There are loads of reasons why flexibility is important—beyond being able to keep from falling over repeatedly during yoga. Sports medicine doctor Elizabeth Barchi, MD, previously told Well+Good that flexibility provides leverage to joints and muscles, which is important for essentially every movement we do. Flexibility also helps prevent injury and can give you better posture—something virtually everyone who spends the majority of their day hunched over a computer could use some help with.
You know who doesn’t spend her days hunched over a laptop? Olympic gold medalist and Dancing With The Stars champ Laurie Hernandez. She literally took home the gold at her first Olympics, in 2016. Hernandez is still keeping active during the pandemic and is staying busy in other ways, too. Currently, she’s taking virtual classes at UCLA for acting and screenwriting. She’s also teamed up with Always and Walmart’s #KeepHerPlaying campaign, which has the mission of ensuring girls feel empowered to participate in sports.
Just like other life skills, flexibility requires maintenance and regular attention. Because of this, Hernandez says there are some habits she does consistently and recommends them to anyone else who wants to increase their flexibility. (Don’t worry, no splits required.) Check out her flexibility tips below:
Laurie Hernandez’s flexibility tips
1. Focus on your hips and lower back
If you want to increase your flexibility, Hernandez recommends stretching every morning, mid-day, and evening—even if it’s just for five minutes at a time. It’s something she makes sure she does, no matter what’s on her agenda for the day. “Even though I’m only 20, I kind of have the body of a 90-year-old because of gymnastics,” Hernandez says.
Not sure what type of stretches to do? She recommends focusing on your hips and lower back, which people tend to target less often than their hamstrings. “Your hips and lower back are really important for posture and especially if you sit all day, you can get some pain in these areas,” she says. A figure four stretch (where you lay on your back and bring your ankle to your opposite knee) or a kneeling quad hip stretch (where you kneel on one foot and the other knee, keeping your body upright and pushing your hips forward) both target these areas.
2. But don’t neglect your legs and feet
While Hernandez says it’s important to show your hips and lower back some love, that doesn’t mean stretching your legs isn’t important—and she adds not to forget about your feet either. “My favorite stretches are simple ones, like standing in front of a wall, putting one foot against it, and leaning in,” she says. “I like that one because it stretches your calves, heels, and feet.” Another way to stretch these parts of the body is standing up straight, then rocking slowly from your tiptoes to the back of your heels.
3. Use a heating pad when you stretch
Hernandez says stretching throughout the day is key for increasing flexibility, but she also warns against overstretching; “no pain, no gain” definitely doesn’t apply here. “One way to prevent overstretching is to use a heating pad,” she says. “It’s been a lifesaver for me because it warms the muscles up so that they aren’t too strained by moving right into a stretch.” You know how stretching is a warm-up for working out? Think of the heating pad as the warm-up to your warm-up—it’s literally warming the muscles up.
Watch the video below to move through a yoga flow created to increase flexibility:
4. Put your foam roller to use
Another flexibility tool Hernandez likes to keep on hand is a foam roller. “For me, foam rolling helps prevent muscle injury because when I go to [gymnastics] practice after having time off, it’s like working with a whole new body,” she says. Foam rolling helps with flexibility by increasing blood flow and circulation while loosening tight muscles. Use it to target any parts of the body that feel particularly tight—especially since, for many people, massage appointments are still on hold due to social distancing.
5. Work movement into your day however you enjoy it the most
Besides stretching and foam rolling, Hernandez says it’s important to actually move your body, which puts your flexibility to the test. “For me personally, I like to switch it up,” she says. “I like to use different fitness apps to do different types of workouts, like yoga or boxing.” All movements test flexibility, so she suggests doing whatever it is you love best.
Having a daily flexibility routine probably isn’t going to transform you into an Olympic athlete overnight. But it will help undo the damage of sitting for the vast majority of the day and could help prevent an injury from a workout. Hey, we can all benefit from being flexible—even if there’s not a gold medal at stake.
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