It’s easy to focus on hitting the weights hard and nothing more when your workout goal is to build strength. You’re making a beeline for stronger, more toned muscles, and setting aside time for accessory work can feel like more hassle than it’s worth. However, there is an element of training that can contribute to even bigger strength gains than just resistance exercises alone: flexibility and mobility. Having the ability to move with strength through each joint’s full range of motion allows for more effective movement and subsequently increases your capacity for efficient training. Not to mention, you will reap the benefits of improved movement in your day-to-day activities and garner protection against potential injuries.
If this all seems a little daunting as you think about your tight hips and hamstrings, don’t worry. Having good flexibility and mobility is about so much more than just being able to touch your toes. And while static stretching is certainly a valid method for bringing more length to your muscles and range of motion to your joints, there are more effective (and enjoyable!) ways to do it. That’s where yoga comes in! Adding yoga to your workout routine can enhance your overall movement, as the physical practice of yoga zeros in on challenging your strength, balance, mobility, and flexibility.
Indeed, research has confirmed there is a connection between yoga and better movement; a 2014 scientific study found that adults who practiced yoga 3 times a week had significantly greater improvements in joint range of motion than adults who engaged in calisthenics alone.(1) Proof enough that adding yoga poses for flexibility into your workout schedule is a worthwhile cause!
Flexibility vs. Mobility
Before we get into the good stuff, it is helpful to understand the difference between flexibility and mobility. These two terms often get used interchangeably, and while they do have some overlap, they are not synonymous.
Flexibility is the ability of the muscle to stretch and lengthen, while mobility refers to the range of motion each joint can move through. Because flexibility contributes to mobility, as more flexible muscles allow for your joints to be more open and mobile, it is important to include both flexibility and mobility training in your routine. You can think of this as static and dynamic movements; static stretches are more passive and will contribute to increased flexibility in your muscles, while dynamic stretches are more active and will allow you to work each joint into an optimal range of motion.
Below are the best yoga poses for flexibility, that can be done in a vinyasa flow style, or can be sprinkled throughout your typical strength training session. If you love these poses and want to deepen your practice, taking a class where you can get in-person advice from a yoga teacher is an excellent place to start. Or, if you prefer the comfort of your own home, check out the SunnyFit® app where you can choose from a variety of yoga classes that can be done right from your living room.
Lay on your stomach with your elbows bent and palms planted on the mat on either side of your chest. Inhale to peel your chest off your mat and shine your heart space forward. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times.
Start in tabletop position with your hips stacked above your knees and shoulders stacked above your wrists. Walk your hands out a few inches in front of you and with an exhale sink your chest to the mat, keeping your tailbone pointed towards the sky.
For a deeper progression of this pose, try Dolphin. Keep your forearms glued to your mat and your hips pointed toward the sky as you straighten your legs. This is also great practice if you are trying to work on building up to inversion poses like headstand or forearm stand.
Hold either variation for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times.
Child’s Pose With Reverse Prayer
From tabletop position bring your knees as wide as your mat and your big toes together to touch. With an exhale sink your hips back to your heels and send your arms out long, forehead comes to rest on the mat. Bend your elbows and bring your palms to touch behind your head. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times.
Upward Facing Dog
From plank position, exhale and slowly lower your body down so it’s hovering just above the mat, keeping your elbows tucked into your sides. Inhale and untuck your toes so the tops of your feet are pressing into your mat, straighten your elbows and open your heart space forward. Keep your spine elongated and your shoulders relaxed away from your ears. Engage the quads as you spiral your thighs inward slightly to protect your lower back. Hold for three deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times.
Begin in tabletop position. Inhale, drop your belly towards the mat, and point your tailbone towards the sky as your heart space opens forward. Send your gaze towards the sky. Exhale, and round your upper back as you push up out of your hands and point your tailbone down towards the mat. Move through these two poses with your breath, for 5-6 rounds of breath.
Lay flat on your back with your legs out long. Inhale to pull your right knee into your chest, exhale to twist from your core, and drop your knee to the left. Extend your right arm out to the side and continue the spinal twist up into your cervical spine as you send your gaze to the right. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times on each side.
Head to Knee Pose
Start in a seated position with your legs in a V shape. Bring the sole of your right foot to meet your left inner thigh. Inhale to reach your hands overhead and rotate so that your hips are facing toward your extended leg. Keep your back flat as best as possible and exhale to fold from your hips over your left leg. Reach to grab your toes, ankle, calf, or let your hands rest on the floor framing your leg. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times on each side.
Easy Pose With Side Body Stretch
Begin in easy pose with your legs crossed in front of you. Inhale to reach your arms up overhead and elongate your spine. Exhale and bring your right palm to plant on the mat by your hip as your left hand reaches up and over. Keep both hips glued to your mat and spiral your chest up. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times on each side.
Thread the Needle
Begin in tabletop position. Inhale to lift your right hand up to the sky as you open your chest to the right side of your mat. Exhale and send the right hand under your left side as you bring your right shoulder and cheek to rest on your mat. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3 times on each side. If you want to make this pose more dynamic, flow with your breath for 5-6 rounds.
Malasana (Yogi Squat)
Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out in a diagonal line. On an exhale, lower your hips down to the mat and bring your elbows to the side of your knees, hands together in prayer at heart center. Keep the chest lifted. If this is uncomfortable, bring a block below your hips to relieve some tension. Hold for three deep breaths and repeat 3-4 times. For a more active variation, flow with your breath for 5-6 rounds.
For an added mobility bonus, reach your left hand out to plant on the mat in front of you. Inhale to reach your right hand towards the sky and find rotation in your thoracic spine as you spiral your chest upwards. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat on the opposite side, or flow back and forth with the breath for 5-6 rounds for a more dynamic stretch.
From a low lunge position (back knee can be lifted or lowered), heel-toe your front foot toward the outer edge of your mat and bring both arms inside of your front leg. If you have the space in your hip joint, you have the option to drop down to your forearms for a deeper stretch. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times.
Lay on your back and exhale to bring your knees into your outer chest (think knees to armpits). Extend your feet so that the soles are facing toward the sky, but keep your knees bent about 90 degrees. Grab your calves, ankles, or arches of your feet. Keep your tailbone and shoulder glued to the mat. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times.
Cow Face Pose
Begin in a seated position with your legs out long in front of you. Bring your right heel to the outside of your left hip, threading your right foot under your left leg. Bring your left heel to the outside of your right hip so that your knees are stacked on top of one another in front of you. Keep your hips grounded. Elongate your spine and bring your left palm up and over to reach for your upper back. Reach your right hand behind you and up your back to extend towards your left hand. Hold for three deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times on each side.
Downward Facing Dog
Start in tabletop position. Tuck your toes under, walk your hands a few inches forward, and lift your hips up toward the sky. Melt your chest back towards your thighs as your heels ground down towards your mat. Hold for 3 deep breaths and repeat 3-5 times.
For a more active variation flow back and forth between plank and down dog for 5-6 rounds of breath.
Low Lunge to Half Splits
Begin in a half-kneeling position. Tuck your tailbone slightly and mindfully shift your weight forward to feel a stretch in your hip flexor. Keep your hips and shoulders square. Inhale and straighten your front leg as you shift your hips back to stack over your back knee. Hold in each pose for 3 deep breaths, 3-5 times. For a dynamic variation, flow with your breath back and forth between poses, for 5-6 rounds of breath on each side.
1. Flexibility of the elderly after one-year practice of yoga and calisthenics, International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 2014. Flexibility of the elderly after one-year practice of yoga and calisthenics - PubMed (nih.gov) Accessed 31 March, 2023.