Improve Flexibility, Decrease Joint Stiffness…The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Because calisthenics is not your normal “up the weight” training program, you will quickly realize just how important mobility and flexibility is for building your strength and calisthenics skills.

Here is why it is important:

Just imagine strength as horsepower in an engine…

….No matter how powerful, you can’t control it if your tires are worn out…

If you only focus on adding horsepower, you’ll end up with worn down breaks, broken interiors, and bald tires.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

This is a bad idea.

You are building your own death trap.

There are two ways it can go: 1. or you will end up not being able to use that horsepower 2. Or you will crash. Simple as that.

If you just kept on adding all the weight, more horsepower but I had no ability to control it in any way. When I weight lifted in the past, I had a lot of strength. However, I had a bad shoulder and a bad knee, and my back was hurting. It was only a matter of time until I seriously injured myself.

And this is where mobility and flexibility comes in.

If you want to get stronger, you need to build a base of fundamental strength, but you need more than just muscular strength. You also need:

  • Strong tendons and ligaments
  • Strong joints
  • Flexibility and mobility
  • Balance and stability
  • Control

You need to develop all the other fitness qualities and physical abilities to be able to handle your muscular strength safely.

Once you improve your brakes, tires, and interiors, we can add more horsepower. That enables you to improve your skills and perform more advanced movements. These skills will continue building on top of others for your constant improvement.. Because of that  all around aspect of calisthenics, you can actually build more strength than with just weightlifting!

Lack of calisthenics can not only hinder your progress, but can make it impossible to move forward. I quickly realized that my stiff joints were becoming a barrier in my success and it was time to take care of it. I dove into research on the topic; below is everything I have learned in the process of avoiding joint stiffness and increasing my overall range of motion.

What You Need to Know About Flexibility and Range of Motion

    • Strength and flexibility go hand-in-hand. You cannot attain success in your calisthenics program unless you have both strength and flexibility. In studying the essential body mechanics, we see that our muscles need to have the strength to be flexible. Notice that when you work out, your body does not let you go beyond a particular level of flexibility.  This is what is referred to as your range of motion. If you have no flexibility, you will have a limited range of motion, and thus reduced strength.
    • Weak joints can lead to injuries.  If the muscles stabilising a joint are weak, then this joint and the muscles associated with it are at risk for injury. This is an important aspect in your calisthenics training program. If you tend to have weak joints, then it is wise to start on the lighter end for your safety.

    To counter stiff joints and bring a drastic improvement in flexibility, try different types of stretches that target all the muscle groups. It is best to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, and consider two sets of each stretch for optimal results.  Follow along with the video below for an introduction to stretches.

When to Stretch in your Workout

Most of us are focused on warm-up exercises, and we tend to do different stretches as part of a warm-up session. Studies show that stretching is not considered to be part of a warm-up. Rather, your stretching should occur at the end of your workout when your muscles and joints are sufficiently warmed.  

Another ideal time to try out stretches is before bedtime, which helps to relieve some of the tension in your muscles at the end of the day. Stretching 30 minutes before bed can help your body ease all of the tension, and can help calm your nerves for effective sleep. Follow these easy tips to help improve your flexibility and to ease tension.

Another important aspect when looking to improve flexibility is to select the right stretches for you and your goals. For example, dynamic stretches are perfect for a warm-up session or before competitive activities. Static stretches are ideal for any post-workout routine, so this is something that any athlete can do in the gym to stretch the worked muscles.  Lastly, more advanced stretches (which brings the best results of all forms) is PNF.  This is an advanced way to stretch the muscles and joints, and should be done with a partner who knows what they are doing.

Clueless about static and PNF stretching? Let me explain more. Static stretching is a stretch without any movement. This means that you will be getting into your stretching position and then hold that position for a certain amount of time (roughly 30 seconds). Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) helps the body overcome resistance by using a contract/relax/stretch method. This cycle of tension and relaxation allows for deeper stretches and improved range of motion. Thisis considered the most advanced stretching method around. With PNF stretching and long-hold static stretching, we can get results on a permanent basis.

Important Tips to Improve Joint Stiffness

Now that we have gone through some tips, let’s look at some practical activities that can help to relieve joint stiffness and help us to prepare for calisthenics.

Upper body activities:

    • Head: Stand or sit and face forward. Your arms should be at your side, and your shoulders need to be square. Your head should be  turned to one side. We need to hold in this position for 30 seconds and then slowly face forward. Now we need to start turning to the other side. We need to look up and then look down. Your head needs to be rotated clockwise first, and then counter-clockwise.  Do all of these for 30 seconds each.
    • Triceps: Bring one arm up in the air and bend your elbow so that your hand is behind your body.  Bring your other hand up to your bent elbow above and slowly lower your arms behind your body.  Hold this position for 30 seconds and switch arms.
    • Shoulders: Reach one arm across your body towards your other shoulder.  Bring your other arm underneath that extended arm and hold that stretch for 30 seconds.  Switch arms and repeat.
    • Trunk: Your hands need to be placed on your hips, then start to bend at your waist to the left. Then straighten up and bend to the right.

Lower body activities:

    • Legs: Sit in a chair. Extend one leg out in front and place your foot on the ground. Slowly reach your hands down your legs towards your toes while keeping your legs as straight as possible.
    • Hips: Your hips need to be rocked from side to side; the weight needs to be on one hip and then shifted to your other hip.
    • Torso: While sitting, twist to one side and attempt to look over one shoulder.  Repeat on the other side.  Hold each stretch for 30 seconds each.
    • Calves/Thighs: Stand up and face the wall. Straighten one leg out back behind your body. Your palms should be pressed against the wall, and you need to feel the stretch by leaning forward into the wall. The stretch should be felt on your calves and thighs. You need to hold this position for about 30 seconds, and then switch sides and repeat.

If you try out these tips and exercises, you will really be able to prepare yourself for calisthenics like I did.  These tips are ideal for improving flexibility to gain a better range of motion, and subsequently to gain better strength.

Do you have a favorite mobility routine? Share in the comments!

Professional trainer, ex cross-fitter and a long time calisthenic practitioner. I started with Convict Conditioning and achieved levels of strength which enabled me to take part in street workouts championships. Check Out our Resources and Start Building Real Strength just using your Bodyweight!