How to improve flexibility and why it’s important

Working on your flexibility can make doing daily tasks easier and reduce your risk of injury.

If you’d like to minimise soreness in your muscles and joints and be able to move around a little easier, improving your flexibility could be just the ticket.

We’ve chatted with two physiotherapists to find out all you need to know about why improving flexibility is a good idea and how to go about it.

Mature people stretching to improve flexibility -Credit: Shutterstock/ A
Seated forward stretch is a great static stretch for improving flexibility

What is flexibility?

In essence, having good flexibility can help to make daily movements easier. Your muscles and joints will move more comfortably, not only during exercise, but also generally in your day-to-day life.

“Flexibility is the ability of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons to elongate through your full range of motion,” explains Katie Knapton, a chartered physiotherapist specialising in musculoskeletal injuries and founder of PhysioFast Online. “Keeping your joints mobile not only helps to keep them healthy but it can also decrease pain and reduce your risk of injury.”

A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found all types of stretching (both dynamic and static stretching) are effective for increasing range of movement.


Static stretching versus dynamic stretching – how do they differ?

Static stretching is a muscle-lengthening technique where a stretch is held for an extended period of time (usually for around 30 to 60 seconds). You typically carry out static stretches after exercising.

Dynamic stretching uses movement to warm up the muscles and prepare your body for exercise. You typically carry out these types of stretches before exercising.

The study’s authors also noted that building in static stretching as part of your exercise routine is especially beneficial to older people.

Examples of static stretches that may help improve flexibility include:

  • Seated forward stretch – as modelled by the two ladies above
  • Overhead triceps stretch – as demonstrated below
  • Child’s pose – a popular static stretching pose used in yoga
  • Side bend seated stretch – pictured later in this article
  • Seated butterfly stretch – great for opening up the hips

These and other stretches to try are outlined in more detail in our dedicated ‘stretches for flexibility‘ article.

Why is flexibility important as we get older?

“Strength, flexibility and mobility are all factors of healthy living that are frequently overlooked,” explains Knapton.

“Many daily tasks rely on these functions and they are essential to our quality of life, especially as we get older,” says Knapton. “Working on specific flexibility stretches and exercises is key to maintaining healthy joint function long-term.”

Knapton adds that working on your flexibility goes hand in hand with focusing on your mobility.

“Mobility is really important to help your body function properly as it enables your joints to move freely,” she adds. “Not having full function and full range of movement of a joint can cause problems when you carry out physical activities such as reaching up or bending down – so increasing your mobility should also be a priority.”

Benefits of stretching to improve flexibility

Stretching can help with improving both flexibility and mobility and everyone can benefit from working on these areas a little more.

Knapton says upper body mobility can be a key area that older people should look to improve on.

“Having poor upper body mobility can impact your ability to move and perform general daily activities,” she says. “For example, tasks such as combing your hair, throwing a ball for the dog or reaching up high can become difficult or feel almost impossible. Another critical area for mobility is the lower body as this supports your ability to walk.”

She recommends working on your shoulders and your thoracic (upper) spine as this will help to build strength in your upper body and give you better posture.

“Improving your flexibility is important as it helps your joints to move through the whole range of motion and this decreases your risk of injury,” explains Sammy Margo, a physiotherapist and advisor to Deep Heat and Deep Freeze. “It also helps to improve blood flow to the muscles so they can work most effectively. Being more flexible can also improve your physical performance, balance and posture.”


When flexibility stretching is not recommended

Margo does have a couple of caveats to her advice above, however. Firstly, she says flexibility exercises should not be carried out as part of a warm up before physical activity as doing this type of stretching with cold muscles could damage them causing muscle tears. She also recommends avoiding flexibility exercises straight after a run.

“Do these exercises at some other point (outside of warming up before getting active and immediately after a run) and aim for two to three times a week,” she suggests. “Like with any form of exercise, always warm up and carry out cooldown stretches afterwards as this can help stem injury miseries from flaring up.”

Getting started – working on your flexibility

Improving flexibility is something that can benefit everyone, whether you’re very active or less so.

Margo advises a good introductory flexibility exercise can be lying on your back on the floor and stretching out your arms and legs. This very relaxing static stretch is also a popular yoga pose known as savasana.

Another flexibility exercise she recommends is a shoulder roll.

“This is a quick and easy flexibility exercise where you lift your shoulders up to your ears, then down and backwards in a circular motion,” Margo explains. “Repeat this stretch five to 10 times and you can either carry it out on both shoulders simultaneously or on alternate sides.”

The NHS also recommends a simple stretch that can help to improve neck flexibility. Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit upright with your shoulders down and look straight ahead.
  • Slowly turn your head towards your left shoulder as far as is comfortable.
  • Hold for five seconds, and then return to the starting point, looking straight ahead and repeat on the other side.
  • Do three rotations on each side.

It’s never too late (or too early) to focus on flexibility

Working on your flexibility can help to reduce aches and pains and reduce your risk of injury. But even if this type of stretching is something you’ve never thought about before now – it’s never too late (or too early) to start.

“Your natural flexibility decreases with age but your ability to become flexible stays the same – it’s all about consistent training,” Knapton adds.

“Look for ways you can build flexibility exercises into your daily routine. Whether that’s attending regular yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi classes or adding in key flexibility stretches through the week.

“You can also work on flexibility while you’re doing everyday tasks such as brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil. For example, you can work on improving your balance by standing on one leg.”

Julie Penfold

Written by Julie Penfold she/her


Julie Penfold has been a specialist health and wellbeing journalist for more than 15 years and has been a finalist in three prestigious health and medical journalism awards during that time.

She has written for a wide variety of health, medical, wellbeing and fitness magazines and websites. These have included Running, TechRadar, Outdoor Fitness, Be Healthy, Top Sante,, Primary Health Care, Community Practitioner, CareKnowledge and The Guardian’s Social Care network.

Away from work, Julie is a huge Sunderland fan, loves watching football, athletics and swimming (live whenever possible!) and is a long-term vegetarian. She also loves to run, swim and practise yoga.

Previously, she loved to race too but since 2018, this has been firmly put on the backburner due to her having back-to-back sports injuries, both of which required subsequent surgery. Julie was gearing up to a return to racing after five years, but a further injury has hampered her imminent plans. Instead, recovering well is top of her list at the moment.

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