Core Muscle Stretches

Your core consists of the muscles within your abdomen, hips and lower back. These muscles support your pelvic girdle and spine and facilitate movements of your hips and torso. Performing stretching exercises that target the core muscles may increase flexibility and enhance muscular function. Stretch slowly and carefully to prevent muscle pulls or strains.

A woman is stretching her core. (Image: 4774344sean/iStock/Getty Images)

1. Be a Child

The child's pose is a classic yoga position that stretches the muscles that extend your hips and spine. It may also help you relax and relieve stress.

HOW TO DO IT: Sit on your knees with your ankles extended and toes pointed back. Spread your knees slightly wider than your shoulders, then lean forward and place your forehead on the floor. Flex your hips and knees to sit back, moving your buttocks toward the back of your ankles. Place the back of your hands on the floor just outside your feet. Hold this position for 10 deep breaths. Extend your arms in front of your head, placing your palms flat on the floor at shoulder width, to deepen the stretch, if desired.

2. Try the Cobra

The cobra exercise stretches the muscles that flex your spine forward, particularly the rectus abdominis muscle in the front of your abdomen.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your stomach with your hands on the floor below your shoulders. Keep your forearms close to your sides, with your elbows pointed up. Extend your ankles so your toes point back. Press your hips into the floor, and lift your head and torso, arching your spine upward until you feel a gentle stretch through your abdomen. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then lower back down. Discontinue the stretch and consult your doctor if it causes lower back pain.

3. Cross Your Legs

The leg crossover stretch targets the gluteal muscles involved in hip abduction, extension and rotation ranges of motion. The exercise also stretches the obliques on the sides of your abdomen.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms straight out, resting them on the floor. Lift and extend your left leg, then cross your left ankle over your right knee. Press into your right knee to push your leg out more, deepening the stretch through your buttocks. Rotate your hips to the right, keeping your arms and shoulder blades on the floor. Move your right knee toward the floor as you twist, and place your left foot flat on the floor, just outside your right knee. Hold this position 15 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

4. Rotate Your Spine

The spine rotation exercise stretches the muscles in your abdomen and lower back that twist your torso to the left and right. It may help relieve stiffness in your lower back.

HOW TO DO IT: Sit on the front edge of a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Rotate your torso to the left and grasp the back of the chair with both hands. Tense your core muscles for five to 10 seconds, then release the tension and press into the chair with your hands to turn slightly farther. Repeat this contraction/relaxation cycle several times, then repeat in the opposite direction, rotating to the right.

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