If you were asked to visualize a flexible person, many of you may automatically think about someone like a contortionist. In this article, we will attempt to demystify this absurd belief that being flexible means you have to twist your body into a shape like a pretzel, and we will do this by teaching you how to improve flexibility with 15 simple tips.
These tips vary in practice, ranging from dietary requirements to specific stretches, however, all will significantly increase flexibility given the right time and dedication.
Before you dive in, did you know that becoming a certified personal trainer with OriGym will help teach you a lot of the following tips on flexibility as well as a whole host of other knowledge? Check out our range of REPS and CIMSPA accredited courses to find the right one for you!
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What is Body Flexibility?
Before discussing ways to increase flexibility, we must first dissect what flexibility actually means. Flexibility is defined as the ability for a joint/series of joints to move in an unrestricted set of motions. Everyone has differing degrees of flexibility and by participating in activities to improve flexibility, you actually ensure the maintenance of joint health.
When you increase flexibility, the soft tissues around your joints become looser, which in turn allows the joints to move more freely. The soft tissue around these joints are your:
- Joint Capsules
If you are injured or lead an inactive lifestyle, your joints can become stiff, which will work against you in your journey to improve body flexibility. Joint activity can be directly linked back to the question this article poses: how to improve flexibility.
If you are someone who wants to become more flexible it’s important to note that joint inactivity is reversible and there are several training methods to improve flexibility.
These methods are often grouped together under the umbrella term ‘flexibility training’. Rather than restricting itself to one simple method, flexibility training spans across many methods of training, all of which focus on targeted ways to improve flexibility.
We will cover these methods in greater detail later on in the article.
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What are the Benefits of Flexibility Training?
Before we offer some tips on how to improve flexibility, you may be interested in learning about some of the benefits that flexibility training provides. By learning the benefits first, you will be adequately able to judge whether flexibility training would be useful to you.
#1 Improves Overall Physical Performance
What you may not be aware of, is that by asking a question such as how to improve flexibility, you’re effectively asking ‘how can you improve your entire physicality?’ This benefit is basically a brief amalgamation of everything we are going to cover in this specific topic.
If you are aiming to be holistically fit, you’re going to have to do a lot more than run a few miles or lift a couple of weights. You’re going to need to master the five components that encompass physical fitness, which are regarded as:
- Muscular Strength
- Muscular Endurance
- Cardiovascular Endurance
- Body Composition
Out of these five practices, flexibility, is not taken as seriously as the other four components. In reality, without flexibility, you probably wouldn’t even be able to achieve the other four components.
If you want to learn more about the different components of fitness then read our guide.
There are three overall traits that affect a person's flexibility. Those three components are the joint structure, nervous system, and muscle elasticity/length.
Whilst all these aspects are passed down to us through hereditary genetics, by simply partaking in training to improve flexibility, you can improve nearly every physical aspect of your life.
Flexibility ultimately enhances an athlete's movements, it influences your muscular strength, range of motion, posture, balance, and is beneficial to all sport-specific training. To pursue just about any sport there is, you need to first improve your flexibility because, without flexibility, you’re squandering your athletic potential.
#2 Decreases The Likelihood Of Injuries
When you increase body flexibility, you decrease the likelihood of hurting yourself during other exercise routines or daily life.
Once you enhance flexibility within your body, you are able to withstand more physical stress, e.g. you’ll be able to work out for longer increments of time without feeling too rough afterwards. In addition to this, the muscles within your body will become more balanced, which can prevent serious injuries.
Muscle imbalance is one of the leading causes of tears and irritations among athletes. Therefore it is vital that you learn and participate in activities to improve flexibility, as it will save you a great deal of pain in the long run.
Investigating methods into how to improve balance and flexibility is not only useful for athletes but may also be beneficial for those of you who are working a desk job and suffering from back pain. A study conducted in the 2011 book Essentials of Personal Training supports the claim that those who suffer from back pain greatly benefit from flexibility training.
Within the book, an argument is made that those who work behind a desk suffer from back pain as a result of tight quadriceps, back muscles and iliopsoas (our Office Fitness: Ultimate Guide will be beneficial to those looking to ease their back pain!). The book recommends working with a personal trainer, who specialises in warm-up teachings that will improve your flexibility.
Flexibility ultimately dictates your movement performance and when you actively participate in training to improve flexibility, the pain in your muscles should decrease. This is because when you stretch, your muscles have the chance to lengthen and open up, relieving your body of any imbalances or tight knots of tension.
#3 Benefits Posture and Balance
When researching how to improve your flexibility, one of the main tips that will recur in every search you conduct, is the importance of stretching (which you will also see on our list). Stretching is one of the easiest ways to improve flexibility.
Stretching not only teaches you methods to improve muscle flexibility but as an extra beneficial factor that will also teach you the importance of balance and alignment of your posture.
This relates back to a point that we have already discussed, but when the muscles stretch they are allowed to expand and open up and when muscles expand it allows them to fully elongate. So if you suffer from back or spinal issues, then appropriate flexibility training through stretching will aid in the improvement of your posture.
To learn more about the benefits of good posture check out our recent blog post.
Once you improve muscle flexibility by amending your posture, then your balance will steadily improve too. Your balance is connected to your spinal alignment, so a good alignment makes for good balance.
If this sounds like a benefit that you require, we here at OriGym would recommend attending stretch based classes in activities such as yoga and Pilates. Both of which will also assist further in teaching stretches to improve flexibility.
This benefit is supported by a study conducted in 2010 which focused on the positive effects of Pilates on posture and balance. The results of the study found that those who participated in Pilates benefited from the class and saw improvements in both balance and posture, due to their muscles becoming leaner.
#4 Positive State of Mind
It will come as no surprise when you are told that yoga increases flexibility, but what if we told you yoga can also benefit your mental health too!
When you look at this article's primary question of how to improve flexibility, some of you may have automatically thought about yoga classes as a viable answer. However, yoga classes should not only be viewed as a way to increase body flexibility but a place to unwind too.
Aspects of flexibility training can have positive effects on your mental health. Regularly engaging in stretch based classes or routines such as yoga or pilates can be a relaxing process for some.
For example, Hatha yoga is a practice that focuses on slow stretches, transitioning from one pose to another at a steady pace in order to improve body flexibility.
This practice is great for those of you who are not only looking for ways to increase flexibility but are also looking for exercise methods that aid in coping with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
This notion is supported by a study conducted in 2018 which found that levels of depression and anxiety significantly dropped with individuals who participated in twelve sessions of Hatha yoga.
Another leisurely pace yoga type that can greatly benefit your mental health (as well as flexibility) is Yin yoga.
How to Improve Your Flexibility - 15 Tips
We will now give you 15 tips to improve flexibility, these tips will vary from dietary requirements to specific practices. Whilst these tips approach flexibility in differing ways, they all share the same end goal: to teach you how to improve your flexibility.
#1 Be Aware of Your Own Body
Improving flexibility is actually a deeply personal experience. The best way to improve flexibility over a long period of time is to take your own body into account. Whilst the tips we are about to provide will all help in unique ways, they will all be useless if you don’t know your own body.
If certain muscles in your body feel tighter than others, naturally pay more attention to those specific areas rather than doing exercises that will work holistically. The effects of training methods to improve flexibility will vary from person to person, so it is so important you find methods that work for your body.
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#2 Keep Moving Throughout Your Day
This is a point that many take for granted, if you’re looking for ways to improve flexibility fast then you’re going to need to make some lifestyle changes. Simply going to the gym will have positive effects, but if you wish to significantly increase flexibility then you’re going to have to totally commit.
By moving regularly throughout the day you will stop your joints from tensing up and enable them to move more freely. Here are some simple changes you can make to your daily routine that will help you in the process of increasing flexibility:
- Always take the stairs - If you want to challenge yourself maybe try more than one step at a time.
- Practice Active Sitting - Active sitting may sound silly but is actually quite beneficial. Continuously stand up and sit down throughout the day for short intervals. Perfect for those of you who are working from home.
- Active Travel: Walk/Run whenever possible. If you can then avoid using your car or public transport. Running offers a lot of mental health benefits as well!
These may seem like small changes, but your body will feel the benefit of every single one.
#3 Static Stretches
If you are looking for a short and sweet answer to the question ‘how to improve flexibility?’ That answer would be to stretch.
Picture this, you’re stretching before/after your workout and you feel the burn! We’ve all been there, it happens, but did you know that you haven’t always had that pain...
As a baby you’re born with the ability to do the splits innately - yes babies can do the splits!
It’s only as we grow and develop that our bodies begin to learn the parameters of how far our body can actually stretch. As you grow older this parameter tightens, so if you’re behind a desk all day not using any muscles then the odds are that your flexibility isn’t going to be that good.
In order to avoid this, we would recommend doing some static stretches at the end of your workout to improve flexibility.
Some examples of the static stretches are:
- Shoulder Stretch
- Hamstring Stretch
- Upper Back Stretch
A 2018 study found that static stretching does increase flexibility. The participants in the study were separated into several groups, with differing methods of stretching. Whilst all types of stretching had a positive effect on flexibility, it was found that the group who partook in the static stretching showed significant gains in their range of motion, thus making static stretching the best best way to increase flexibility.
However, the best way to improve flexibility through static stretching is through regular routines. Whilst it is good to push yourself, make sure you’re doing daily stretches to improve flexibility.
#4 Dynamic Stretches
When giving tips to improve flexibility static stretching is one thing, but dynamic stretching will arguably benefit your body even more so. Dynamic stretching is a must during your pre-workout warm-up. These stretches include:
- High Knees
- Leg Kicks
- Side Shuffles
When asking how to improve flexibility, dynamic stretches essentially give a warning to your body to brace itself for contortion. We know from discussing the muscles’ role in relation to flexibility, that the looser the muscles the more flexible you’re able to become.
These dynamic stretches get your muscles moving in a way that static stretches do not and will improve flexibility faster. Therefore, it can be argued that dynamic stretching is one of the more beneficial methods that improve muscle flexibility.
Once again it’s important to remember to incorporate daily stretches to improve flexibility. So even if you’re not exercising every day, attempt to get in at least some dynamic stretches if you want to increase flexibility.
To learn more about dynamic stretching read our recent blog post.
#5 PNF: Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
When looking at how to improve flexibility you may want to try PNF stretching. For those of you who work as a personal trainer or train with a PT, you may be familiar with this kind of stretching.
PNF essentially involves stretching and tensing at the same time. For example, you may do this by laying on the ground and stretching your hamstring, whilst someone else applies pressure to the same area. PNF is one of the many ways to improve flexibility fast, as your muscles will be loaded with more force which will allow for a great level of extension whilst moving.
If this kind of stretching interests you but you don’t have a personal trainer or anyone to go to the gym with, then we recommend using leg stretchers. This equipment will allow you to practice PNF from the comfort of your own home and you won’t need anyone’s assistance.
#6 Try Hatha Yoga
If you are questioning ‘how to improve balance and flexibility', then yoga may be the answer you’re looking for.
We have previously touched upon how yoga improves flexibility, but Hatha yoga, in particular, is a great way for beginners to ease into the practice and gain experience in balance and flexibility.
Whilst Hatha yoga is sometimes used as an umbrella term to describe most westernised yoga practices, it is also a term reserved for a type of yoga that is rooted in the slow transition between poses. In Hatha yoga, you traditionally move from one pose to another, with a break between where you correct your posture.
For example, you could move out of the mountain pose into correcting your posture and then finally transitioning into the downward-facing dog. This allows you to not only become more flexible, but it gives you the chance to regain your balance in between poses.
A study conducted in 2016 investigated which part of the body becomes flexible after ten weeks of yoga. After the ten-week study, it was found that the vast majority of the participants gained flexibility in their shoulders, knees and legs. Whilst the study did not elaborate on which yoga practice they used, since this was conducted in the west, it can be assumed that it borrowed influences from Hatha.
Because Hatha yoga moves are performed at a slower pace, it is a great way for beginners to learn how to stretch and move their bodies into new and challenging positions. Whilst you can use yoga to increase flexibility, it is also a great form of exercise in its own right.
Hatha yoga is just one of many forms, however. Find out more from OriGym’s guide on 24 types of yoga.
OriGym are experts on a range of topics - read up on a few other ones below:
- 17 Pilates Gift Ideas
- 11 Benefits of Calisthenics Training
- How Hard Is It To Become A Yoga Instructor?
#7 Try Vinyasa Yoga
Much like the differences between dynamic and static stretches, there are significant differences between vinyasa and hatha yoga. But which form of yoga is the best way to increase flexibility?
If you are looking to improve flexibility with yoga specifically, we would argue that Vinyasa yoga is the more challenging approach. This is because it is a lot more advanced than Hatha yoga. Unlike Hatha which allows you to correct your posture before transitioning, with Vinyasa you move directly into the next pose during your in/exhale. So you feel as if your body is being guided by your breath.
If you’re using yoga to increase flexibility, and want to try vinyasa with no prior exercise in the field we would also recommend at the very least learning some breathing techniques, to make it easier for yourself and for your body.
You will undoubtedly improve flexibility faster with Vinyasa yoga, just be aware that classes will be a lot more demanding.
#8 Attempt Yoga Challenges
When discussing how to improve flexibility in relation to yoga, standardised classes might be a little boring for more experienced yogis. So, for those of you who want something a little more difficult, why don’t you attempt to do a yoga challenge.
A yoga challenge is essentially back to back classes, that can span any time between a week to a month, where you will be doing an allotted amount of yoga every single day. These challenges use yoga to increase flexibility, balance and core strength.
However, unlike the previous two tips, yoga challenges may not focus on one primary form of yoga, but rather each day may present a different type of yoga and thus a different challenge.
In a similar fashion to creating a daily stretching routine, yoga challenges will improve flexibility through repetition. As you progress through the challenge, your muscles will become more acclimated to the flexibility challenges you’re faced with. Allowing you to become even more flexible with the passage of time.
So if you’re up for a challenge then you can improve flexibility with yoga challenges. We’ve got a fantastic list of yoga challenges for you to try out too!
You’ll probably be familiar with the popular dance craze Zumba, but did you know it can also help you to increase your flexibility? In fact, many of the dance moves taught during Zumba classes are specifically used with increased flexibility in mind.
One Zumba studio in particular even measured just how much flexibility can increase when you practice Zumba. After a 3-month long study, Zumba participants saw improvements in the flexibility of their joints, with their stretches increasing from anywhere between 6cm to 26cm.
Many of the participants involved in this study reported changes within the first month; if you’re looking for a fun and sociable method of exercise that will increase flexibility fast then Zumba may be the class for you.
#10 Eat the right foods for progression
When the question of how to improve flexibility was posed, you may not have thought that the food you eat can in fact influence your level of flexibility. But food affects everything we do: food is our fuel and it can either aid us in our fitness journey or it can weigh us down and make us feel sluggish and weak.
If you are looking for the best way to increase flexibility through your diet we recommend looking to include more nutrient-dense items such as fruits and vegetables, paired alongside whole grains and proteins.
We recommend picking up the following items during your next shopping trip:
- Green leafy vegetables - Kale, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and pak choi
- Nuts rich with healthy fats - Walnuts, cashews and almonds - Avoid peanuts!
- Fish that are rich in Omega 3 - Salmon, Mackerel, Trout and Tuna - Avoid anything deep fried
- Berries - Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries and Blueberries
- Spices: Cinnamon, Turmeric and Ginger
All these foods will help to maintain and strengthen your connective tissues and muscles. Remember that the fitter your muscles are the easier they move and the more flexible you become.
#11 Stay Hydrated
If you’re wanting quick and easy tips to improve flexibility here is one for you, stay hydrated!
The body is 70% water and is essential to various body parts and biological functions. Joints are lubricated by synovial fluid, an oily based water-like fluid that is produced to keep our muscles and joints loose and moving.
Tight muscles are often the body’s response to dehydration: without water, your body cannot produce the vital synovial fluid. This means that your muscles will become dehydrated and will not expand in the way that they should which will result in your body becoming inflexible and weak.
Therefore, when discussing methods to improve flexibility, an easy response would be to drink plenty of water.
We would also recommend cutting back on sugary/caffeinated beverages that will only give your body a short burst of energy and strength, in favour of at least 250mls of water a day.
Remaining sufficiently hydrated is also essential for good lung health. Find out what other foods and drinks can help boost your lung health here.
#12 Use a Foam Roller
When investigating how to improve flexibility, it is also worthwhile looking into exercise equipment that will help with the process.
The foam roller is one of those appliances that will help with your range of flexibility and motion. It is a cylindrical tube made of foam, which is designed to be primarily used during stretching.
You can incorporate the foam roller into your warm-up routine by using it to stretch parts of your legs, lower back, spine and neck. To use the foam roller, simply place the part of the body you wish to stretch and begin to push said area back and forth along the roller's curvature.
Note the foam roller is ideal for people who have recently suffered an injury. This is because said individuals joints will be tight and compressed, meaning they will be looking for ways to improve flexibility that are both safe and comfortable.
Read OriGym’s top foam rollers reviews to find the right one for you.
#13 Pilates Reformer
The reformer pilates machine is a piece of equipment that is used in Pilates studios worldwide. To operate the machine, you set a level of spring resistance and then place a part of your body onto what is called the carriage.
You then use your body weight to move the carriage back and forth; the resistance created by the springs should stretch your muscles and help to increase flexibility. Fun Fact: The machine was traditionally used by mat-based pilate experts as a way to improve their own flexibility.
The pilates reformer is known to increase flexibility fast. In a 2011 study, the research found that 19 participants who partook in 2 one hour reformer pilates sessions per week, saw an increase in their muscle strength and overall flexibility.
Much like you practice yoga to increase flexibility, you can also practice pilates and expect the same results.
The next two tips are ones that involve no exercise, but simple rest and relaxation. Massages for example are great for improving flexibility, as they aid in the repairing of damaged muscles.
Once a muscle is repaired it is able to move freely, becoming more flexible in the process.
You can either go to someone who specialises in massages or you can buy equipment to relax at home. We would recommend using one of the best massage therapy guns, massage balls or the aforementioned foam roller.
So remember to treat yourself to a little message, not only does it feel good but it will help you on your flexibility journey.
OriGym also offers a sports massage diploma if that piques your interest!
#15 Warm Baths
If you don’t have time to do a workout, then stretching in a warm bath may be just as beneficial. This benefit is similar to stretching post-workout: when your body is warm there will be an increased level of blood flow to your muscles and limbs. Likewise, stretching in a warm bath will increase your body temperature and will allow for optimal blood flow.
There isn’t too much involved in this tip, we would simply recommend holding stretches for 20-30 seconds whilst targeting areas such as arms, core, back, legs and chest.
If you want to increase muscle relaxation you can also add some lavender essential oil.
How Often Should You Participate in Flexibility Training?
Realistically this is going to vary from person to person, how you choose to engage in these types of exercises is entirely up to you. When questioning how to improve flexibility, a more advanced question may be how much do you want to improve your flexibility?
If you are looking to see small but noteworthy results, it is recommended that you do some flexibility training at least 2-3 times every week. You can add these shorter flexibility exercises to your regular routine, whether that be doing some static stretching prior to some cardio or doing some dynamic stretching following a session of weight lifting.
However, if you are looking to see significant improvement in your flexibility level, then you must incorporate the training into your everyday life.
We have given some examples as to how you can do this in a non-workout setting above and it is recommended you participate in this kind of flexibility training for at least 10 to 15 minutes every day.
For more guidance on flexibility training, take a look at our general flexibility training fitness guide.
Potential Risks That May Occur When Trying To Improve Flexibility
There aren’t too many risks when it comes to trying to improve flexibility, however, we will cover the risks within this article and give advice as to how you can avoid injury.
#1 Muscle Aches & Pains
Following any form of exercise, you may feel a little bit sore or tender the next day. This is particularly prevalent when attempting to increase flexibility, as you focus on improving the muscles range of movement.
To avoid any small nagging pains when engaging in flexibility training, simply listen to your body: if something doesn’t feel right then stop immediately, you know your body and it’s limitations better than anyone!
You can avoid these short term risks of aches and pains by combining multiple tips from the list above: begin your warm-up with a few static stretching poses, followed by a session of yoga and finally ending with a massage or hot bath.
Otherwise, items such as knee compression sleeves can help ease specific painful areas.
#2 Pulled Ligaments
The biggest risk when attempting to improve flexibility is stretching a ligament rather than stretching a muscle.
Stretching a muscle will aid in increasing flexibility and range of motion, whereas stretching a ligament can have the opposite effect and may leave you bedridden or sore for several days.
Ligaments are what connect our body together, when a bone meets another bone it is held together by ligaments. The whole purpose of a ligament is to stabilise a joint, if the ligament becomes over-stretched through flexibility training it becomes more vulnerable to injury.
In his book Peak Condition, orthopaedic surgeon and director of sports medicine, Dr James Garrick M.D described this process using a metaphor of plastic wrap. He stated that:
Ligaments have some elasticity. They can stretch a bit, but if they stretch over about 10 per cent of their length, then they are like Saran Wrap — you stretch it too far and it stays that way. It won’t go back.
If a ligament is injured either instantly through a fall or overtime through exercises such as flexibility training, it can cause severe pain. Ligaments can be repaired over time, however, they will never regain the range of motion they once had and the supporting muscles will need to be built up to a significant degree in order to support the ligaments.
You can avoid this long term effect by again paying attention to your body, in pursuit of improving your flexibility you should never put yourself at risk, never force yourself into a stretch that feels uncomfortable or unnatural to your body.
For example, if you can stretch your leg and feel the tension in areas like your calf then you are doing the stretch correctly. However, should you feel tightness, pain, or pins and needles within the knee itself, then you must stop the stretch immediately because you are now at risk of injuring a ligament within your knee.
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The Overall Risks of Flexibility Training
Whilst we have spent a large portion of this article discussing the various tips and techniques that will help you increase your flexibility, it is very important that you have a valid reason for wanting to improve your flexibility.
Dr Garrick ultimately argues against flexibility training entirely, believing that we as humans shouldn’t push ourselves beyond our natural capabilities when it comes to stretching and flexibility. In fact, Garrick states that he believes that flexibility training causes more injuries than it can prevent.
Within this article, we have made it our mission to try to make the process of increasing flexibility sound as simple as possible. However, it is important that you are aware of the risks that come along with this process, as flexibility training can have serious long term effects on your body.
Here at OriGym, we would like to advise anyone who is looking to improve their flexibility to do so in a safe and efficient manner.
If you can get the guidance of a professional instructor or personal trainer before beginning this process, then they will be able to help you avoid any serious injuries.
What Is The Best Exercise To Do To Improve Flexibility?
As discussed within the tips section of this article there are many forms of exercise that will help you to improve your flexibility. However, the most commonly given answers to this question are yoga and Pilates.
This is because both of these exercises teach you how to move your body at a pace that allows your muscles to adapt and improve over time.
The more classes you take, then the likelihood of you becoming more flexible increase. Simple daily exercises such as taking the stairs have also been proven to increase the rates of flexibility in our bodies.
How Long Does it Take to Improve Flexibility?
Once again this will vary from person to person. If you live a very active lifestyle then you are more likely to see results faster than someone who doesn’t.
However, this kind of training still takes a lot of time - for example, the Zumba study first saw flexibility increase after one month of regular training.
Do not go into flexibility training expecting to see results happen overnight, manage your expectations and take things slow.
Before You Go!
Whether you’re a yogi lover looking to expand their horizons or just someone who is looking to improve their posture, we hope this article has given you insight into the benefits and risks of flexibility training.
Remember to take things slow and to listen to your body, if at any point regardless of how far into your training you are should you feel any serious pain in your ligaments stop immediately. No amount of flexibility is worth hurting yourself over.
Improving your flexibility is one step towards becoming a great personal trainer - another step is taking one of our REPS and CIMSPA accredited personal training courses!
For all the information about our courses and diplomas download our latest course prospectus.
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- Juna A. C, (2010) Pilates for Improvement of Muscle Endurance, Flexibility, Balance, and Posture, The Journal of Strength and Condition Research
- Masoumeh Si, Gholamreza B, Marzieh Parizad N, Sattar K, Shoboo R, Yaghoob M, Ali S Milad A. (2018) The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women, PMC
- Ewan T Antonino B, Antonio P, Antonio P. (2018) The Relation Between Stretching Typology and Stretching Duration: The Effects on Range of Motion, PubMed
- M Jay P, Brandon M. E, and Roch J. L. (2016) Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes, PMC
- June K. (2011) Pilates: how does it work and who needs it?, PMC