The 3 Best Flexibility Exercises: The Ultimate Guide for Improving Flexibility in 30 Days

This picture shows a cosplayer as Spider-man, in a flexible pose.

This picture shows a cosplayer as Spider-man, in a flexible pose.

You’re here because you want to learn how to improve your flexibility.

Well, you’ve arrived at the right place!

We’ve been livestreaming flexibility challenges as part of Nerd Fitness Prime, and today we’ll share with you our video series on the best exercises to improve flexibility.

If you’ve always considered yourself “inflexible,” you need this guide!

Here’s what we’ll cover today:

I promise you, if you follow the videos in our guide, you will be more flexible in 30 days.

Let’s get bendy!

What Are the 3 Best Flexibility Exercises? (Intro and Benchmark Test)

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The above video, streamed live for Nerd Fitness Prime members, kicked off our 30-day challenge “Flexibility for the Inflexible.”

In it, Nerd Fitness Coach Matt discusses the three best exercises for improving flexibility.

#1) Toe Touch

While standing, Coach Matt reaches for his toes, which is a great flexibility exercise.

While standing, Coach Matt reaches for his toes, which is a great flexibility exercise.

To perform a standing toe touch:

  • Stand straight with your legs about hip-width apart. You want your legs to be straight, but don’t aggressively lock out your knees either (this feels like a “microbend” to a lot of people).
  • Begin by bending and leaning forward towards the ground with your quads (front of your legs).
  • Let your body rest naturally, as if you were a ragdoll. Keeping your hands relatively close together, straighten your fingers and begin to stretch down slowly to the ground.

The goal here, ultimately, will be to touch your toes. 

We also have a complete guide on How to Finally Touch Your Toes for more. 

#2) Back Scratch

Coach Matt taking his left arm "low " behind him, and his right arm "high" behind him, for this flexibility exercise.

Coach Matt taking his left arm "low " behind him, and his right arm "high" behind him, for this flexibility exercise.

To perform a back scratch:

  • Take a comfortable seat (or stand), with your torso and back tall.
  • Tuck your thumbs inside of your fist.
  • Place your right hand behind your head, down back over your shoulder. Reach as far down the middle of your back as possible, palm facing you. 
  • Your other arm (left) is going to go behind and up, with your palm facing away. Reach this hand toward your upper hand (don’t strain).
  • Switch arms and reverse the moment. 

Over time, we are going to work to bring your hands closer together.

#3) Butterfly Stretch

In this flexibility stretch, shown by Coach Matt, you sit down with your feet facing you in front. Try to keep your knees down.

In this flexibility stretch, shown by Coach Matt, you sit down with your feet facing you in front. Try to keep your knees down.

To perform a butterfly stretch:

  • Take a seat, with your legs facing out in front of you.
  • Bring both of your front feet together, with the bottoms touching, by bending your knees away from each other.
  • Grab both feet with your hands, with your elbows coming down toward your knee (they don’t have to touch). 
  • Keep your back straight, and allow your knees to come down (if they can, don’t force it).

The goal here will be to bring your knees lower and feet closer to your groin, but don’t fret if this is challenging. Even Coach Matt has trouble with butterfly stretches. 

Why these three exercises?

Coach Matt refers to the toe touch, back scratch, and butterfly stretch as “benchmarks.”

If you have decent mobility in these three exercises, you’re probably pretty flexible.

This dog appears to be more flexible than this woman, which is hilarious.

This dog appears to be more flexible than this woman, which is hilarious.

Improving these will be our mission for the next 30 days! 

Each week, Coach Matt will provide three different video routines with exercises designed to target these specific benchmarks. 

So in Week 1, you’ll find a video for:

  • Toe Touches
  • Back Scratches
  • Butterfly Stretches

You can do these videos all at once if you want, or break them up throughout your week.

Maybe you do a routine Monday, Wednesday, and then on Friday.

We’ll end this guide with some tips on starting a recurring practice.

At the end of our 4-week series, we’ll check-in, to see how everything is coming along.

Here’s what we need you to do right now: record where you are with these moves.

  • How far down can you reach with your toe touch?
  • How far apart are your hands during the back scratch?
  • How close are your feet and how high up are your knees during the butterfly stretch?

Coach Matt recommends a few ways to measure these benchmarks in the introductory video above, but even some subjective tracking would be useful: “on a scale of 1 to 10, this move was tough, so I’d give it an 8.”

Don’t forget about this initial tracking, even if you don’t have a measuring tape. Just go through the initial benchmark tests the best you can.

Before we jump into the series itself, let’s discuss some general tips and tricks for improving flexibility.

Tips and Tricks for Increased Flexibility

A pic of the Avengers as LEGOs, and I would imagine, the Hulk is the least flexible of the bunch.

A pic of the Avengers as LEGOs, and I would imagine, the Hulk is the least flexible of the bunch.

First and foremost, all bodies are different.

You might have a great range of motion in your back scratch, but can’t get much range on your toe touch. Or maybe you’re like Coach Matt, where butterfly stretches are challenging. 

Our goal here is to improve YOUR flexibility. We’ll all have different mobility ranges on Day 1.

All of us have to start somewhere, so don’t stress if you feel inflexible…

This gif from the Big Bang Theory shows Sheldon not being able to touch his toes.

This gif from the Big Bang Theory shows Sheldon not being able to touch his toes.

…that’s why you’re reading this guide.

No matter what, by going through this process, you’ll learn more about your body and develop tools for increasing your range of motion.

Next up…

Coach Matt highlights two general ways to increase your flexibility:

  • Function. This is your technique and awareness of your flexibility. Think of this as maximizing the potential of your current body.
  • Structure. This would be your body itself, and the range of motion of muscles, tendons, etc. Structure is about changing your body itself through these flexibility exercises.

You’re probably not going to increase the structural flexibility of your body after one stretching session. These things take time

However, you very well may increase your flexibility by improving your function or technique. As you go through the videos, Coach Matt will offer instructions on how to position your body for proper stretching. 

This alone may very well increase your range of motion.

We’ll also be using three specific movement tools for improving flexibility:

#1) Active Range of Motion

This would be doing the complete movement of an exercise, fluidly.

So a normal bodyweight squat would be an active range of motion if you did the entire movement:

Do a proper bodyweight squat to work out your legs

Do a proper bodyweight squat to work out your legs

By going all the way down and back up with your squat, your muscles are engaged evenly throughout.

#2) Pulses

This movement has you stopping at a particular point of an exercise, like the bottom of a squat, and slowly and in control, pulsing slightly up and down:

Shifting up and down during your squat, ever so slightly, is a pulse, which will help improve flexibility.

Shifting up and down during your squat, ever so slightly, is a pulse, which will help improve flexibility.

You’re really only moving about an inch here for your pulses.

This will help you gain control of that particular area.

#3) Holds

As the name would suggest, here you’ll hold the position at a specific point of the exercise. 

For example, for your squats, you may pause at the bottom of the movement:

Here, Coach Matt pauses at the bottom of his squat, which will help improve flexibility.

Here, Coach Matt pauses at the bottom of his squat, which will help improve flexibility.

This can help you grow stability during a particular stretch.

During the course of the next four weeks, we’ll be utilizing a combination of active range of motion, pulses, and holds, to increase your flexibility.

And with that, onto week 1!

How to Improve Your Flexibility: Week 1

This is a mix and match photo, of a stormtrooper and ninja turtle, which probably makes him pretty flexible.

This is a mix and match photo, of a stormtrooper and ninja turtle, which probably makes him pretty flexible.

For our first week, Coach Matt is going to start us off slow.

Here, it’s all about learning the foundations of the movement. 

To increase flexibility, it often comes down to properly setting up the stretch.

We’ll begin by teaching you the basics. 

Toe Touch Week 1:

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Back Scratch Week 1:

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Butterfly Series Week 1:

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How to Improve Your Flexibility: Week 2

For this LEGO to look over the edge like this, he's probably a little flexible.

For this LEGO to look over the edge like this, he's probably a little flexible.

This week, we’re going to identify the edge of your flexibility.

We won’t push or strain yourself too much, but we’ll use the breath as a sign for difficulty.

The goal here is to understand how flexible you may actually be (you might be able to reach farther than you think). 

However, as Coach Matt will continuously remind you, if it feels unsafe don’t do it!

Toe Touch Week 2:

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Back Scratch Week 2:

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Butterfly Series Week 2:

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How to Improve Your Flexibility: Week 3

Two LEGOs are together, one flying away. Is the other flexible enough to catch him?

Two LEGOs are together, one flying away. Is the other flexible enough to catch him?

In Week 3, it’s all about exploring and expanding your flexibility exercises.

We’ll be testing your movements and begin thinking about ways to “go off the rails” a little here and there.

In our third round of exercises, you’ll begin changing, adapting, and remixing the moves to increase your range of motion.

With flexibility, some creativity can be a good thing, which will be your focus for this stage.

Toe Touch Week 3:

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Back Scratch Week 3:

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Butterfly Series Week 3:

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How to Improve Your Flexibility: Week 4

I imagine the Monkey King shown here can touch his toes pretty easily.

I imagine the Monkey King shown here can touch his toes pretty easily.

In the last week of “Flexibility for the Inflexible,” it’s all about building strength.

Muscle will help you hold and expand mobility positions, so this week Coach Matt covers exercises designed to couple strength with your flexibility.

We’ll even mix in some weights into your routine here.

Toe Touch Week 4:

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Back Scratch Week 4:

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Butterfly Series Week 4:

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Next Steps for Becoming More Flexible

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The video above is a “re-cap party” with Coach Matt, ending the 30-day Flexibility for the Inflexible challenge we ran for Nerd Fitness Prime members.

Let’s go over some highlights.

#1) Continue to test and retest your flexibility benchmarks. 

That which gets measured gets improved, so continue to track your toe touch, back scratch, and butterfly stretch. 

Remember, these tests don’t need to be some precise measurement rounded to the nearest millimeter (although if you want to do that, have at it). 

Instead, they can be subjective: 

“This is really tough, I can’t bring down my knees at all.” 

to…

“I could probably sit like this for 15 minutes.”

This cat here, for sure practices flexibility.

This cat here, for sure practices flexibility.

Don’t stress out over how precise your measurements are, but do keep a record of how these stretches feel. It’ll help us know if you’re improving. 

#2) Use your breath as a guide.

Breathing can often be a signal of excretion levels:

  • If your breath is calm and normal, what you’re doing is within your comfort range.
  • If you’re huffing and puffing a lot, or even holding your breath, you’re probably exerting yourself too much.

As Coach Matt highlights, during your flexibility exercises, don’t push too far past your comfort zone.

Yes, we should find your edge, but we also want you to feel in control during your stretches so you can really “own” the movement. 

If you find yourself having to catch your breath, it could be a sign you’ve gone too far. 

If you end up panting and sweating like this, you may have gone too far with your flexibility exercises.

If you end up panting and sweating like this, you may have gone too far with your flexibility exercises.

Be mindful of your breathing during our flexibility exercises. 

#3) You don’t have to stretch every day.

You probably noticed that we provided three 20 minute videos per week to help improve your flexibility.

This was intentional, because you don’t have to stretch every day to increase your range of motion.

Truth be told, you don’t even need to do 20-minute sequences three times a week to improve flexibility. Even just 10 minutes of flexibility exercises a couple of times per week could improve your mobility.

Just make it habitual.

To do so, you can continue to follow the videos in this guide, or I have some other resources for you to check out.

Here are three more guides for improving your flexibility:

  • 21 Yoga Poses for Beginners. Yoga can be a great practice to improve your flexibility. If you’ve never tried it before, check out our guide. We’ll provide video sequences designed for beginners, so don’t worry if you have no clue what a downward dog is. We’ll teach you.
  • Three Full-Body Stretching Routines to Cool Down. After a workout, a good stretch can be the perfect way to lower your heart rate. Our guide will offer you three different routines to perform after your workout (or whenever) so you can start improving your flexibility.
  • How to Touch Your Toes. Since the toe touch is the go-to benchmark to see how flexible you are, we have a complete guide on getting you there. If you’ve always dreamed of being able to reach your little piggy wiggies, start here.

The most important thing you can do now?

Get to it!

If you wanna win a race, you need to start it!

If you wanna win a race, you need to start it!

You’re not going to get any more flexible by reading articles online, so pick a sequence from today and get going! 

Start with the Flexibility for the Inflexible Week 1 videos if you’re unsure where to begin.

If you like our style here at Nerd Fitness, I have three great options on how you can continue your journey with us:

Option #1) Liked the Flexibility for the Inflexible videos we showed in today’s guide? Want to watch them live and follow along with the challenge in real-time? Join Nerd Fitness Prime!

Nerd Fitness Prime is our premium membership program that contains at-home exercise routines, live-streamed workouts with NF Coaches, group challenges, a supportive online community, and much more! 

A banner advertising Nerd Fitness Prime

Option #2) If you want a professional coach in your pocket, who can do video form checks, provide feedback, and adjust your workouts based on your experience level, check out our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program

For example, let’s say you have an old injury and couldn’t perform one of our flexibility exercises. A Nerd Fitness Coach can work with you to create a customized routine for your exact situation. 

Personally, I’ve been working with the same online coach since 2015 and it’s changed my life. You can learn more by clicking on the box below: 

Option #3) Become part of the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Rebel Starter Kit, which includes all of our “work out from home” guides.

Alright, now I want to hear from you! 

Did you try our “Flexibility for the Inflexible” series?

Did you find any of the exercises easier or harder than the others?

Any tips or tricks to help the “inflexible”?

Let me know in the comments!

-Steve

P.S. Personally, I’ve found a yoga practice to be incredibly helpful in improving my mobility. We have an entire course on starting home yoga as part of Nerd Fitness Prime.

I’d love for you to check it out. 

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Photo Source: Spiderman, LEGO Marvel Avengers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Trooper, Maybe the droids we’re looking for are at the bottom of this pool, Hold onto your hat, Monkey King

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