If you're short on time, you might be tempted to skip your stretches. While it might not be the most exciting part of your routine, it's one of the most important. Tight muscles and limited range of motion can limit your ability to reach your full potential — as well as increase your risk of injury.
Why You Should Focus on Flexibility
Even if you're not a budding yogi or aspiring gymnast, you can benefit from daily stretching. In fact, Kimberly Mays, a yoga teacher in Virginia, tells LIVESTRONG.com the benefits of overall stretching are too numerous to count.
"I see many people who come to class who have spent a lot of time focusing on building cardio endurance and muscle mass but have a limited range of motion or are experiencing over-use injuries because they have neglected the stretching component of their fitness routine."
Whether you're a regular weight-lifter or more of a desk jockey, stretching can help you combat tight muscles and poor posture that can result from muscles imbalances and sitting in front of a computer all day, Christian Wheeler, a physical therapist and owner of Synergy PT and Athletic Performance, LLC, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"An athlete with poor posture pushing a barbell overhead is closing off the shoulder joint and risking injury," Wheeler says, "but this same poor posture can be just as detrimental when lifting your child or putting away the groceries."
Try These 5 Stretches for a Full-Body Release
An ideal stretching routine should hit all your major muscle groups, but that doesn't mean it has to be time-consuming. Focus on full-body stretches that target more than one joint at a time to maximize your time.
In the perfect world, you'd perform these stretches at least 2 to 3 times a week — but daily stretches will produce the best results — according to an article published in September/October 2016 by ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal.
Do: each of the following stretches — either one at a time throughout the day or as a sequence — holding for 15 to 45 seconds. If you're stretching first thing in the morning, ease into them and hold for a shorter period of time.
1. Standing Hip Flexor and Shoulder Stretch
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your right knee and reach back with your right hand to grab your right ankle.
- Gently press your knee backward while pulling your heel in toward your butt. You should also simultaneously press your foot into your hand to stretch your shoulder.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each leg.
In addition to your hip and knee muscles, the standing hip flexor and shoulder release also stretches muscles in the front of your arm and chest, Wheeler says.
2. Standing Hamstring and Upper Back Stretch
- Stand behind a bench or table at waist-height with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Step your right leg back about two feet.
- Bend your left knee slightly while keeping your right knee straight.
- Raise both arms straight overhead.
- Hinge forward at your hips until your upper arms are resting on the the bench or table. Keep your back straight.
- Shift your weight back onto your right leg until you feel a pull along the back of your thigh.
- Bend your elbows, bringing your hands to the back of your neck.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
- Switch legs and repeat the stretch.
Reaching your arms overhead and bending at the elbows adds a stretch for your triceps and lats to the standing hamstrings release. If you have tight calves, you'll hit those too.
- Lie on your back with your legs straight out and arms extended overhead.
- Keeping your hips still, move your arms and legs to the right — your body will now be in the shape of a banana.
- Intensify the stretch by clasping your hands overhead and crossing your left ankle over your right ankle.
- Inhale deeply and focus your breath toward the left side of your rib cage.
- Exhale slowly. Hold this position for 10 breaths, then perform the stretch to the opposite side.
4. Walking Spiderman
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Step your left foot forward and slightly out to the side.
- Drop your right knee down in a lunge position and place both hands on the ground to the right of your front foot.
- Keeping your left hand on the ground and head in line with your body, rotate your torso to the right and reach your right arm up toward the ceiling.
- Return to the ground, placing one hand on each side of your front foot.
- Keeping your hands on the ground, straighten both knees and shift your weight to your back leg to stretch your left hamstrings.
- Return to a standing position and repeat on the right side.
- Repeat 5 times on each side.
Chris Shaffer, coach and owner of Shaffer Strength and Conditioning, LLC, recommends the walking Spiderman stretch to improve flexibility in several parts of the body at the same time.
According to Shaffer, this stretch is also particularly useful for improving mobility for strength training exercises like squats.
5. Balasana (Child's Pose)
- Position yourself on your hands and knees with your big toes touching each other.
- Keeping your feet together, spread your knees hip-width apart.
- Keeping your hands on the ground, sit back until your butt is resting on your heels.
- Drop your belly and chest down between your knees and rest your forehead on the ground.
- Walk your hands forward and rotate to a palms-up position to intensify the stretch.
- Hold this position for several deep breaths.