A Comprehensive Guide to Flexibility Training Benefits and Techniques

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Last Updated:
April 1, 2024


While skipping your post-workout stretch is tempting, flexibility training is essential to any holistic workout program due to its unique benefits. Flexibility gains can transfer to improved quality of life, reduced risk of falls, and even enhanced athletic performance, making your workouts more effective and movement more efficient.

Here, you’ll learn the benefits of flexibility training, the most popular types of flexibility, when to perform them, and what stretches to include to enhance your overall fitness and well-being.  

The Benefits of Flexibility Training

Flexibility is the ability of muscles and connective tissues, like tendons and ligaments, to elongate through a full range of motion (ROM). Freedom of movement through a joint’s ROM enhances your ability to perform activities of daily living with more ease and exert more power in athletic movements. 

Flexibility training makes for more agile and reactive muscle tissue. Your muscle fibers have an optimal length-tension relationship, meaning when your muscles are too tight, they have little room to contract. If they are too loose (like with hyperflexibility), they don’t overlap enough to perform a powerful contraction (1)

When combined with resistance training and cardiovascular exercise, flexibility training keeps your muscles at an optimal length with plenty of blood flow and oxygen to the tissue. 

Stretching tight muscles regularly alongside strength training exercises for weak muscles corrects muscle imbalances over time. Subsequently, you’ll improve posture, reduce joint pain (particularly back pain), and potentially decrease the risk of injury (2-4)

Types of Flexibility Training

The type of stretching you focus on depends on your goal, like enhancing mobility in a specific lift and phase of the workout, like in your warm-up or cool-down. Here are the most common types of flexibility training and the optimal time to perform them: 

Dynamic Flexibility 

Dynamic flexibility combines movement with stretching. Moving fluidly through stretches enhances ROM around a joint without sacrificing the muscle power output. Most suitable for before a workout, research shows dynamic flexibility exercises, in most cases, improve strength, power, and jump performance (5).    

Dynamic stretching is part of a holistic warm-up that helps prepare your body for the movement you’re about to perform in your session. Mimic the movements of your dynamic warm-up closely to what you’ll be doing in your workout. 

Examples include:

Running dynamic warm-up:

  • High knees
  • Butt kicks 
  • Walking hip flexor lunges 
  • Walking toe-touches
  • Walking knee tucks 
  • Walking heel-to-toe (heel lifts)
  • Toe taps 

Swimming dynamic warm-up: 

  • Arm circles forward 
  • Arm circles backwards 
  • Walking lunge with torso twist 
  • Internal/external shoulder rotation
  • Alternating knee tuck 
  • Inch-worm 

Static Flexibility

Static stretching is the most basic way to lengthen muscles. Holding a stretch for a longer period of time, like 30 to 60 seconds, gives the muscle time to “deform,” which results in an improved range of motion when performed consistently over time.

Most research indicates that static stretching before a workout is detrimental to performance during the workout, so it’s best to hold off on the static flexibility exercises and incorporate them in your cool-down. When time is limited in the gym, you can perform a static flexibility program from the comfort of your own home with just a short warm-up leading into the stretches. 

Static stretching should target all the major muscle groups to promote muscle balance and movement efficiency. The AIM7 app provides targeted and personalized stretching recommendations based on the day’s workout. For more information, see the basic stretches below to include in your flexibility routine.    

Advanced Flexibility Techniques

Active Isolated Stretching 

When taking a stretch too far, your body naturally protects itself from injury by contracting the muscle—called the myotatic, or stretch, reflex. Active isolated stretching (AIS) is a method that helps to skirt around the stretch reflex by activating another neural pathway called reciprocal inhibition. 

In reciprocal inhibition, when one muscle contracts, it sends a message to the nervous system to relax the opposing muscle group. In AIS, you introduce a light and short stretch on the target muscle using a stretching strap while contracting the opposing muscle, release the stretch, and then repeat. 

Research shows AIS can be as effective as static stretching at increasing ROM, potentially without the loss of muscular power observed after long stretches (6). Think of it as a gentle but dynamic routine that eases your muscles into more pliability after each repetition. 

As a bonus, you can pair this stretching method with a breathing protocol as part of an overall recovery strategy. Exhale slowly as you stretch the muscle, and inhale as you release. 

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) 

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching is a technique often used in athletic and clinical environments to improve ROM, motor performance, and rehabilitation. 

PNF builds on the nervous system’s reciprocal inhibition of AIS by introducing another response called autogenic inhibition. Contracting the target muscles you are stretching activates the Golgi tendon organs, which reduce the muscle's excitability, allowing for better manipulation (7).

While most forms of stretching are effective at enhancing joint ROM, PNF stretching is superior at achieving great passive and active flexibility, the latter of which translates directly to movement and performance (8)

PNF stretching exercises consist of a brief contraction of the opposing target muscle, a sustained contraction of the target muscle (at least 3 seconds), and a release and stretch of the target muscle. The most significant changes in ROM typically occur after the first repetition; however, you may continue for several repetitions for each muscle group. 

Improvements in ROM can be seen in the first few weeks after starting a PNF stretching program, which is performed one to two times per week. These movements are traditionally performed with a partner; however, you may be able to mimic some using a stretching strap.

Example of a PNF stretch for the hamstring:

  1. Lie on your back with one leg straight on the floor and the other with the foot towards the ceiling. 
  2. Have a partner or personal trainer hold the leg. 
  3. With the knee straight, contract the quadriceps briefly to stretch the hamstring. Then, contract the hamstring to resist your partner holding the leg for at least 3 seconds. Then, stretch the hamstring, pulling the leg towards the chest, as facilitated by the person.
  4. Repeat up to five times before switching sides. 

Flexibility Exercises to Include in a Program 

Your stretching routine should be personalized to your needs and physical activity levels. Some stretches may require regression or modification, while others may be progressed, depending on how flexible your joints are. Following a full-body flexibility routine ensures you garner all of the benefits of stretching, plus the potential bonus of injury prevention and reduced muscle soreness (3,9)

Here are a few static stretches to include in your exercise program and the muscles they target:

Upper Body

  • Chest opener targeting pectoralis major and minor muscles (Standing/seated hands clasped behind back, chest stretch opposing door frame)  
  • Shoulder stretch targeting deltoids and upper back muscles (Standing/seated arm across chest, child’s pose with an arm tucked across chest)
  • Side bend targeting latissimus dorsi and quadratus lumborum (Standing or seated) 

Lower Body

  • Hamstring stretch targeting the posterior hamstring muscles (standing single- or double-leg toe touch, kneeling, or supine) 
  • Quad stretch targeting the anterior quadriceps muscles (standing quad stretch, side-lying, or prone)
  • Hip flexors targeting the iliopsoas (long hip flexor lunge, long lunge with torso twist)
  • Glute stretch targeting the gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius muscles as well as the hip external rotators (standing figure-4, supine figure-4)
  • Calf press targeting the gastrocnemius and soleus (standing calf press, toes on wall, or heels off stair)
  • Side lunges targeting the adductor muscle group (standing or kneeling) 

Lower Back and Trunk

  • Child’s pose targeting mid and low back muscles (traditional child’s pose, knees wide, puppy pose)
  • Forward fold targeting low back, hamstrings, and glutes (with knees bent or straight)
  • Piriformis stretch targeting piriformis, a deep internal hip rotator, and mid-to low-back muscles (seated or supine) 
  • Knee-to-chest stretch targeting low back, glutes, and hamstrings (standing or supine)
  • Supine spinal twist targeting mid and low back muscles (single knee cross or double knee cross) 

Tips for Improving Flexibility for Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced Exercisers  

Flexibility training is accessible to everyone—no matter your fitness level. Use the following tips as you start or aim to improve your flexibility:

  1. Age-proof your muscles: As you age, your muscles get shorter and less elastic, so it’s especially important for young adults to take an active role in improving flexibility and for older adults to maintain flexibility so they can continue to enjoy their regular activities without pain.
  2. Stay hydrated: When you drink enough water, the synovial fluid that supports and allows movement around the joints is more viscous, and your joints can slide freely. Dehydration may limit ROM and impact the neuromuscular connections (10).
  3. Vary your stretching: If you feel you’ve adapted to a specific stretch, try a new position targeting the same muscle and challenging your ROM.
  4. Progress slowly: The best results come from consistently performing flexibility training a few times a week and gently challenging your range of motion over time. 
  5. Stop if you feel pain or you’re injured: It may seem tempting to stretch when dealing with an injury, but you should never force a stretch when you’re in pain. See your healthcare provider for your best treatment options to avoid further injury. 
  6. Tailor your stretching to your goals: Some sports require specific flexibility needs, like martial arts or dance, and others will stress the same joints repetitively, like running or cycling. A customized flexibility program, like those on the AIM7 app, can account for your sport-specific needs. 


Flexibility training is essential for a holistic workout routine. Regular stretching enhances quality of life, reduces joint pain, improves posture, boosts athletic performance, and prevents injuries. 

Dynamic flexibility combines movement with stretching, making it ideal for warm-ups. Static stretching is best for cool-downs and can improve joint range of motion over time. Advanced techniques like PNF stretching offer targeted improvements in flexibility.

A personalized flexibility program can optimize your workouts and enhance your overall well-being. With no prior training needed, try adding simple flexibility exercises to your program today. 

A Flexibility Program Built for You

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References for Flexibility Training

  1. Skeletal muscle design to meet functional demands
  2. Effect of an exercise program for posture correction on musculoskeletal pain
  3. Lower Extremity Flexibility Profile in Basketball Players: Gender Differences and Injury Risk Identification
  4. The acute effects of different durations of static stretching on dynamic balance performance
  5. Acute Effects of Dynamic Stretching on Muscle Flexibility and Performance: An Analysis of the Current Literature
  6. Acute effect of active isolated stretching technique on range of motion and peak isometric force
  7. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF): Its Mechanisms and Effects on Range of Motion and Muscular Function
  8. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching
  9. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise
  10. Energy balance, metabolism, hydration, and performance during strenuous hill walking: the effect of age

For further analysis, we broke down the data:
Cite this page:

Reiner, S.  “A Comprehensive Guide to Flexibility Training Benefits and Techniques” AIM7.com, April 1, 2024, www.aim7.com/ features/exercise/flexibility

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