Flexibility is a critical and often overlooked workout goal. "Muscle tissues, tendons, and ligaments naturally become less elastic with age," says C. David Geier, Jr., MD, director of the Medical University of South Carolina Sports Medicine program. Those of us who sit for much of the day or rarely stretch are at particular risk for tightness.
Not as flexible as you should be? Your exercise regimen could be helping—or making things worse. Read on to find out which workouts are best, and which to avoid.
Almost every yoga pose involves and improves flexibility, either by holding a stretch for several breaths (think Warrior or Forward Bend) or moving consistently (à la Sun Salutation). A recent analysis of 10 studies with more than 500 participants gave yoga a gold star for increasing upper and lower body flexibility (along with strength, balance, and weight loss).
You may feel bad-ass powering through spin class, and it's great aerobic activity, but your muscles are stuck in a shortened position—your knees rarely straighten, your hips don't extend, your back stays hunched over. Happily, all it takes is a good post-ride stretch to limber up again.
Besides strengthening your core, Pilates also keeps you limber. A University of Iowa study found that participants were an inch closer to touching the floor with their fingertips after two months of weekly Pilates classes.
It's an amazing calorie killer, although the short, repetitive movements can put hamstrings, glutes, and even your chest on a fast track to tight. Stretching afterward is key; if done regularly, it could even help you run stronger and longer.
Whether you're stretching on a barre in ballet, getting your groove on in a salsa session, or bouncing around in Zumba, dancing involves repeatedly bringing your arms, shoulders, legs, and back through a wide range of motion. Result: You become more agile.