The 24 Best Stretching Exercises for Better Flexibility

Tight hamstrings? Stiff hips? Time to loosen up.

The 24 Best Stretching Exercises for Better Flexibility

Katie Thompson

Raise your hand if you tend to skip stretching exercises when you’re pressed for time. No shame—you’re definitely not alone there. But there’s good reason to block off just a few minutes to fit some in.

While mobility work may not be the most exciting part of exercising, it actually plays a pretty crucial role in a well-rounded fitness program: By slotting in some stretching, you can help improve flexibility, reduce tightness, and ultimately make your routines more efficient and safe (and help your body move better afterward too).

“Tight muscles can cause undue strain on the neighboring joints during normal daily function, or they themselves can become injured,“ Sasha Cyrelson, DPT, clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy in Sicklerville, New Jersey, tells SELF. As you age, your muscles get shorter and less elastic, she says, so it’s important to take an active role in maintaining and improving their mobility so you can continue to enjoy your regular activities without pain.

Not sure where to start? Before we get into some moves to try, it can be helpful to understand what we mean by stretching in the first place.

What kind of stretching should you do?

There are multiple types of stretching, but the two main ones that you’ve probably heard about are dynamic and static.

Dynamic stretching involves moving your joints and muscles through their full range of motion (ROM), or as close to it as you can get. Static stretching is when you sink into a position, ideally to where you start to feel a little pushback (but not to the point of strain or pain), and hold for a period of time.

Both are essential for a balanced fitness routine, but the type you choose should ultimately depend on when you’re stretching.

Dynamic stretching is great for preparing your muscles, tendons, and ligaments for exercise—which is why you’ll often see them stacked into a warm-up. Examples of some stretches to do before a workout include ones like cat-cow, down dog to runner’s lunge, or thread the needle. The key is to choose dynamic stretches that mimic movement patterns you’ll do during your actual routine, which will get your body and brain primed and ready for what’s ahead.

Static stretching, on the other hand, works best as a finale—research suggests doing them immediately before a workout can potentially reduce strength, power, and explosiveness. But if you end your routine with them, static stretches can help your mind relax, your body calm down, and your muscles loosen. They are also important when you’re not exercising: When do you them throughout the day, they can also help improve your flexibility and reduce muscle aches and discomfort.

Because mobility is so important in and out of the gym, we’re going to be focusing on static stretching in this piece.

Why is stretching so important?

It’s true that stretching isn’t exactly glamorous, and it probably won’t give you the same rush that a run or HIIT class will. But it’s vital for helping you progress at the gym and for helping you just plain feel better in everyday life.

Take your workouts, for instance. Focusing only on strength training or cardio and skipping stretching can put you at risk for injury and pain, Cyrelson says. By doing a ton of work that contracts the muscles (which shortens them) and never stretching (lengthening) them, your muscles can end up imbalanced, she explains. This can cause some muscles and joints to overcompensate for other ones that are too tight to engage properly, increasing your risk of strains, discomfort, and even injuries.

Stretching boosts flexibility, or your muscles’ and tendons’ ability to lengthen. This makes it essential for improving mobility, which is a joint’s ability to move through its entire range of motion (ROM). A greater range of motion can mean better muscle recruitment while strength training, as SELF reported previously. For example, more movement in your hips and knees (plus flexibility in the surrounding muscles and tendons) can allow you to sink deeper into a squat. Ultimately, having good flexibility and a full ROM can make it so you’re able to do more exercises with proper form—and get the most out of them.

The benefits of stretching extend beyond the gym too. Doing static stretches consistently may help reverse muscle shortening that happens when you are in the same position for too long (i.e. sitting all day) and alleviate any related stiffness and achiness. It can help loosen up all those tight spots you feel in, say, your hamstrings when you lean over to pick something up off the floor, or the front of your hips when you stand up from your chair after sitting for a while.

“For me, it’s about daily things that become harder the older you get, like bending down to tie a shoe, walking up stairs, picking your kid up from the floor, or even just getting up off the couch,“ Charlee Atkins, CSCS, registered yoga instructor and creator of Le Sweat workout app, tells SELF. Improving your mobility and flexibility makes these daily activities easier. “You can move more freely,“ Atkins says.

What’s the best way to add static stretching to your routine?

In general, stretching is just good to do regularly, so feel free to start or end your day with it. You may also want to take a quick stretch break (or multiple ones) throughout the day to combat tightness in areas you know tend to feel stiff—even just a few minutes here and there can be helpful. In these instances, static stretches are all you really need to get the job done. (But always go with what feels best for you!)

The exact stretches you do in one session will depend on what your body needs at that time. If you tend to feel tight in certain spots, or know you struggle with flexibility or ROM in specific areas, you can do some dedicated stretching that focuses on that. For example, if you sit all day, you’ll want to stretch your hips and your back, which take on the brunt of all that chair time.

On the other hand, if you don’t have any specific problem areas, simply make sure you’re slotting in moves that work your entire body across all your major muscle groups—this will generally just keep you feeling supple and ready for whatever life and workouts throw at you.

The best static stretching exercises

Luckily, improving your flexibility and mobility isn’t hard—it just takes a little time. Try adding the exercises below: We’ve got everything from lower-back and upper-back moves, to those that’ll loosen up your hamstrings and quads, to stretches that ease tension from your arms and shoulders. With the static stretches below, you’ll hit every part of your body.

Quick note: If you’re experiencing joint pain or discomfort, or are looking for specific relief for lower-back pain or other kinds of persistent aches, chat with your doctor or a physical therapist before starting a stretching routine. They can let you know which specific moves might be best for your individual needs.

  • Savanna Ruedy

    Lunge with Spinal Twist

    • Start by standing with your feet together.
    • Take a big step forward with your left foot so that you are in a staggered stance.
    • Bend your left knee and drop into a lunge, keeping your right leg straight behind you with your toes on the ground so you feel a stretch at the front of your right thigh.
    • Place your right hand on the floor and twist your upper body to the left as you extend your left arm toward the ceiling.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Repeat on the other side.

    Atkins notes that this stretch is commonly referred to as the world’s greatest stretch (WGS) in the fitness community. And for good reason: “It’s essential to help with posture-related pain or for people who sit for prolonged periods of time,” Dan Giordano, DPT, CSCS, cofounder of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy in New York City and Seattle, tells SELF. “It helps open your hips and improve thoracic (mid-back) mobility,” he says.

  • Forward Fold

    • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and arms by your sides.
    • Exhale as you fold forward from the hips and bring your head towards the floor. Tuck your chin under, relax your shoulders, and think about extending the crown of your head toward the floor to create a long spine.
    • Keep your knees straight but with a gentle bend so that they are not locked out. This will help protect your back.
    • Touch the floor with your fingertips. You can also wrap your arms around your legs if that feels comfortable to you.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds. Don’t forget to breathe.
    • Bend your knees and roll up slowly, starting with the lower back and stacking one vertebra at a time, to return to standing.

    You’ll stretch lots of muscles along your lower backside—including your hamstrings, hips, and calves—with this move. Your neck and upper back will feel a release too. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees gently or place your hands on a yoga block.

  • Savanna Ruedy

    Piriformis Stretch

    • Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you.
    • Cross your right leg over your left and place your right foot flat on the floor.
    • Place your right hand on the floor behind your body.
    • Place your left hand on your right quad or your left elbow on your right knee (as shown) and press your right leg to the left as you twist your torso to the right.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • If the spinal rotation bothers your back, take it out and simply use your left hand to pull your right quad in and to the left.

    The piriformis muscle is a deep internal hip rotator located on the outside of your butt. “Deep internal rotators, while small, produce a lot of the movement at the hip and are often overlooked,” Atkins says. Since the piriformis crosses over the sciatic nerve, “if it is tight, it can result in sciatic nerve irritation,“ Cyrelson says. “Stretching this muscle can prevent potential future sciatica or help treat it.”

  • Katie Thompson

    Toes on Wall Calf Stretch

    • Stand with a wall in front of you in a staggered stance—one foot close to the wall and one about a foot back. Place your palms on the wall for support.
    • Bring your front foot close to the wall, putting your hell on the floor and toes up against the wall. Put your weight into your front foot so you can feel the stretch along the lower part of your front leg. (To intensify the stretch, you can rise up on the toes of your back foot and bring your chest closer to the wall.)
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

    You’ll feel this stretch in the back of your leg, specifically the calf and Achilles tendon of the leg that’s against the wall. Keep your front heel firmly locked into the floor—wearing sneakers can help you get a better grip on the floor and wall.

  • Triceps Stretch

    • Kneel, sit, or stand tall with feet hip-width apart and arms extended overhead.
    • Bend your right elbow and reach your right hand to touch the top-middle of your back.
    • Reach your left hand overhead and grasp just below your right elbow.
    • Gently pull your right elbow down and toward your head.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Switch arms and repeat.

    The triceps stretch—one of the most popular upper-body stretches out there—loosens up the muscles on the back of your upper arms, plus your neck and shoulders, making it great to do after a chest workout or arms routine.

  • Meiko Arquillos

    Standing Quad Stretch

    • Stand with your feet together.
    • Bend your left knee and use your left hand to pull your left foot toward your butt. Keep your knees together.
    • If you need to, put one hand on a wall for balance.
    • Squeeze your glutes to increase the stretch in the front of your legs.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Repeat on the other leg.

    This classic stretch targets your quad muscles in the bent leg. If needed, place your non-working hand on a desk or wall for balance.

  • Savanna Ruedy

    Figure Four Stretch

    • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
    • Cross your left foot over your right quad.
    • Lift your right leg off the floor. Grab onto the back of your right leg and gently pull it toward your chest.
    • When you feel a comfortable stretch, hold there.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Switch sides and repeat.

    “This specifically stretches the piriformis and iliopsoas muscles (essentially your hip rotator and flexor muscles) and the IT band. Because of this and the passive nature of the pose, it is an excellent and gentle approach to helping relieve symptoms associated with sciatica and knee pain,” John Murray, yoga instructor and cofounder of Lyons Den Power Yoga in New York City, tells SELF.

  • Katie Thompson

    Hip Adductors Stretch

    • Stand tall with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
    • Shift your weight to the right, bending the right knee slightly. Hike up your right hip slightly while keeping the left hip pulled down. You should feel a stretch on the inside of your left leg.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

    This lunging motion stretches your inner thighs and hip adductor muscles, which are responsible for pulling your leg toward the center of your body, like when you bring your legs in during a jumping jack. You’ll also feel your glutes fire up a bit with this move.

  • Lying Pectoral Stretch

    • Lie on your stomach with both arms extended to the sides so your body is in a T shape.
    • Push off the ground with your left hand and bend your left knee for balance as you start to roll to your right side. You should feel this in your right-side pectoral muscles.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Repeat on the other side.

    “This is a great stretch to do before or after pushing motions,” like push-ups or bench presses, Zack Daley, a NASM-certified personal trainer and training manager at Tone House in New York City, tells SELF. It targets your chest and shoulders, in particular.

  • Katie Thompson

    90/90 Stretch

    • Sit with your right knee bent at 90 degrees in front of you, your calf perpendicular to your body and the sole of your foot facing to the left. Keep your right foot flexed.
    • Let your leg rest flat on the floor.
    • Place your left knee to the left of your body and bend the knee so that your foot faces behind you. Keep your left foot flexed.
    • Keep your right butt cheek on the floor. Try to move the left cheek as close to the floor as possible. It may not be possible if you’re super tight.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Repeat on the other side.

    This modification of the pigeon pose helps with internal rotation of one leg and external rotation of the other, “so you’re hitting both movements of the hip at once,” Atkins says. It’s a good option for people who have extremely tight hip flexors, she adds. “The front thigh is safely on the ground in a position that doesn’t cause too much stress.”

  • Seated Shoulder Squeeze

    • Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
    • Clasp your hands behind your lower back.
    • Straighten and extend your arms and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
    • Do this for three seconds and then release. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

    “I love this stretch because it relieves poor posture and releases tension in the upper back,” Jess Sims, a NASM-certified personal trainer and Peloton instructor, tells SELF. You’ll also feel a stretch across your chest and throughout your shoulders and upper arms.

  • Meiko Arquillos

    Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch

    • Kneel on your right knee. Place your left foot flat on the floor in front of you, knee bent.
    • Lean forward, stretching your right hip toward the floor.
    • Squeeze your butt; this will allow you to stretch your hip flexor even more.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Switch sides and repeat.

    Lunges both stretch and strengthen your hips, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and even muscles in your ankles. By keeping your back knee on the floor, you’ll be able to really focus on deeply stretching your hip flexors.

  • Savanna Ruedy

    Kneeling Side Bend Stretch

    • Kneel on the floor with your legs together, back straight, and core tight.
    • Extend your left leg out to the side. Keep it perpendicular to your body (not in front or behind you).
    • Extend your right arm overhead, rest your left arm on your left leg, and gently bend your torso and right arm to the left side.
    • Keep your hips facing forward.
    • Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds.
    • Repeat on the other side.

    The side bend is a great way to gently stretch your torso, specifically your obliques (side abs) and the intercostal muscles (those between your ribs). Doing it in this kneeling position—with one leg extended to the side—gets the muscles of your hips and inner thigh involved too.

  • Lying Quad Stretch

    • Lie on one side.
    • Keep your bottom leg straight and bend your top knee so your foot is by your butt.
    • Hold your top foot with your hand, pulling it toward your butt.
    • Keep your hips stable so you’re not rocking back as you pull.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Switch sides and repeat.

    A quad stretch is one of the most popular lower-body stretches, especially if you’ve just done a cardio workout like running or cycling. The lying-down version, as opposed to the typical standing variation, takes balance out of the equation, so you can really focus on melting into the move.

  • Happy Baby

    • Lie face-up with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
    • Lift your feet off the floor and grab the outside edges of your feet with your hands.
    • Gently pull your feet toward your chest and let your knees lower toward the floor on either side of your body. Keep your back flat on the floor.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.

    Instructors often cue happy baby at the end of a vinyasa flow yoga class. It’s used to open up and stretch the hips, and it also feels really good on your lower back.

  • Savanna Ruedy

    Frog Stretch

    • Start on all fours.
    • Slide your knees wider than shoulder-width apart.
    • Turn your toes out and rest the inner edges of your feet flat on the floor.
    • Shift your hips back toward your heels.
    • Move from your hands to your forearms to get a deeper stretch, if possible.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.

    “Most of us sit and cross our legs, which can lead to tight hips and result in lower-back pain,“ Lacee Lazoff, a NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of kettlebell training program Bells Up, tells SELF. “This stretch directly targets tight spots in the hips and groin, and it is especially useful for runners.”

  • Sphinx Pose

    • Lie on your stomach with your legs straight out behind you.
    • Place your elbows under your shoulders and your forearms on the floor as you lift your chest up off the floor.
    • Press your hips and thighs into the floor and think about lengthening your spine while keeping your shoulders relaxed.
    • Sit up just enough to feel a nice stretch in your lower back. Don’t hyperextend your back, and stop immediately if you start to feel any discomfort or pain.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.

    Shanna Tyler, NYC-based yoga instructor and founder of Temple Bodii, tells SELF that this pose stretches your lower back in a gentle way—plus, it engages your abs, which further supports your spine.

  • Extended Puppy Pose

    • Start on all fours.
    • Walk your arms forward a few inches and curl your toes under.
    • Push your hips up and back halfway toward your heels.
    • Push through the palms of your hands to keep your arms straight and engaged.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.

    Think of the extended puppy pose as a cross between down dog and child’s pose—two undeniably feel-good stretches. By taking out the legs portion, you can really sink deep into the back and shoulders.

  • Savanna Ruedy

    Knee to Chest Stretch

    • Lie on your back with both legs extended.
    • Pull your right knee into your chest, while keeping the left leg straight and your lower back pressed into the floor.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Repeat on the other leg.

    Another classic stretch, for a reason: Pulling your knee into your chest feels really great if the back of your body is tight. You’ll feel a nice stretch in your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

  • Katie Thompson

    Reclined Spinal Twist

    • Lie on your back.
    • Hug your knees into your chest. Then, drop both knees over to one side as you twist your torso in the opposite direction.
    • Try to keep your knees and hips in line with each other as you draw them toward the floor, and keep your chest as square to the ceiling as you can.
    • Hold this stretch 30 to 60 seconds and repeat on the other side.

    Gently twisting your spine can give you a much-needed stretch, but for some people, it can feel a bit irritating. If you feel discomfort or pain in your lower back, stop. If you’re just super tight, only rotate a little bit at first and try putting a towel or yoga block under your knees to modify.

  • Seated Neck Release

    • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart or sit down with your back straight and chest lifted.
    • Drop your left ear to your left shoulder.
    • To deepen the stretch, gently press down on your head with your left hand.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    • Repeat on the other side.

    Karen Joubert, DPT, owner of Joubert Physical Therapy in Beverly Hills, tells SELF that most people tend to forget to stretch their necks. But relieving tension there—with a simple neck stretch like this one—can make a positive impact on the rest of your upper body, from your shoulders to your spine.

  • Meiko Arquillos

    Half Split Stretch

    • Start in a kneeling position with your right knee directly under your right hip and your left leg fully extended in front of your body. Your left foot should be flexed.
    • Walk your hands alongside your left leg until you feel the stretch in the back of your left thigh.
    • Fold your torso over your left leg. If you feel some pull behind the left knee, bend it slightly. Bending your knee should also help you feel the stretch in your calf.
    • Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on the right side.

    This stretch technically targets your hamstrings, but it also will loosen up your calf muscles and glutes at the same time.

  • Pretzel Stretch

    • Lie on your left side with your head resting on your arm.
    • Bend your right knee and hip up toward your chest as far as you can and let it drop to the floor.
    • Bend your left knee and grab your left foot (use a strap if you can’t reach it) with your right hand.
    • Make sure your leg and torso remain in a straight line as you gently bring your top shoulder blade toward the floor.
    • Hold for at least 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
    • For more of a spinal twist, turn your head to look over your right shoulder.

    “I like the pretzel stretch because it stretches multiple important postural muscles in one move, which can be a huge time saver,” Cyrelson says. You’ll loosen up the quads of your bottom leg and the glutes and hip flexors of your top leg, as well as your spine.

  • Reclining Bound Angle Pose

Amy is a freelance writer who covers health, fitness, outdoors, and travel. She is an ACE-certified personal trainer and a PRONatal pre/postnatal performance training specialist. She received her B.A. in journalism from the SI Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. You can find her work here on SELF, and… Read more

SELF does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

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