Stretching, such as warm-ups and cooldowns, may seem optional, but these aspects of the exercise are just as important as your actual workout. Stretching has many benefits, for beginners and active people of all fitness levels.
“Stretching improves your body’s ability to move and can significantly increase your mobility while reducing exercise-related pain,” says Carlos Tisdale, ATC, CSCS.
Stretching the whole body can improve your range of motion, prevent exercise stress, increase flexibility, reduce the risk of injury and give you more strength and endurance. To reap these benefits, incorporate a mix of dynamic and static stretches into your stretching routine.
Here, Tisdale shares some of her favorite “stretching for kids” tricks (also good for anyone who can use refreshers in stretching). We start with dynamic warm-ups that you can use to start any workout, then move on to static stretches to help you relax after exercise.
This yoga standard gives you a full-body stretch and can prepare you for exercises that include planks and push-ups.
- Start with a high plank, with your hands under your shoulders and slightly wider than your buttocks. Push your hips up and back. Create a hill shape with your body, keep your tailbone at the top.
- Keep the palm of your hand wide with your index finger on the floor, and press your index and thumb to protect your wrist.
- Straighten your legs or place a soft bend at your knees. Lower your heel toward the mat (this is fine if your heel does not touch the mat).
- Keep your ears aligned with your biceps so that you do not strain your neck.
- Hold 5 to 10 breaths.
This dynamic mini-flow is great before any workout. It stretches your back, core and buttocks, as well as your neck and chest.
- Start all four with your back flat, your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your buttocks.
- As you exhale, turn your back toward the ceiling, hold your tail bone, and bring your chin to your chest.
- While breathing, bend your back down, lower your abdomen and lift your chest, chin and tail bones.
- Continue alternating between the two postures, flowing with the speed of your breathing for 5 to 10 breaths.
3. Walking lounge
This dynamic extension challenges your stability, for which you need to attach your core, glutes and legs.
- Stand tall by keeping your legs hip-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- With your chest elevated, shoulders back, core braces and back flat, take a big step with your right foot, lower your body until your right thighs are parallel to the floor, and bend both knees 90 degrees.
- Push your front foot, drive down with the ankle of your right foot as you move your left foot forward to return to a standing position.
- Go forward again, this time with your left foot. Periodically continue the legs, repeating both equally. Aim for 10 per party.
4. Hip circles
This simple step will help loosen your back, buttocks and core before you exercise or at any time before you feel tight.
- Stand with your legs hip-width apart, knees slightly bent and hands on hips.
- Move your buttocks clockwise in a circle (front, right, back, left), creating a large circle as your muscles warm up.
- Continue for 30 seconds, and then repeat counterclockwise.
5. Leg swing
This move challenges your balance when heating your buttocks and gums.
- Stand tall with your legs together and keep your arms by your side or grab a stable surface for balance.
- Transfer your weight to your left leg and extend your right leg to your side.
- Swing your right leg parallel to the back of your left leg with your shoulders. Continue for 30 seconds.
- Change legs and repeat.
6. Shoulder rolls
The shoulder carries a lot of tension, and this simple movement can help release it, consequently increasing your range of motion. It loosens them before you work.
- Stand with your hips wide apart, your shoulders relaxed, and your arms at your sides.
- Slowly roll your shoulders in a circle (front, top, back and bottom).
- After 30 seconds, reverse the directions.
7. Chest stretched
This static stretch is easy but the work is done. It also opens the front of your shoulder, making it perfect after sitting for long days.
- Stand tall by separating the hip-width of your legs and keeping your hands beside you.
- Lifting your chest during the whole movement, attach your fingers to the back of your back.
- Pull your shoulder blades under your back and straighten your arms while you keep your chest up and look at the ceiling.
- Hold for 15 seconds, then gently release the hug of your hand.
8. Eagle weapon
Easy to do anywhere, this stretch looks great on your shoulders and back.
- Stand by your side with your arms outstretched.
- Cross your right elbow under your left elbow and touch the palms of your hands (point your fingers towards the ceiling). If it is uncomfortable to align your hands on your shoulders, cross your arms across your chest and reach the opposite shoulder (such as a big bear hug).
- Lift your elbows in line with your shoulders and pull the palms of your hands away from your face. You should feel a stretch between the shoulder blades.
- After 5 to 10 breaths, open your arms.
- Repeat on the other side, this time crossing your right lower left hand.
Balance a workout packed with squats and lunges with this stretch for your glutes and buttocks muscles.
- Lie on your back, bend your knees at your ankles and keep your feet on the floor.
- Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Place the part of your ankle bone on the outside of your knee.
- Flex your right leg to protect your knees and reduce any discomfort.
- Lift your left leg off the floor. Bend your left knee 90 degrees.
- Reach your arm around your left foot (on both sides), and attach your toes to your left hamstring.
- If possible, press your right elbow to your right leg near your knee to extend.
- Hold 5 to 10 breaths.
- Repeat on the left.
10. Standing Quad Stretch
During many workouts, your large quad muscles work a lot, so taking time for such steady stretching can help reduce pain and make recovery easier.
- If necessary, use a chair or a wall to balance the hip-width apart.
- Bend your right knee and lift your legs behind you, holding the top of it with your right hand.
- Keep the pelvis bald and point the right knee to the floor (and align with your left knee). Use your arm to pull that heel towards your glute until you feel tension in the quadriceps muscle.
- Hold 5 to 10 breaths.
- Release your legs, and repeat on your other side.
11. Side-laying quad stretch
Here’s another simple static stretch to target the quad muscles, which tend to be overlooked.
- Straighten your legs on your right side and stacked on top of each other. Bend your right arm and use your hand to rise above your head.
- Bend your left knee, and return to your left hand to hold your foot.
- With your left knee aligned with your right knee, use your hands to pull your legs towards your glute until you feel tension in the quad muscles.
- Hold 5 to 10 breaths.
- Release the legs and repeat in the opposite direction.
12. Half-knee posterior tilt
This simple step should be included in any stretching routine for beginners, targeting the deep psoas muscles of the hip flexors.
- Set up in a half-knee position by bending your right leg 90 degrees and keeping your left leg on the ground or on a mat.
- Add your abs and press the glutes of your back foot to tilt your pelvis upwards, making sure your front knee is bent 90 degrees. You should feel a deep stretch in front of your buttocks.
- Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat five times before switching sides.
13. Stretch the hip flexor around the knee
Since you are already in position, do a good stretch of the rest of your hip flexors with this step, which also helps reduce lower back tension.
- Assume a half-knee position with your right foot flat on the floor and your right knee directly above your ankle. Place your hand on your right thigh. Place your left knee and your left foot on the floor.
- Keeping your back flat, chest lifting, core core and buttocks square, push your buttocks forward while pressing down with your left foot.
- Hold for 30 seconds, switch sides and repeat.
14. Wide-seat stretch
It may make you think of high school PE, but this stretch is a classic for a reason. It stretches the hamstrings and adapters.
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended and open them at about 90 degrees. Your knees and toes should point directly toward the ceiling, making your feet flexible.
- Without letting your spine become round, start walking your hands forward along the floor in the middle of your legs, to the joints of your buttocks (not your waist).
- Walk your arms forward as far as possible and hold 5 to 10 breaths while keeping your quad muscles engaged.
- Slowly return to a straight position using your hands behind your knees to bring your legs together.
15. Cross-leg forward bend
This stretch does double duty, targeting the top of the hamstring and iliotibial (IT) bands.
- Stand with legs together and cross the right leg to the left (like X).
- Bend forward at the waist, letting your upper body hang. To intensify the thigh extension, hold your calf or ankle and pull your chest towards your legs.
- Hold the thighs stretched for 5 to 10 breaths and return to a standing position.
- Cross the left leg to the right and repeat the thigh extension.