If you can't bend over and reach your toes, you may feel you lack flexibility. But stretching alone will not help you improve your flexibility. You need to stretch and strengthen the muscles that are tight to become more flexible.
So what is flexibility?
Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint: a knee, a shoulder, a hip, a neck. This range of motion is determined by the strength of the muscles surrounding the joint.
You can increase your flexibility in three ways:
Circulating (increasing the blood flow in your muscles).
In stretching, we use movement to increase the length of a muscle surrounding a joint. There are two types of stretching: dynamic and static.
Dynamic. When you engage in dynamic stretching, you move through a range of motion. For example, you might swing a leg front to back to stretch the hamstring. This is a great warm-up activity, and it helps reduce your risk of injury. Walking on your heels is another dynamic stretch aimed at lengthening the calf and hamstring muscles.
Static. This form of stretching involves maintaining a particular position for a period of time. For example, you might place your foot on a block and lean forward, stretching the rear leg and hold that position. This type of stretching is more suitable for cooling down following a workout.
When one muscle group grows stronger than an opposing muscle group near a joint, flexibility declines. For example, you might find it difficult to touch your toes if your hip flexors (in the front of your body) are stronger than your glutes and hamstrings (in the back). When a muscle imbalance occurs, the weaker muscles shorten to keep a joint in a fixed position. The solution is to add strength to those muscles.
When the blood flow to a muscle increases, that blood delivers nutrients, gets rid of waste products and promotes healing and growth. Massage and acupuncture are great ways to increase blood flow to your muscles. You might also consider investing in a foam roller. You can do a variety of exercises with this simple piece of equipment.
For more information on increasing your flexibility, consult my book Naked Fitness. This book presents a new approach to using stretches and exercises to improve your health, boost your fitness and lose weight.