Flexibility training is the area of fitness most often overlooked. People usually consider their flexibility less important than their strength or cardiovascular fitness, and don’t see flexibility training as being very helpful for weight loss. Flexibility training can actually be more beneficial than we realize. Adding flexibility training to a fitness program can be rewarding and helpful to reaching most goals.

Flexibility can be defined as the range of motion about a joint. The older we get, the less range of motion we have about our joints and the tighter muscles and connective tissues become. This can hinder our ability to perform daily tasks and make us more susceptible to injury. Maintaining flexibility can decrease aches and pains, as well as injuries. It can also improve posture and help us to use our muscles efficiently.

The simplest form of flexibility training is stretching. The best time to stretch is after either cardiovascular exercise or strength training. Stretching can also be done before an exercise session, after a warm up. It’s best to not stretch muscle when they are cold (meaning you have been inactive for a few hours). A strain is more likely to occur when stretching cold muscles. Stretches should be done for each muscle group of the body. It’s most effective to hold stretches in a static position without bouncing for 20 to 30 seconds. A stretch should not hurt. It should feel like a pull or mild burn in the muscle. If a stretch causes pain, you may be taking the stretch too far or stretching incorrectly, which can lead to an injury in a muscle, tendon, or ligament.

Yoga is another common form of flexibility training. There are many different disciplines of yoga, some more basic and beginner friendly than others. Hatha yoga is easy to learn for beginners and will do wonders for improving flexibility. Practicing yoga does not have mean complicated poses, but simple stretching, breathing, and relaxing.

Tai chi and pilates both incorporate elements of flexibility training. Pilates combines core strength, flexibility and awareness of movement. Tai chi is a gentle form of exercise that involves slow and graceful postures and movements. Both pilates and tai chi can be done independently, or in group classes.

Incorporating yoga, tai chi, pilates, or regular stretching sessions holds not only the benefit of improving flexibility, but improves overall fitness and adds variety to any fitness regime. Flexibility training can also be a time to relax and let out stress, which is something everyone can benefit from.

If you work out to lose weight or maintain weight a healthy weight, flexibility training may help more than you realize. Stretching, yoga, pilates and tai chi can burn approximately 230 calories per hour. While this is not nearly the calorie burn of cardiovascular exercise or resistance training, it’s a much greater calorie burn than sitting at a computer or watching television. This means that adding flexibility training to your fitness regime will aid in gradual weight loss or assist in maintaining a healthy weight.

Still not sure if you should give flexibility training a try? Start by just adding a few minutes of stretching twice a week when you body is warmed up. A ten minute walk can be considered an adequate warm up. Think about all the different muscle groups of the body and where you feel aches and stiffness. If you aren’t sure which stretches stretch which muscle groups, there are many online resources for this.

Flexibility training is an important component of fitness, just like strength training and cardiovascular training are. Practicing flexibility training can give you assurance that as you age you will be able to accomplish your daily activities with greater ease. Do your body a favor. Relax, breathe, and stretch.