This portion of the exercise regime is most often neglected by so many people who workout regularly. The importance of moving well, being flexible, and having good overall mobility is SO key when it comes to quality of life in general, and also to help your other workouts go so much better, prevent injury, and allow you to see better results.
Not only is it wrong to ignore this part of exercise, it's also imperative that it is done safely. Overstretching, or stretching in unsafe ways can actually cause more damage than good. It is important to always have some kind of general warm up before doing any static stretching. Doing some simple joint rotations and dynamic movements are helpful in providing joints with synovial fluid, and some brief aerobic activity is also helpful to increase the body's core temperature and get the blood flowing through the muscles. When you try to stretch muscles without a proper warm up, or end up overstretching, this can result in microscopic tearing of muscle fibers and connective tissue. This can also increase the time it takes for you to gain greater flexibility. When a muscle is being lengthened, it is not just the muscle cell being elongated, but also the fascia or connective tissues that surround and penetrate the muscle. When we stretch, up to 40% of the actual stretch is coming from elongation of its fascia. With too much stretching, the fascial tissues lose the ability to recoil, and the elasticity of these connective tissues disintegrates and becomes less functional. Muscle tone can also become so stretched to the point of even having unstable joints. So make sure to have your muscles warmed up properly first, and be careful!
That being said, I personally find yoga and mobility exercises to be the best ways to gain flexibility rather than just static stretching. Of course injuries can happen with any kind of movement, but gaining flexibility with flowing movement like yoga and certain mobility training exercises seems to be a bit easier on the muscles and I feel that it is a bit safer than simply holding a long stretch. People tend to push too far, or too long, or end up with injuries from doing static stretches on cold muscles.
Yoga is not only great for mobility and flexibility, but so many more amazing benefits as well. Stress relief, mindfulness, and a sense of well being in general can be achieved with regular yoga practice. I know that every time I leave a yoga class or finish a practice on my own, I feel so good, so refreshed, and just comfortable all over. Truth be told - I did NOT like yoga the first few times I tried it. I found it awkward, uncomfortable, and I just wanted it to end! But with regular practice, I eventually learned to incorporate proper breathing with the movements and also get better at what I was trying to do. I have grown to enjoy yoga so much that I eventually became certified as a Sport Yoga instructor, and have loved sharing it with others as well. I am not the most flexible person by any means, and this is why I desperately needed (and still need!) regular yoga practice. Yes, there may be times in yoga (depending on what type of yoga you are doing) that postures and stretches are held for long periods of time, but this should be done safely after the muscles have been warmed up appropriately. And listen to your body! If something hurts or really doesn't feel good to you during yoga, there is no shame in not doing that pose. It's your practice. That time is for you. Don't do something that doesn't feel good or is causing you pain or misery.
There are so many mobility exercises that can be done as adjuncts to weight training or other regular exercise to enhance your progress and help you stay safe and keep your muscles and joints healthy. You need to be the one in charge here. Only you know what joints and/or muscles feel tightness (or even pain at times) and may need some extra work. If you are working with a trainer, they should be able to do assessments for you and let you know where your weaknesses are, and then provide you with some proper ways to increase mobility in those areas. Many of us have tight hips, shoulders, hamstrings and calf muscles. Some simple mobility drills done on a regular basis can greatly help with these issues.
Terri Wentzell is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience. She is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, fitness nutrition coach, and sport yoga instructor.