Whether you’re a runner or love lifting weights, here are 10 stretches to do every day that can help ease the tension in the muscles you’ve just worked. Of course, we don’t always have time or the energy to perform a series of stretches, but just 10 minutes of stretches could relieve you from sore quads, biceps, or calves.
In fact, a study published in 2005 in the Journal of Athletic Training (opens in new tab) showed that stretching after exercise is key to reduce soreness in muscles the next day. If you're considering how to get fit, this is something that goes hand in hand with stretching.
Stretching every day, whether you’ve exercised or not, is a great way to be more aware of your body by giving you a moment to take inventory of your body and target any aches and pains. Rachele Gilman, a Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor and director at Stretch inc (opens in new tab), told Live Science: "A few minutes of stretching could relieve muscle tension, lower your heart rate and provide a short break from chronic stress."
You may not see the benefits straight away, but Gilman added that over a sustained period, stretching can, "help reduce pain, aid mobility and help to re-educate muscles to work functionally."
Even everyday activities, such as sitting at a desk, can cause issues, and "if you find yourself hunching over for any reason, this is a strong indication of a weak upper back and poor posture," said Gilman. However, some aches and pains can be indicators of tight muscles in other areas of the body: "For example, tight glutes can lead to lower back pain, or in some cases, worsen lower back pain."
Whether you stretch first thing in the morning or last thing at night, Gilman told Live Science: "Stretching doesn’t have to be tedious or an ordeal. You can stretch well in five to 10 minutes from almost anywhere."
Below, Gilman takes us through 10 simple stretches to try out every day.
1. Leg Swing
Leg swings are dynamic movements that work the hips, glutes, and thighs. They require a straight back and a tight core to get the most benefit.
- Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart and keep your toes, knees and hips in alignment.
- Bring the right foot forward and swing it back, increasing the range of motion to increase the stretch.
- Do this ten times on each side and then move to side to side swings.
- Swing the leg out and in, crossing it over your standing leg. Repeat five times on each side.
2. Quad stretch
This is a static stretch that is working the thighs and the hip flexor. Focus on keeping the core tight, the tailbone tucked, and the knees in alignment with each other and your hips. If you're concerned about your leg area, we have advice on how to exercise without hurting your knees.
- Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart.
- Lift your right leg back and up, moving the heel towards your bottom.
- Use your right hand to help pull the foot or ankle closer to the bottom.
3. Trunk twists with eagle arms
This stretch will improve spinal mobility and stretch the upper back, shoulders, shoulder blades, and forearms. Eagle arms often requires practice, especially if you are into heavy lifting.
- Extend your arms in front of you, palms facing down. Cross the right arm under the left.
- Keeping your elbows as close together as possible, bend the elbows and bring the backs of the hand to meet.
- If you want to go deeper, take the palms further by working them into prayer without moving your elbows.
- Wherever you are with this, slowly raise the elbows in line with your chin. Once your arms are in position, stand with your feet hip-width distance and stay facing forward the entire time to twist to the left side, working to stabilize the core and only move the trunk.
- Return to the middle and twist to the other side. After five repetitions, change your arms, so cross the left arm under the right and repeat five times.
4. Butterfly/Seated saddle
This stretch focuses on the hips, hamstrings, calves, and lower back.
- Sit on the floor and bring the soles of your feet to touch.
- Press the edges of your feet into the ground.
- Lengthen out of the lower back and pull the legs towards you as far as you can without collapsing the back.
- Fold forward with a flat back and use the elbows to help press the knees towards the floor.
5. Cat / Cow stretch
This dynamic stretch works the entire spine to promote spinal flexibility. Cat / Cow keeps us limber and prepared for everyday tasks. If the position isn't accessible on all fours, try the same movement in a chair with hands resting on your thighs.
- Begin on hands and knees with the tops of your feet on the floor and the spine in a neutral, flat back position.
- Keep your shoulders aligned with your wrists, your knees in alignment with your hips, and your knees and shins hip-width distance apart.
- As you inhale, extend from the pelvis through the collar bone, roll the shoulders down the back, engaging the upper back for a slight backbend, looking up or out.
- Exhale, round the spine, tuck the tailbone, and release the head and neck towards the floor, chin towards the chest.
6. Mid-Back extension
Mid-back extension works the muscles of the upper back and core. The stretch is actually in the front of the body, but it is a counterbalanced movement that strengthens the spine as it stretches the chest and abs. If you suffer from pain in your spine, we have a guide to Yoga for back pain, to give you more advice.
- Start on your stomach, with your forehead on the floor, legs extended, ankles hip-width distance apart, and the tops of feet touching the floor.
- Place your hands by your side, backs of your hands on the floor.
- Exhale as you lower your body back to starting position.
- Repeat five times, concentrating on each inhale.
7. Prone figure 4
Targets the psoas, piriformis, hip flexors, hamstrings, and quads and increases hip mobility.
- Start on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Push your head, and back into the floor as you cross the right ankle over the left knee, flexing the right foot.
- Work the bent knee out so that both knees are in the same plane. Pull the left knee towards your chest.
- Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the other side.
8. Hamstring with a strap
This will help you focus on the hamstrings, calves, and ankle - and needs to be done with a yoga strap.
- Start on your back, feet flat on the floor, knees pointed up.
- Place the strap around the sole of your right foot, holding the strap in your hands extend the right foot into the air and pull the leg gently towards your body, keeping the foot flat.
- Once you find resistance, slowly extend the left leg in front of you, flexing the foot and pressing the heel into the floor.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. Perform twice on each side.
9. Supine twist
Tight glutes can lead to lower back pain. Supine twist stretches your lower back and your glutes to help mitigate pain.
- Lie on your back with your legs extended. Extend your arms into a T or bend at the elbows like goalposts.
- Bend one leg so that the knee is pointed up, lightly hook the toes of the bent leg’s foot under the straight leg’s knee.
- Guide the bent knee across your body to fall on the outside of the straight leg hip. You can use your hand to press the knee towards the floor, if accessible.
- Turn your head towards the arm of the straight leg. Hold for five deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
10. Full body stretch
- Lie on your back, reach your arms above your head and extend your legs to elongate through the body.
- You should feel like your arms and legs are being pulled in opposite directions. Keep stretching as you work on pressing your low back into the floor and pulling your lower ribs in to counter any arch in the low back.
- Hold this for ten seconds and relax. Keep your arms and legs extended and contract your entire body. Hold for five seconds and release. Inhale and repeat the stretch for another ten seconds.
- Read more: Yoga myths (debunked)