies to tense up. Stretching interrupts this defensive response, making us feel nice and relaaaxed.

Want to increase your flexibility? All Barre Body classes include stretches throughout and a thorough cool down. Sydney Barre Body instructor Gemma Dawkins recommends a seated hamstring stretch, a supine twist and some gentle prone back extension for a good at-home flex. Need some guidance? Barre Body Online offers plenty of stretching and mobility focused videos for you to follow along at home.