Stretching is one of the most important things you can do to improve your fitness.
While most people tend to focus chiefly on muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance, stretching is an equally important pillar of fitness.
Stretching can  improve your physical performance, decrease injury risk, enhance mobility, increase blood flow to your muscles to speed up recovery, and combat the stiffness and inflexibility that comes from spending long hours sitting every day.
It’s absolutely imperative that you take time before and after every workout to stretch, loosening up your muscles and joints to improve mobility.
Below, we’ll share with you the 11 stretches that I consider essential to my training, and which will help to make you a more mobile, flexible, and agile person no matter what type of exercise you do.
Side, Back, and Forward Bend – The first thing to do when stretching is to loosen up the tense muscles in your core. After hours spent sitting down, it does wonders to bend to the sides, front, and back. It’ll start unlocking the tightness in your entire body (upper body, core, and lower body), enabling more efficient movement.
Standing Hamstring Stretch – Once you’ve worked through the basic bends, now it’s time to really sink in deep and work on those hamstrings. Your hamstrings and glutes tighten up because they aren’t engaged while you’re sitting down, so long hours spent seated at your workstation or desk will reduce mobility. If you don’t take the time to loosen up these leg muscles, you’ll find your posture is off, your hips feel tight, and your lower back has to compensate (not a good thing!). For this stretch, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Lean forward and let your arms hang down to touch your feet or the floor (or as low as you can go). You’ll feel the tension in the backs of your legs. Take long, slow breaths, and try to go lower on each breath. Spending a minute or so loosening up the hamstrings is crucial for facilitating smoother lower body movement.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend. After working the hamstrings with your feet close together, spread them nice and wide (as wide as you can) and repeat the forward bend. This does amazing things to unlock mobility in your hips—and, if you are doing martial arts or dancing, helps you push closer to doing the splits. Plus, with your legs straight, it’ll give you extra stretching focused on loosening up your hamstrings and improving ankle mobility.
Five-Step Leg Sequence. One final leg stretch before you move on to the upper body and core! Start off in the Triangle Pose, with your legs spread wide and your body twisted to face your right leg. Give yourself a few seconds in that pose, then add the reach, twisting your torso so you have one hand on your ankle and the other reaching toward the sky. This is great for unlocking some mobility in your back as well as your hips. Then transition into a Runner’s Lunge to loosen up any tension in your quads and hamstrings. Go deeper into that stretch by planting your hands on the floor beside your feet. Finish it off with the Pigeon Pose, really stretching everything from your ankle to your hip. Now repeat on the other side to loosen up the other leg.
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Triceps and Shoulder Stretch. With plenty of attention paid to your lower body, it’s time to give your upper body some love. Stand up straight and cross your right arm in front of your chest. Curl your left arm in front of your right arm and use it to pull your right arm into your chest. You’ll feel that stretch along the back of your arm and your shoulder. Repeat on the left side, then reach your right arm up, bend the elbow, and bring your hand down to touch your shoulder blade. Use your left hand to pull the right elbow to the left. For an even better triceps stretch, lean slightly to the left. You’ll feel that running all the way down your side, loosening up chest and oblique muscles, too. Repeat on the left side to balance it out.
Neck Stretch. Work your neck from side to side, using your hands to pull down on the top of your head to loosen up the muscles along the side of your neck. Turn your face first to the right, then to the left. Finally, finish off by rolling your head around on your neck—full circles or half-rolls in the front or the back. Whatever exercise you’re doing, you’ll find this does wonders to loosen up tension in your neck. Plus, it can help to combat stiffness from a poor night’s sleep or poor posture seated at your desk.
Cobra Stretch. This focuses on loosening up the tight muscles in your abdomen. Before a workout, it can help to activate muscles that may have been inactive following long hours sitting down. After a workout, it will relax muscles that you may have hammered by doing lots of crunches, Planks, or other ab-focused movements. Plus, it’ll help to re-align your spine and relax the muscles in your back.
Cat-Cow Stretch. If you’ve got back problems—or even if you just want to improve your lower back mobility—this is a game-changing stretch. It’s easy to do: on your hands and knees, arch your back upward into when you inhale and curl it downward when you exhale. It will help to loosen the muscles all the way from your shoulders down to your hips.
Lying Back Stretches. This stretch is highly recommended by chiropractors! Start by lying on your back, with your arms extended by your sides and legs straight. Bring your right knee up to your chest and use your hands to pull it in toward you as much as you can. Then, bring that knee over to your left side as close to the floor as you can, while extending your right arm out to the side. You’ll feel that wonderful twisting stretch in one side of your lower back. When you repeat it, this time with your left knee, you’ll loosen up the other side. It’s excellent for restoring spinal alignment and combatting tension or stiffness in those supportive lower back muscles.
Standing Quad Stretch. Now that you’ve paid attention to your upper body and core, it’s time to give your legs a little bit more love before heading off to your training or heading home after your workout. The standing quad stretch will relax and increase blood flow to the lower body muscle group that ends up doing the bulk of the work when you run, squat, lunge, jump, and otherwise work your legs. For this stretch, shift all your weight onto your left leg, bend your right leg, and grab your right foot with both hands. Use your hands to pull your heel toward your butt and hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. Repeat with your left leg for another 20-30 seconds. Spending a minute on this stretch can also help to protect your knees and stave off knee pain and injury.
Standing Calf Stretch. Last but not least, focus on your calves. Stand leaning on the wall or a chair, with your legs straight and heels flat on the floor. Bend your legs one at a time to lift one heel off the ground, which will help to stretch the other heel that is still planted. Switch back and forth between the two legs to give those calves some love. They’ll be doing a lot of work when you run, jump, lift, and play, so it’s worth limbering them up, too.
Put these all together into a five-to-ten-minute stretching routine that follows the exact sequence described above.
Do it before and after your workouts, and you’ll recover faster, reduce your risk of injuries, and enjoy far better flexibility and mobility in every area of your life.
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