Most workouts involve a mix of strength and cardio. Maybe you do a dynamic warm-up, then a total-body workout or a quick HIIT routine, and possibly a quick cool-down. Sounds nearly perfect, but here’s the thing. There are three basic components to physical fitness: strength conditioning, aerobic exercise, and flexibility. You might be working on the first two, but chances are you’re not giving that last one enough attention.
Flexibility is obviously important for some people (looking at you, Misty Copeland and super-bendy yogis), but what benefits does flexibility have for the average person?
“Flexibility leads to a reduction in injury as well as increased performance,” says Karena Wu, physical therapist and clinical director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City. When you gain flexibility, “your speed might be better when it comes to sports, and strength and endurance will be the best they can be,” Wu says.
But it’s tough to develop flexibility—especially when you’re stuck at a desk all day. “Even if you work out every day, but there’s only a three-minute stretch at the end [of your class], that’s not enough,” says Jackie Dragone, barre director for Flex Studios in New York City. Plus, age is working against you. “You lose water content throughout the body [as you get older], and if you sit all day, the muscles will shorten up,” Wu says. Tight hamstrings and hips, anyone?