22 Best Flexibility Exercises to Stretch Your Whole Body

stretchable exercise
stretchable exercise

Stretching and flexibility has become an exercise routine of its own, and rightfully so. Stretching is known to improve flexibility, increase joint range of motion, improve posture, decrease back pain, improve blood flow to muscles, decrease tension headaches, and is excellent for stress relief. 

It used to be a hard, fast rule that you needed to perform flexibility exercises or stretching before your workout or exercise routine; however, research has shown that isn’t necessarily the case.

It’s a good idea to warm up your muscles by performing high steps, walking lunges, or a brisk walk. Stretching is best achieved when the muscles are warmed up (1). 

22 Stretching Exercises for Better Flexibility

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), recommends stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week. As you age, keeping your hips and hamstrings flexible is essential for safe mobility as it improves stability and balance (1).

Here is a list of 22 excellent stretches for your exercise or workout routine to improve your flexibility:

1. Standing Hamstring Stretch

Stretching the hamstrings improves pelvic mobility and decreases restriction of the low back. Tight hamstrings can pull on the pelvis, reducing the natural curve in the spine, which can cause increased pain.

How to: Stand upright with your spine in a neutral position, extend right leg with heel pushing into the ground, and toe pointed toward the sky. Slightly bend your left knee and lean slightly forward at the hips while keeping your spine straight. Rest your hands on your right thigh. 

Hold for 10-30 seconds, repeat up to 5 times on each leg.

Target areas: hamstrings, lower glutes, lower back 

2. Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

People who sit four or more hours a day are at risk for tight hip flexors. Hip flexor tightness is one of the leading causes of back pain. (2)

How to: Stand in a lunge position with your right foot forward and knee bent about 90 degrees. Place hands on your lower thigh just above your knee. Push your hips forward, and you should feel a stretch in the front of your upper left leg.

Hold for 10-30 seconds, repeat up to 5 times on each leg.

Target areas: Hips, groin flexibility, thighs

3. Standing Quad Stretch

The quadriceps muscles activate every time we take a step. It is essential to keep these muscles loose and free from restriction.

How to: Stand with your feet shoulders width apart, toes pointing forward. Bend your left knee, bringing your heel up toward your buttocks and grasp your ankle. Gently pull leg so that your left knee is pointing down toward the ground. 

Hold for 10-30 seconds, switch sides, repeat 5 times on each leg.

Target areas: Quads, hips, groin flexibility

4. Cat stretch

The cat stretch lengthens the muscles that run down the sides of your spine. These muscles tend to get tight from staying in one position for too long. This is a great morning stretch after a good night’s sleep.

How to: Starting position is on hands and knees with your head at chest level, in line with your tail bone. Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, pull your stomach muscles up toward your spine as you curve your spine up toward the ceiling. 

Hold for 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: Mid-back, upper back, pelvis

5. Figure Four Stretch (Piriformis Stretch)

The sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis muscle. It is essential to keep this muscle from getting tight and going into spasm as it can irritate the sciatic nerve.

How to: Sit on a chair in an upright position aligning shoulders over hips. Cross your right ankle above your left knee in a figure four position. Gently press down on the right knee. 

Hold for 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times on each leg.

Target areas: piriformis muscle, hips, glutes

6. 90/90 Stretch

This stretch targets areas of the hips that are difficult to stretch. Ease into it if you can’t get into the 90/90 position right away. Just being able to get into this position gives you excellent hip mobility.

How to: Sit on the floor with both legs bent, hands behind you for support, position your right leg as if you were going to sit “cross-legged,” with your knee at 90 degrees so that your knee and foot are in alignment. Bring the other leg out to the side so that your inner thigh is touching the floor and your foot is behind you. Keep your knee at 90 degrees with your knee and foot in alignment. 

Keeping your spine straight, turn toward your right thigh and bring your belly button down toward your thigh.

Hold for 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times on each leg.

Target areas: hip internal/external rotators, glutes

7. Piriformis Stretch

Stretching your piriformis muscle from this angle is beneficial because you get a good low back and upper glute stretch as well.

How to: Lay flat on the floor with your knees bent. Cross Your left foot over your right knee in a figure four position. Clasp your hands around your left leg and gently pull your left knee toward your right shoulder. 

Hold for 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times on each leg.

Target areas: piriformis muscle, hips, glutes, low back

8. Lunge With Spinal Twist

Performing flexibility exercises such as this one will increase the range of motion in your hips and spine, which is crucial for a healthy walking pattern. Tightness in these muscles can also lead to muscle imbalances.

How to: Take a big step forward with your right foot into a lunge position, keep your opposite leg out straight behind you with your weight on the ball of your foot. Place your right hand on the floor beside you and raise your left hand up toward the ceiling, rotating your spine toward the right (3).

Hold for 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times on each side.

Target areas: hip flexors, quadriceps, lateral back muscles

9. Chest Stretch

Chest stretches will lead to improved chest expansion for breathing and decreased forward shoulder posture.

How to: Grasp a towel with both hands behind your back, keep your hands about shoulder-width apart. While keeping your shoulders down and out (away from your ears), gently lift the towel behind you up toward the ceiling (4).

Hold for 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: pectoral chest muscles

10. Triceps Stretch

Triceps stretch exercises improve mobility of the shoulders, which allows your neck to move more freely, decreasing the chance of injury.

How to: Raise your left arm toward the ceiling with your palm facing outward. Bend your elbow so that your palm is facing your upper back, and your middle finger is in line with your spine. Reach up with your opposite hand and gently push down above your left elbow with your opposite hand. (5)

Hold for 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: triceps muscles, backs of shoulders

11. Butterfly Stretch

Butterfly stretches improve groin flexibility and also provide a good stretch for the inner thigh muscles. 

How to: Sit on the floor with both knees bent and feet close together, gently drop your knees down toward the ground (like butterfly wings). Move your feet forward and backward to adjust the amount of stretch, gently stretching legs. Do not bounce. (6)

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: inner thighs, hips, groin flexibility

12. Side Bend Stretch

Side bending exercises improve torso and spine movement, decreasing the incidence of mechanical low back pain.

How to: Raise your right hand toward the ceiling, bend your upper body, and reach toward the left. Keep your body facing forward, and don’t twist your trunk. (7)

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: sides, lower back, shoulder

13. Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch

Your hip flexors attach to your pelvis. Keeping pelvic muscles flexible is vital to maintaining low back health.

How to: Get into a lunge position and put the trailing knee and shin on the floor. Tuck your butt under and push your hips forward. You should feel a stretch at the top, the front part of your hip (8).

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Targets: Hips, lower abdominals, upper quads

14. Lying Pectoral Stretch

This is one of the best movements to open up your chest and relieve joint stiffness in your shoulders.

How to: Lie faceup on the floor with hands clasped behind your neck. Allow elbows to fall toward the floor until a stretch is felt in the inside of your arms and chest.

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: chest, shoulders

15. Knee to Chest Stretch

This exercise should be one of your regular activities after workouts. It is easy to do, but it has many benefits. From opening up the joints in your lower spine to stretching the upper glutes, it is good for core mobili.

How to: Lie faceup on the floor, bring one knee up toward your chest. Grasp thigh and pull the leg toward the chest.

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: glutes, low back

16. Seated Neck Release

The neck is very susceptible to muscle tension and is often forgotten about during post-workout stretching. This exercise keeps your neck moving correctly, and that is a sure way to decreased headaches and muscle tension in your neck and shoulders.

How to: Sit on the floor in a cross-legged position or in a chair, extend your right arm down toward the floor, and bend your neck away toward the left. Use your left hand to reach up and gently pull your left ear toward your left shoulder (you should feel no discomfort).

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times alternating on each side.

Target areas: neck muscles

17. Lying Quad Stretch

Lying quad stretch is another way to mobilize your hip flexors and keep your groin muscles flexible, allowing you to keep your gait pattern in peak form.

How to: Lie facedown propping your head up, position legs hip-width apart. Bend your right knee and grasp around your ankle, pulling your knee toward your butt (9).

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times on each side.

Target areas: quadriceps, hips, groin flexibility

18. Lying Hamstring Stretch

Another variation of the hamstring stretch, loosening this muscle group, plays an integral role in mobilizing your core.

How to: Lie faceup on the floor with both legs bent. Grasp behind your right thigh and straighten your leg while gently pulling it toward your chest.

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times on each side.

Target areas: hamstrings, hips, lower glutes

19. Sphinx Pose

While performing the sphinx pose exercise, focus on relaxing your abdominal and back muscles for optimal stretch but never push past pain with this activity.

How to: Lie face down with elbows at your sides and palms down. Push up onto your elbows and then lift your chest and upper abdomen off the floor. Try to relax the muscles in your stomach and lower back to and try to bend without muscle contraction (10).

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: low back, spine, hips

20. Extended Puppy Pose

This yoga exercise is well suited to provide maximum flexibility. It may take some time to perfect it, but the benefits will be worth the work.

How to: Get on hands and knees with shoulders above wrists and hips above knees. Slide arms and shoulders forward until the forehead is resting on the floor. Move buttocks halfway toward heals (11).

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: upper back, spine, shoulders

21. Pretzel Stretch

You get a lot of bang for your buck with the pretzel stretch, but keep in mind that twisting at the waist can irritate your low back if not done with care. For this reason, you should stop if you feel any increased pain.

How to: Sit on the floor with both legs extended. Bend left leg and place the left foot beside the right knee. Turn your body to the left and place your right elbow on the outside of your left leg and gently push your body further to the left with your right elbow. Repeat on the opposite side (12).

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: back, buttocks, abs, hips, thighs

22. Reclining Bound Angle Pose

This exercise is very similar to the seated butterfly; this pose also originates with yoga. The benefits of hip and groin flexibility are endless.

How to: Lie faceup on the floor with arms at sides and palms up. Bend your knees and bring your ankles together. Gently let your knees fall outward while keeping your ankles together. Move your up and down to control the intensity of the exercise (13).

Hold 10-30 seconds, repeat 5 times.

Target areas: hips, groin flexibility

The Last Word

Stretching exercises increase blood flow to the muscle and carry away lactic acid and metabolites that build up and cause irritation. Increasing and maintaining joint range of motion improves mobility, decreases joint pain and maintains healthy alignment of the body. Muscle imbalances are a common cause of joint problems, so add stretches to your fitness routine today to maintain healthy, pain-free joints.

Sources

  1. Collins, S. (2014, February 25). Stretching and Flexibility: How to Stretch, When to Stretch. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/how-to-stretch
  2. The Joint Ventures’ Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from http://www.jointventurespt.com/blog/importance-of-hip-flexor-stretching
  3. Lunge With Spinal Twist. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.skimble.com/exercises/32558-lunge-with-spinal-twist-how-to-do-exercise
  4. Inverarity, L. (2020, February 03). How to Do the Towel Chest Stretch. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-pectoral-stretch-exercise-2696346
  5. 26, R. (2020, January 24). Standing Triceps Stretch. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.wellandgood.com/triceps-stretches/
  6. Quinn, E. (n.d.). How to Do the Butterfly Stretch Correctly. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.verywellfit.com/seated-groin-and-inner-thigh-stretch-3120294
  7. How To Do Standing Side Bend. (2016, July 29). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://gethealthyu.com/exercise/standing-side-bend/
  8. Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.google.com/search?q=lunging+hip+flexor+stretch
  9. 5 Quad Stretches You Can Do Anywhere. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.gloveworx.com/blog/quad-stretches-help-become-unstoppable/
  10. How to do Sphinx Pose. (2016, January 04). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.doyou.com/how-to-do-sphinx-pose-92587/
  11. Extended Puppy Post. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.google.com/search?q=extended+puppy+post
  12. Seated Pretzel Stretch. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.fitness.com/exercises/209/seated-pretzel-stretch
  13. How To Do Reclined Bound Angle Pose. (2012, December 19). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.doyou.com/how-to-do-reclined-bound-angle-pose/
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