What is Flexibility?

Dan Cavallari

The ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion is defined as flexibility. Because each joint has a different potential range of motion, it is joint specific. Sometimes, being flexible in a particular area of the body requires the interaction of a series of joints. The range of motion in the back that yoga practitioners strive to achieve, for example, requires the development of flexibility along the entire spine.

Yoga may improve flexibility.
Yoga may improve flexibility.

The types of poses that many yoga practitioners hold help increase their static flexibility. This describes the range of motion that can be achieved when a person is not in motion. Athletes may use static stretches after a work out to increase their overall ability to flex, but they also need to pay attention to their range of movement while in motion as well.

Stretching helps improve flexibility.
Stretching helps improve flexibility.

Dynamic flexibility refers to the range of motion that can be attained during movement, such as a tennis player reaching to hit the ball with her racket or a martial artist reaching to land a powerful kick on his opponent. The amount of time it takes for a muscle to lengthen limits this range. For some people, their muscles naturally activate and lengthen very quickly, but others have muscles that respond comparatively slowly.

An ice skater must be very flexible to perform jumps and spins.
An ice skater must be very flexible to perform jumps and spins.

Attaining a full range of motion is important because it helps reduce stress on muscles as they perform various tasks, thereby reducing injury rates. Additionally, it often helps improve posture and can reduce associated back pain. As people age, their joints tend to become stiffer. Maintaining a full range of motion is crucial to being able to achieve simple tasks as one gets older, such as bending over to tie shoelaces or reaching around to button shirts. For athletes, increasing the ability to flex particular joints most often used in their sports can improve their ability to perform their sports’ required skills.

While stretching exercises will often increase flexibility in a short time, dramatic improvements in flexibility can take more than a year to accomplish.
While stretching exercises will often increase flexibility in a short time, dramatic improvements in flexibility can take more than a year to accomplish.

Flexibility exercises differ with a person’s particular needs. No matter the type of stretching to be done, it is important to warm up the muscles first. Warm up exercises vary by sport, but walking or gently pumping the arms are usually effective. To safely lengthen muscle tissue and achieve the full range of motion available in the joint, the muscle should not be jerked into position abruptly but should be smoothly moved through the arc of the stretch.

Most static stretches can be performed more than once. In fact, it can be helpful to increase the joint’s range of motion to warm it up in the first attempt for short period of time and then go a little farther in the second attempt and hold the stretch longer. While it’s normal for the person to feel mild discomfort as the muscle reaches its limit of mobility, there shouldn’t be any pain. Pain indicates that the muscle has gone too far in the stretch, or the stretch has been repeated too often.

Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion.
Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion.

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Discussion Comments


One of the first things I do in the morning before I get out of bed is a full body stretch. It feels so good to stretch those muscles that haven't moved much all night long. I also try to get up from my office chair about every 30 minutes or so to keep my muscles flexible. Sitting too long can be really hard on my body. I also like doing pilates and think this has improved my strength and flexibility. There are many things a person can do to improve their flexibility. It doesn't have to be a lot, but it should be done consistently.


I think my muscles respond very slowly to stretching and getting flexible. When I am stretching out during my class at the gym it seems like other people are much more flexible than I am.

When I am sitting down with my legs extended and reach as far as I can towards my toes, I don't stretch very far. Some people can reach their toes and beyond.

Knowing this about my body means that I really need to focus on stretching and keeping my muscles warmed up. I never used to want to take the time to warm up or cool down after an exercise routine. Now I realize just how important this is to keep from straining my muscles or getting injured.


I love watching the winter Olympics, and especially enjoy watching the gymnasts. In the last two Olympics there have been 2 girls who have participated from the state where my parents live.

I am simply amazed at their flexibility. I hurt just watching them go through their routines. I know it takes a lot of practice and dedication to get to the point where there bodies are that flexible. I try to keep my muscles flexible by working out 4-5 times a week and doing some yoga.


I am not very flexible and the older I get the less flexible I am. I have been seeing a chiropractor for spine treatments and she always checks my flexibility before she starts treating me. She has me bend over as far as I can as she looks at my spine.

Since I have been getting treatments I am able to bend down farther, which means my flexibility is improving. When I first started doing this, my fingers were a long ways from touching my toes. After several treatments, I can't quite touch my toes, but I am getting closer.

I was amazed how keeping my spine aligned can make such a difference in my flexibility. I know there are also flexibility exercises I can be doing to give me greater flexibility, but it is just a matter of consistently doing them every day.


Mobilizing exercises are also effective techniques to increase the flexibility both in joints and muscles.


I know that you can improve your core flexibility with a balance ball. Many people actually do exercises such as sit ups while lying on the balance ball.

Using a medicine ball also shapes your core and makes your abdominal muscles stronger. You can sit with your knees bent and move the medicine ball from side to side slightly and you will feel the burn not only in your abdominal muscles, but in your oblique’s as well, which is your waist area.

This exercise helps to slim your waist and get you a flatter tummy, while you improve flexibility.


Sunny27-There is a new flexibility exercise called the bar method which is comparable to an exercise routine that a ballet dancer would do.

The bar refers to the bar that the ballet dancers use for core flexibility and hip flexibility. The exercise is really difficult and most of the participants in these classes say that they can barely walk the next day.


GardenTurtle- I love Wii Fit too. It is amazing how they offer a variety of flexibility workouts. The first time I got on the machine, it tested my flexibility and balance with a different set of poses.

I realized that I needed a lot more flexibility training because these poses were difficult for me.

I think that muscle flexibility is important in order to lengthen the appearance of the muscles to look leaner. Pilate’s flexibility exercises tend to do this for your body. They also offer core flexibility.


I purchased a Wii last year for my son. My best friend told me about the Wii Fit and that it helped her to get in shape. I bought it and I have been absolutely amazed at the flexibility that I have gained.

There is a yoga game on there and I do it every day. From doing all of the different yoga poses, I have become more flexible and have found muscles that I didn't even know existed!

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