Stretching after a workout deters muscle soreness, improves posture, and improves performance. Your ab muscles deserve the same flexibility treatment as your legs, shoulders, hips, back and arms. It might seem like a challenging area to stretch, but it's easier than you think — plus, these stretches feel good.
1. High Cobra Stretch
Although you might typically associate cobra with yoga and back-bends, the move effectively stretches the front side of your torso, too.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your stomach on a mat. Place your hands under your underarm creases and bend your elbows against your rib cage.
Inhale as you straighten your elbows and lift your face, front of the shoulders and chest up off the ground. Your back bends into an arch. Hold for five to 10 full breaths. Gently lower back to the mat. Repeat as many times as is desired.
Only extend your elbows as much as is comfortable for your back. Pain does not lead to gain when stretching.
2. Standing Oblique Stretch
Opening the sides of your waist feels exhilarating. This easy stretch can be done first thing in the morning when you hop out of bed, or anytime during the day.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your feet planted on the floor about hip-distance apart. Reach both arms up overhead. Hold your left wrist with your right hand and gently bend to the right side. Hold for five to 10 breaths and return to center.
Repeat on the left side by grabbing the right wrist with the left hand and gently leaning left.
3. Stability Ball Stretch
Use a large, stability ball to lengthen all the muscles of your abdomen.
HOW TO DO IT: Sit on a stability ball. Ensure it's the right size by noting that your knees form a 90-degree angle as you sit. Walk your feet forward and lie back on the ball until your back arches over the sphere.
Open your arms and relax your head, neck and shoulders. Keep your knees bent as you lie back, or for greater intensity, stretch your legs long. Hold for five or more breaths. Slowly walk back up to seated to exit the stretch.
4. Bridge Pose
Again, yoga provides a way to stretch out your abs, fronts of shoulders and increase flexibility in the spine as a bonus.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back on a mat. Bend your knees and plant your feet right in front of each sit bone. Allow your arms to rest alongside your hips on the mat.
Gently lift your hips up toward the sky to create an arch with your back. Focus on expanding your ribs, rather than squeezing your glutes, to make this a valuable stretch. Hold the arched position for five to 10 breaths. Gently lower back down to the start and repeat, if desired.
5. Side-Lying Ball Stretch
Use the stability ball to stretch the sides of your abdomen.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie your right side on an exercise ball. Keep your feet stacked or staggered on the floor to help you maintain balance. Alternatively, place your right knee in the floor for support.
Reach your left arm alongside your ear and turn your head to look up and under your left bicep. Relax into the stretch for five to 10 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.