11 Basic Stretches for Relaxation, Recovery and Flexibility

There's nothing like a good stretch to refresh the body and reduce stress. But the benefits go way beyond relaxation: The act of stretching has also been shown to improve range of motion, boost energy and increase blood flow through the body.

"In addition to that good feeling, the act of lengthening the body or limbs in a consistent stretching program will produce large gains in flexibility and joint movement," notes Coach Jen.

Whether you're a runner, walker, spinner, weight-lifter or all of the above, a post-workout stretching routine also helps to prevent injury and aids in the recovery process. "The more conditioned your muscles and tendons are, the better they can handle the rigors of sport and exercise, and the less likely that they'll become injured," Coach Jen points out.

But even with all those excellent reasons to stretch, many of us are guilty of skipping it. When schedules are tight and we're hard-pressed to squeeze in a workout, it's easy to focus on the "important" (i.e., calorie-burning) part, with intentions to stretch later. But then later never comes, and our muscles remain stiff and sore—all the way up until the next workout.

It's time to break the non-stretching cycle! It only takes a few minutes to give your muscles some much-needed TLC. Start with this basic routine of static stretches, the most common types of fitness stretches that are held in a fixed position for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds.

Coach Nicole recommends holding each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, repeating two or three times, depending on how you feel. Remember to warm up first and never stretch to the point of pain.
 

Neck Stretch

  • Begin in a seated position with your legs crossed or in the butterfly position. 
  • Bring your left ear down toward your left shoulder and hold. Use your hand to gently guide the head if desired.
  • Roll your head down toward the ground, bringing your chin to your chest. Hold and then roll your head to the right and bring that ear to your right shoulder. Inhale and exhale in a slow and controlled manner.
  • For a deeper stretch, extend the arm opposite the ear down toward the ground and hold. You should be relaxing your neck muscles and using the weight of your head for this stretch. Do not attempt to force your head lower with your neck muscles or your hands. Stop immediately if you feel any discomfort. 

 

Torso Stretch

  • Stand tall with the back straight, abs engaged, head lifted and feet hip-distance apart.
  • Clasp the hands together, intertwining the fingers and slowly raise them above your head toward the ceiling. Reach as high as you can while inhaling deeply and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Keep shoulders relaxed away from your ears and bend elbows for comfort, if needed.
  • Bring your hands down slowly while letting out your breath.

Hamstring Stretch

  • Stand tall with the back straight, abs engaged, shoulders down and feet hip-width apart. Bring your left leg forward with the heel down, toes up and leg straight. 
  • Keeping your back straight and abs engaged, bend the right knee as if sitting back, while supporting yourself with both hands on your thighs. 
  • Straighten but do not lock the knee of your forward leg. Keep the back straight—do not arch or round the back—and the chest lifted. 
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. 

Standing Quad Stretch

  • Stand tall, holding onto a chair or wall for balance if necessary (not pictured). Keep your feet hip-width apart, your back straight and your feet parallel.
  • Reach back and grab your left foot in your left hand, keeping your thighs lined up next to each other and the left leg in line with the hip (not pulled back behind you). 
  • Straighten but do not lock the knee of your standing leg. If you are too inflexible to keep your knees next to each other, allow the bent leg to come forward slightly and gradually progress to a position where the thigh of the bent leg is perpendicular to the floor. 
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. 

Standing Triceps Stretch

  • Stand tall or sit upright. Place your left elbow in your right hand. 
  • Reach your left arm overhead, placing your palm on the center of your back and supporting your elbow in your right hand. Reach your fingertips down your spine. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. 
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. 

Back Stretch

  • Come to your hands and knees with your hands shoulder-width apart, knees hip-width apart, abs engaged and back flat with a neutral spine. 
  • Engage your abdominals as if you were pulling your navel toward your spine, then round your back up toward the ceiling. Allow the head and neck to fall naturally between the arms. Keep the abdominals pulled in tightly and your pelvic bone slightly tucked under. Pull your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. 

Hip and Gluteal Stretch

  • Lie on your back with your legs extended and your back straight. Keep your hips level and your lower back glued to the floor.
  • Bend your left knee, placing left foot flat on the floor (not pictured). Cross your right ankle at your left knee.
  • Grab the back of your left thigh and hug your legs toward your chest. Place your right elbow on the inner portion of your right knee and push it slightly to the side for a deeper stretch. Keep your hips down on the mat. To reduce the intensity of this stretch, don’t bring your legs toward your chest as much. 

Child's Pose

  • Come to your hands and knees with your hands shoulder-width apart, knees hip-width apart, abs engaged and back flat with a neutral spine.
  • Keep your knees and ankles separated with the tops of your feet flat on the floor as you shift your weight back over your heels, lengthening your spine, relaxing your head and neck, and reaching forward through your fingertips. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from your ears.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. 

Triangle Pose

  • Stand tall with the back straight, feet wider than the hips, arms in line with the shoulders (like a "T") and palms down.
  • Turn your left toes out to the side and keep your right toes pointed forward. Lean to the left as if reaching your left fingertips toward the left wall.
  • From there, bend at the hip, allowing your left hand to fall naturally, resting on your thigh, shin, ankle or the floor, and extending your right arm straight up toward the ceiling. Keep your arms long and open your chest toward the wall in front of you. Maintain length through both sides of the waist.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for three to five breaths. Repeat on opposite side. 

Inner Thigh Stretch

  • Stand tall with the back straight, feet wider than the hips, toes turned out, abs engaged and arms at your sides. 
  • Slowly bend the knees, squatting straight down, hands supported on your thighs, until you feel a stretch through the inner thighs. 
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and your back straight. Don't allow your knees to move past your toes (if that happens, take feet out wider). 
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. 

 

Standing Shoulder Stretch

  • Stand tall or sit upright. Bring your left arm across your chest, holding it below the elbow with your opposite hand. Keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. Straighten but do not lock elbow. 
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.

For more information on getting the most out of your stretching routine, see our "Reference Guide to Stretching."


 
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Member Comments

They can also help you wit your exercise programs, Sparkfriends. Report
I agree! There is nothing like a good stretch. I stretch every day, usually while brushing my teeth. I place mt hands over my head while standing on my toes and hold to the count of 30. Report
I follow my cat's advice, stretch every time you stand up. Report
great stretches! Report
Thank you for sharing Report
Great stretches! Report
Great ideas, thanks! Report
PLCHAPPELL
Good set of stretches Report
Excellent share! Report
Thank you. Report
I think the only one of the above stretches I do not do on almost a daily basis is the triangle stretch. I guess adding another couple minutes to my stretching routine to incorporate that one won't be a big deal. :) Report
CECTARR
thanks Report
I'm very happy to know I do all of them in my stretching routine. Thank you. Report
Great article and thanks for the helpful photos! Report
Love the Child's Pose and Torso stretch! I'll have to incorporate some of these into my routine. Change it up! Ya know? lol
Report


 

About The Author

Melissa Rudy
Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.