by: Yuri Elkaim

19 Stretches to Improve Flexibility You Can Do Right Now

You know that awe-struck feeling you get when you watch an experienced yogi fold their body into what seems like an impossible shape?

Chances are there’s a little envy thrown in with that awe, as you wouldn’t mind that same level of flexibility for yourself.

Luckily, adding a few stretches to your daily routine will have you trading in envy for a bendable body of your own.

However, there is one thing to remember before start a stretching program.

Always Get Warm Before Stretching

It’s important that you always warm up before stretching, as muscles are more elastic and less prone to tear when warm (1).

A good rule of thumb is to aim for a five-minute dynamic warm up before you stretch. This includes exercises like pushups, walking lunges, leg swings, or any other bodyweight exercise that gets your blood pumping and involves some degree of flexibility and range of motion.

However, you don’t want to stretch too much before a workout, as it has been shown in some studies to lower performance, causing runners to slow down, jumpers not to jump as high, and even limiting how much weight lifters can lift if done immediately before a workout (2).

You also don’t want to excessively stretch your muscles after your workout. This is because strength training essentially causes microscopic tears in muscle fibers.

[Related: Anatomy of a Great Fat Loss Workout (5 Must-Have Parts)]

Following exercise, these tears repair themselves, resulting in stronger muscles.

What we don’t want to do is tear these fibers even more with excessive stretching. Instead, if you’re stretching post-workout, concentrate on shorter holds of 5 to 10 seconds for each stretch.

But if you’re stretching separately from your workout, you can focus on holding your stretch for longer (20 to 30 seconds) after warming up.

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Easy Stretches to Improve Flexibility

Now without further ado, below is a list of stretches to improve flexibility you can do anywhere at any time. Most are standing or require simply a floor, wall, or chair.

Hamstring Stretches

1. Scissor Hamstring Stretch

triangle-hamstring-stretch

The scissor hamstring stretch can be done anywhere with a level surface.

  • Begin standing, stepping one foot roughly two feet behind you.
  • Keep both legs straight and bend forward from your hips.
  • Touch the floor with your fingertips if you can.
  • Once your flexibility increases, you can try gripping your ankle and pulling yourself forward further for a deeper stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, switching your leading leg.

2. Instep Hamstring Stretch

instep-hamstring-stretch

This challenging stretch targets not only your hamstrings but also your inner thighs and core. Be sure to breathe and keep your upper body and core engaged so you don’t round your back forward.

  • Stand tall with your arms at your sides.
  • Step backward into a lunge with your right foot.
  • Place your right hand on the floor and your left elbow to the inside of your left foot. Hold for a 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Next, place your left hand back on the floor, hands on either side of your left foot.
  • Press back to straighten the front leg for a deep hamstring stretch. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, being sure to breathe.
  • Bend the left leg again into a lunge, and, torso long, twist your chest toward your left knee and lift your left hand up to the ceiling, for a rotational stretch. Breathe and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

3. Single Hamstring Stretch

single-leg-hamstring-stretch

  • Begin on the floor, bending one leg in toward you at the knee with the other extended in front of you.
  • Lean forward from your hips over your extended leg, tip-toeing your fingertips toward your toes.
  • Hold for 30 seconds then switch legs.

Hip Flexor Stretches

4. Seated Groin Stretch

seated-groin-stretch

  • Begin seated on the floor, knees bent out to your sides and soles of your feet touching.
  • Pull the feet gently in toward your body until you feel a stretch in your hips and inner thighs.
  • Once your flexibility increases, try leaning forward to deepen the stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

5. Pigeon Stretch

pigeon-stretch

The pigeon stretch (also a yoga pose) is often referred to as the King of Hip Openers, giving you an idea of just how powerful a stretch it really is.

  • Begin in a tabletop position, on all fours.
  • Bring your right leg forward and sink down so the outer edge is resting on the floor.
  • Extend your left leg behind you, keeping your hips angling toward the floor.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then step your right foot back under you and repeat on the left leg.

Calf Stretch

6. Wall Calf Stretch

wall-calf-stretch

  • Begin by bracing your hands on a wall in front of you.
  • Step your right leg forward and left leg behind you, feet facing forward.
  • Bend your right leg, while working to keep your left heel on the ground.
  • Hold for 15 seconds, then switch.

Quadriceps Stretch

7. Standing Quad Stretch

quadriceps-stretch

  • Stand tall on a flat surface.
  • If you need to, use a chair or wall for support as you bend your left knee and grab your foot with your left hand.
  • Pull your foot toward your glutes, keeping your chest open.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.

Upper Body Stretches

8. Single-Arm Triceps Stretch

triceps-stretch

  • Begin by lifting one arm up and over your head, folding at the elbow.
  • Now, grasp your elbow with your opposite hand and gently pull, creating a deep tricep stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds on each arm.

9. Cow Face Pose for Shoulders

cow-face-pose

This stretch is actually a yoga pose. It stretches the front of the shoulders as well as the triceps, and is great for relieving tight shoulders from slouching or working on a computer.

  • Begin either sitting or standing.
  • Extend your right arm straight up, then bend it at the elbow and let it fall behind you.
  • Bend your left arm back behind you (you will already feel the shoulder begin to stretch) and attempt to grab the fingertips of your right hand.
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds then repeat with the other arm.

Tip: This stretch may take a while to perform fully, so rest your fingertips as close together as possible when first starting.

10. Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch

shoulder-stretch

  • Begin standing, extending one arm across your body.
  • Wrap the opposite arm around your extended arm, gently pulling until you feel your shoulder stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds on each arm.

11. Chest Corner Stretch

Chest Corner Stretch

  • Begin by finding a corner in your house or office.
  • Stand with your feet slightly away from the wall, one hand and elbow on the side of the corner.
  • Now lean forward into the corner until you feel your chest and shoulder muscles stretch.
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

12. Doorway 1-Arm Chest Stretch

Chest Corner Stretch

The doorway chest stretch is similar to the corner stretch, but instead your arm is extended straight.

  • Begin standing in an open doorway, your right hand on the frame at shoulder level.
  • Holding the right arm straight, with your left relaxed at your side, rotate your torso to the left until you feel the stretch in the right side of your chest.
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Back Stretches

13. Knee-to-Chest Stretch

knee-tuck-stretch

Release your lower back with this stretch.

  • Begin lying on your back on the floor, feet pointing skyward.
  • Bend your right knee into your chest, grasping it with your hands to pull it closer.
  • You will also feel a slight hamstring stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.

14. Child’s Pose

childs-pose

Another yoga pose, child pose stretches the upper and lower back, as well as the lats (upper back) and shoulders.

  • Begin on all fours on the floor, hands and knees hip and shoulder-width apart.
  • Tuck your toes under and push your hips back over your knees.
  • Let your arms stretch in front of you as you rest your forehead on the floor.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

15. Lying Knee Twist

leg-crossover

  • Begin lying on your back, legs extended out in front of you.
  • Bend your right knee and extend it over your left leg.
  • Keep your upper back on the floor. You should feel a stretch in your lower back and glute muscles.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides.

Core Stretches

16. Cobra Pose

cobra-pose

  • Begin lying on your stomach with your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders.
  • Keeping your elbows tucked in, lift your head and torso by pushing with your hands until you feel a stretch in the front of your abdomen.
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

17. Standing Oblique Stretch

standing-oblique-stretch

  • Begin standing tall.
  • Extend both arms over your head, clasping your palms together.
  • Lean to one side, gently pulling on the opposite arm until you feel a stretch extending down your entire side.
  • Hold for 15 seconds and then switch sides.

Glute Stretches

18. Pretzel Stretch

pretzel-stretch

  • While lying flat on your back, bend both knees.
  • Cross one leg over so your ankle is resting on the opposite knee.
  • Gently pull the uncrossed leg toward your chest until you feel a deep stretch in your glute.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.

19. Twisting Glute Stretch

twisting-glute-stretch

  • Sit on the floor with your legs stretched in front of you.
  • Bend one knee, keeping the other extended.
  • Drape your opposite arm across your bent knee and twist toward it until you feel a stretch in your glute and outer hip.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.

2 Complete Flexibility Workouts

Below are two stretching routines to improve flexibility, split between your upper and lower body. Don’t be afraid to concentrate on, say, hamstring stretches more often if you feel they are a problem area for you.

Frequency

Perform a full stretch routine daily if possible.

If you’re stretching after your workout, remember to hold the stretch for about 5 to 10 seconds, as we want to be as gentle as possible on the muscles we just worked.

Also, try to alternate stretches, performing different ones on different days.

For example, if you’re stretching your hamstrings, perform the standing hamstring stretch one day, then try the single hamstring stretch the next day.

Aim to hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

Lower Body Stretch Routine

  1. Standing, scissor, or single hamstring stretch
  2. Twisting glute stretch
  3. Seated groin or pretzel stretch
  4. Pigeon pose
  5. Standing quad stretch
  6. Wall calf stretch
  7. Lying knee twist
  8. Knee-to-chest stretch

Upper Body Stretch Routine

  1. Standing triceps stretch
  2. Cross-body shoulder stretch
  3. Cow face pose
  4. Standing oblique stretch
  5. Child’s pose
  6. Cobra pose
  7. Doorway chest stretch and/or corner chest stretch

Have Patience

There’s no real trick to improving your flexibility. It just takes time and consistent effort – like most things related to fitness.

The key to letting yourself get more limber is to relax into the stretches and enjoy them. Before long, you’ll find yourself bending into positions you had no idea you were capable of!

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Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.