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This efficient workout hack can improve flexibility without yoga. 

Stretching can be an arduous process. Not only is it often painful to pull your body into elongated positions, but it’s pretty exposing – you can’t hide from poor flexibility when you’re attempting to lower down into a split position.

It should go without saying that stretching is important to loosen tight muscles and prevent injury, and sometimes we just need to eat a slice of our humble pie and get it done. Skipping a dynamic warm-up that preps you for your workout is never a good plan, but even the best of us tend to be guilty of walking out the gym without a stretchy cool-down or swerving yoga sessions in favour of more high-impact workouts.

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“I commonly see clients neglecting to slow down and stretch,” says Kurt Johnson, lead therapist at osteopathy clinic One Body London. “That’s probably because it takes quite a bit of time to really see results, ivermectin pour on for dogs with mange and the time spent on it doesn’t feel like a particularly good trade-off.

“That’s especially true compared with something like weight training where you can see really obvious changes within a few weeks, or HIIT where you immediately work up a sweat and feel accomplished. But not bothering to stretch, particularly if you exercise a lot, does catch up with you over time.” 

I’ve definitely seen the impact of not stretching enough myself; it’s become harder to retract my shoulders, which causesniggles during overhead movements like handstands or shoulder press. And avoiding a cool-down after high-impact sessions that pound the ball and socket joint of my hips wreaks havoc for days after. 

How to improve flexibility when you hate stretching

For those of us who are guilty of neglecting our flexibility practices, Johnson has a solution: combining it with your strength training to get the most from your sessions. He recommends ‘stretching fillers’, whereby you use your rest periods in your workout to stretch out the muscles. “If you rest for 30 seconds to a minute in between your sets, use that time to work on your mobility.”

Don’t worry, research shows that stretching between lifts won’t leave the muscles too limp to complete the rest of your sets. A Journal Of Strength And Conditioning paper from 2019 found that intra-set stretching in strength training didn’t compromise muscular adaptations. In the study, participants completed strength training programmes either with or without passive stretching between sets, with the poses targeting the same muscle groups worked during the resistance exercises. For example, bench press was followed by a chest stretch and leg extensions were followed by a quad stretch. 

Stretching between strength sets can improve flexibility without doing yoga

Most importantly, studies show that it can improve flexibility. A 2021 paper from Environmental Research And Public Health found there was a significant increase in knee flexion range of motion when statically stretching between sets of squats.

After trying this in the gym, pairing single arm wall stretches with chest press or shoulder press moves and doing low lunges between split squats, I’ve noticed a huge difference. Firstly, my range of motion feels better in the following sets, meaning that I’m performing the exercises better for improved strength. But there’s a cognitive impact that has had an effect on my performance too – stretching seems to keep my head in the zone during rest periods that would otherwise be lost to Instagram or staring into thin air. 

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If you’re not on board with dropping into a forward fold in the weights room, Johnson recommends another way to train that can improve your flexibility without actually feeling like you’re stretching: “Doing eccentric or negative reps to your full range of motion works really well to improve range of motion,” he says.

It might sound counterintuitive, but the idea that strength training makes us all immobile is an old myth. A 2021 review that compared strength training and stretching’s impact on muscular range of motion found that there was actually no difference between the two.

“I know strength training is thought of for its muscle-building benefits, but functional movements really work your mobility. Think about the Romanian deadlift – if you’re really lowering the weights to your full range of motion, you’ll be getting a big stretch through your hamstrings while also strengthening them. It’s a win-win,” says Johnson. 

Images: Getty

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