How to increase flexibility
There have been some great answers to this question already.
I would suggest if increased flexibility is your goal, that you add a flexibility training regiment focusing on static stretches and mobility. Research tells us that:
"Dynamic stretching has been shown to either have no effect or may augment subsequent performance, especially if the duration of the dynamic stretching is prolonged. Static stretching used in a separate training session can provide health related range of motion benefits." (Behm & Chaouachi, 2011).
You want to stretch the target muscle groups for about 10–60 seconds without bouncing. However, 30 seconds once per day is probably good enough for greater range of motion. Studies looking at the hamstring found that "30-second duration is an effective amount of time to sustain a hamstring muscle stretch in order to increase ROM. No increase in flexibility occurred when the duration of stretching was increased from 30 to 60 seconds or when the frequency of stretching was increased from one to three times per day" (Bandy and Irion, 1994). Other studies have found similar results.
How to stretch? Well, an important study found that only static stretching techniques increased hamstring flexibility over a control during a 4-week stretching program" (Davis et. al, 2005). Other studies have reaffirmed that static stretching is indeed the best way to increase flexibility and range of motion when compared to other stretching protocols (Chan et. al, 2001). Therefore, if greater flexibility is your goal, then dynamic stretching is probably not what you should be doing.
There are lots of ways to do to static stretching.
- Basically, you want to warm up just a bit by doing moderate aerobic activity (a brisk walk, jogging in place for 5 minutes), although this is not quite as important as it is often made out to be.
- Then you want to move to the greatest range of motion for the targeted muscle that you can accomplish without injury, and hold that movement at least 30 seconds.
- The Hamstring Stretch, the Butterfly Groin Stretch, Lying Hip Stretch, Lying Quad Stretch, Calf Stretch, Shoulder Stretch, and Triceps Stretch are all easy static stretches, the directions for which you can easily find online.
For older individuals, I think that Tai Chi is another great thing to incorporate as part of a flexibility and movement program. There is a lot of evidence that Tai Chi practice improves balance, resting heart heart, and flexibility in older adults as well as preventing the prevalence of falls (see Hong et. al, 2000; Taylor-Piliae et. al, 2006; Li et. al, 2000). Combined with static stretching, it will certainly help improve your range of motion, it is not strenuous, and it seems to have other health benefits as well.