Can’t Touch Your Toes? Flexibility Hacks to Improve Your Range of Motion

Cathe Friedrich working on her flexibility in her Lift, Move & Restore series

Let’s look beyond six-pack abs for a moment and think about another aspect of fitness that is too often ignored: flexibility. Being flexible is more than being able to touch your toes. Having a healthy degree of flexibility helps keep your joints happy and allows you to be more functional in the activities you do every day. Most people are not that flexible. Being stiff and having limited range-of-motion also becomes more problematic with age. So, let’s see how to tackle the problem of limited flexibility.

The Science Behind Flexibility

You might wonder why you lack flexibility and why other people seem to be more flexible. Factors that affect flexibility include age, genetics, gender, and degree of physical activity. You’re more flexible when you’re young before your muscles and connective tissues become “stiffer” and less elastic. The good news? A 2022 study found that older adults can counter the effects aging has on joint flexibility through stretching consistently. Another benefit: Older adults who stretch regularly enjoy greater mobility.

But no matter your age, lack of movement can take its toll on your muscles and joints. When you get out of bed in the morning and haven’t moved in a while, all your extremities feel stiff. Women also tend to be more flexible than men due to estrogen. Why? Estrogen increases the amount of collagen in connective tissue, giving these tissues more “stretchiness.

When you stretch, you lengthen your tissues for a brief time, so you have a better range of motion around your joints. For example, when you feel stiff after rising from a chair, stretching lengthens the muscle-tendon unit temporarily, making you feel less stiff and more flexible.

However, regular stretching can lead to lasting improvements in flexibility over time if you do it consistently. With regular stretching you increase the tolerance your muscles and tendons have to lengthen and gain flexibility.

Effective Stretching Techniques

Stretching is one way to boost flexibility but there are different ways to stretch. First, we have static stretching. With static stretching, you lengthen a muscle and hold the muscle in the stretched position for 15 to 30 seconds. This is the best type of stretching to do after a workout. Static stretching before a workout, based on some research, may interfere with performance during a workout by reducing strength and power. To avoid this, dynamic stretching is the best approach before a workout. With this type of stretching, you don’t hold a stretch but keep things dynamic. Examples are the movements you do to warm up before a workout – leg swings and arm circles, for example. These movements loosen up your muscles and tendons while increasing blood flow to the tissues you’re about to work.

And then we have Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). This type of stretching is where you alternate between contracting and relaxing the muscle you’re working. It’s most effective when you collaborate with a therapist or partner. So, it’s not always practical on a day-to-day basis.

Targeted Stretches for Common Tight Spots

While full-body flexibility is important, you might be tighter in some areas than others. Here are some targeted stretches for frequent problem areas:


Can’t touch your toes? That’s a sign that your hamstrings are too tight. When your posterior thigh muscles lack flexibility, it’s harder to bend forward far enough to touch your toes.

One way to ease that tightness is to add the seated forward fold yoga pose to your routine. Here’s how:

  • Sit on a yoga mat.
  • Extend your legs out in front of you.
  • Flex your feet, as you pull your toes toward your shins.
  • Extend your body toward the sky until your spine is straight.
  • As you hinge from your hips, fold your torso forward, as you stretch your fingers towards your toes.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds.
  • Slowly roll your spine back up to a seated position.
  • Repeat 2-3 times.
  • Keep practicing this movement and don’t be surprised if you notice improvements in hamstring flexibility over time.

Hip Flexors

If you sit at a desk or in a car seat for long periods, there’s a good chance you have tight hip flexors. When the muscles that make up your hip flexors are tight or stiff, you might have stiffness in your lower back and knees. One way to counter this stiffness and restore flexibility is to do the kneeling hip flexors stretch. Here’s how:

  • Kneel with your knees on a yoga mat.
  • Step your right foot forward with your knee bent to 90 degrees with your knee over your ankle.
  • Place your hands on your right knee.
  • In this position, push your hips forward and feel the stretch in your left hip.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
  • Do this exercise 2-3 times.

Balance this out with exercises to strengthen your core and posterior thighs to balance out hip flexor tightness.

Tight Chest Muscles

Do you spend time hunched over a computer or phone? If that’s the case, you have tight chest and shoulder muscles, as your pecs and anterior deltoids shorten and tighten in this position. One of the most effective ways to counter this tightness and lack of flexibility is with the doorway stretch.

  • Stand in an open doorway.
  • Place your forearms against the frame of the doorway with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  • In this position, lean your body forward and feel the stretch in your chest and shoulders.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.

This is an excellent stretch to do throughout the day when you’ve been sitting too long or after leaning forward too long.

Conclusion: Unlocking Your Body’s Potential

When you stretch regularly, you increase your muscles and tendons tolerance to lengthening. Plus, you counter the effects of too much sitting and sitting hunched over. When you have more flexible connective tissue, you move with greater ease. So, you’ll perform better when you play sports or do the activities you do every day. Plus, stretching in the ways described helps relax your mind and ease stress. So, take time at the end of your fitness routine to do these stretches. Also, do them throughout the day to counter a sedentary lifestyle.


Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Feb;7(1):109-19. PMID: 22319684; PMCID: PMC3273886.

Ede, Racheal. “What Determines How Flexible You Are?” livescience.com. Live Science, July 18, 2023. https://www.livescience.com/health/exercise/what-determines-how-flexible-you-are.

Stefano La Greca, Mariano Rapali, Giuliano Ciaprini, Luca Russo, Maria Giulia Vinciguerra, and Riccardo Di Giminiani. “Acute and Chronic Effects of Supervised Flexibility Training in Older Adults: A Comparison of Two Different Conditioning Programs.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health/International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19, no. 24 (December 17, 2022): 16974–74. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph192416974.

Guide, NSCA’s. “Static Stretching and Performance.” Nsca.com. NSCA, September 24, 2018. https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/kinetic-select/static-stretching-and-performance/.

Related Articles By Cathe Friedrich:

How to Combine Strength Training and Yoga for Maximum Flexibility and Power

Combining Aerobic Exercise and Yoga: A Path to Improved Heart Health

5 Reasons You Need Yoga If You Strength Train

5 Ways Yoga Can Improve How You Strength Train

Is a Yoga Workout Effective for Building Strength?

4 Benefits of a Relaxing Yoga Workout if You Do High-Intensity Exercise

Related Cathe Friedrich Yoga DVDs:

Perfect Flow Exercise DVD

Yoga Max Exercise DVD

Yoga Relax Exercise DVD

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