How to improve flexibility after Angela Rippon stuns with leg lift on Strictly

Angela Rippon and her professional dancing partner Kai Widdrington pose with Rippon's leg raised high above her head during her first dance in Strictly Come Dancing
Angela Rippon made jaws drop with her performance on the first round of Strictly Come Dancing. (BBC)

Strictly Come Dancing returned to our screens on Saturday evening and among the stars who strutted, shimmied and samba’d, one celebrity stunned fans by an impressive stretch - Angela Rippon.

Stepping out with her professional partner Kai Widdrington, the broadcaster danced the Cha Cha to Shirley Bassey’s interpretation of Pink’s hit song, Get the Party Started in the first round of the BBC’s popular dance contest.

But one move had some viewers declaring Rippon should be handed the Glitterball Trophy there and then. The 78-year-old presenter - who is the oldest contestant on the show this year - executed a high kick that saw her leg reach above her head.

Even the usually-critical Craig Revel Horwood described Rippon’s feat of flexibility as “jaw-dropping”. The Rip Off Britain star previously spoke about her fitness routine, which includes stretching exercises to keep her limber.

Read more: I want to be like Strictly's Angela Rippon when I’m her age and I would love to see her made a Dame (National World, 3-min read)

"Being able to do the splits is something I am still very proud of. I do stretching exercises every morning, which I’ve done for years. It’s a combination of yoga, pilates and ballet that helps get everything working and keep it in the right place," she told Daily Express.

Kai Widdrington and Angela Rippon dance the cha-cha in matching silver outfits
Angela Rippon impressed the judges and viewers in her first dance for Strictly Come Dancing. (BBC)

Why is flexibility important?

Maintaining and improving your flexibility can bring plenty of physical benefits, such as improved balance, coordination, and range of motion.

It can also help reduce the risk of injury as your body can move with more freedom, according to physiotherapists from Surrey Physio. Improved flexibility can help reduce the risk of strains, sprains and tears, as well as the risk of overuse injuries.

People who stretch regularly to stay supple may also benefit from better posture, which reduces back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain.

Read more: Why slow hiking (or 'rambling', 'puttering along') is a TikTok fitness fad for us all (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)

How can I improve my flexibility?

Even if you haven’t been active in a while, there are some easy and gentle exercises you can do to stretch your muscles and start improving your flexibility.

A woman wearing a pink running jacket stands on a pier and places a hand on her head to stretch the side of her neck
Doing gentle stretches to improve flexibility can help get you started. (Getty Images)

The NHS suggests wearing loose, comfortable clothing as you practice these stretches, and building up your flexibility slowly over time.

Neck rotation

This exercise can improve neck mobility and flexibility. You should aim to do three rotations on each side.

  • Sit upright with shoulders down and look straight ahead.

  • Slowly turn your head towards your left shoulder as far as you can comfortably. Hold for five seconds, and return to the starting position.

  • Repeat the motion on the right.

Read more: What is breathwork as Strictly star Angela Rippon says she’s using the technique to help her asthma? (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)

Neck stretch

This exercise is good for relaxing tight neck muscles. Hold each stretch for five seconds and repeat three times on each side.

  • Sit upright, look straight ahead and hold your left shoulder down with your right hand.

  • Slowly tilt your head to the right while still holding your shoulder down. Return to the starting position.

  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Sideways bend

This exercise helps improve flexibility in the lower back. You should aim to hold each scratch for two seconds, and repeat three times on each side.

  • Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and relax your arms by your side.

  • Slide your left arm down your side as far as you can comfortably. You should feel a stretch in the opposite hip and side as you lower your arm.

  • Repeat on the other side.

Calf stretch

This exercise can help stretch out tight calf muscles. Aim to do three on each side.

  • Stand upright facing a wall and place your hands on the wall for stability.

  • Bend the right leg and step the left leg back at least a foot’s distance. Keep the left leg straight.

  • Keep both feet flat on the floor. You should feel the left calf muscle stretch.

  • Repeat with the opposite leg.

Read more: Strictly Come Dancing 2023 week one: Golden oldies know how to get the party started (The Telegraph, 3-min read)

How often should I do these exercises?

You can start doing these exercises on two or more days a week, and build up your flexibility over time by increasing the repetitions you do or how far you stretch.

The NHS advises that each exercise should be performed to the point at which it would be difficult to do another repetition without help, as this builds up strength.

The health service adds that it is a “good idea” to do muscle-strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups, including legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.