Stretching offers tremendous benefits for the body and should be a key part of everyone's total fitness plan. Regular stretching helps to lengthen the muscle fibers, preventing muscle stiffness and soreness after a workout. It also promotes flexibility and range of motion, improves posture and reduces the risk of injury. For the upper body, there are a few stretching exercises in particular that are worth a try.
Stretch Your Triceps
The triceps muscles are at the back of your upper arm, a three-headed muscle that is primarily used to allow for the extension of the elbow joint. To stretch these muscles, include the overhead triceps stretch as part of your routine. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and put your left arm overhead, reaching your palm toward the center of your back. Grasp onto your left elbow with your right hand, pressing down gently on your elbow until you feel a light stretch in your left triceps muscle. Hold, then repeat on your other arm.
Get in the Doorway
One of the most effective stretches for the biceps muscles, which sit at the front of your upper arms, is the doorway biceps stretch. Stand in a doorway with your left side facing the doorway, resting your forearm and palm flat against the front side of the wall. Keeping your arm against the wall, slowly rotate your torso toward the right until you feel a light stretching in your arm. Hold, then repeat on the other arm.
Stand Against the Wall
To stretch the muscles in your upper arms, try the wall biceps stretch. Start in a standing position with a narrow stance, a couple feet in front of a wall, facing away from the wall. Bend over slightly, extend your arms straight behind you and place your palms flat against the wall with your fingers pointing up. Start squatting, keeping your hands against the wall, lowering until you can feel a stretch in your upper arms. Hold.
Act Like a Snake
The cobra stretch is one of the most effective moves for targeting the abdominal muscles, and it also helps stretch the muscles in your lower back. Lie flat on your stomach on the floor, your legs extended straight out behind you with your feet together, toes pointed. Position your palms flat on the floor so your hands are beside your chest. Exhale and push up off your hands to raise your torso off the floor, without moving your lower half. Keep your shoulders back, hold, then lower yourself back down.
Kneel to Stretch the Abs
Stretch your ab muscles with the kneeling abdominal stretch. Start in a kneeling position on the floor, your upper body straight and your hands on the back of your hips. Keeping your lower body rigid, slowly lean your torso back by arching your back, until you feel light stretching along the front of your abdomen. Hold.
Make Your Stretches Count
You can do all of the right stretches, but if you aren't doing them properly, it's not going to matter and you won't get the results you're hoping for. Maintain proper form during a stretch and hold each stretch for 30 seconds. This is long enough for the stretch to have an effect but not so long that you're risking injury.
- American Council on Exercise: Flexible Benefits
- Sports Medicine: Flexibility and its Effects on Sports Injury and Performance; Gleim, G.W. and McHugh, M.P.; 1997
- ExRx.net: Overhead Triceps Stretch
- ExRx.net: Doorway Biceps Stretch
- American Council on Exercise: Cobra
- Fitness: How Long Should I Hold a Stretch?