Stretching at the end of the workout is one of the best things you can do to take care of your body and maximize all of your hard work in the gym. Not only does it help your body recover (and minimize soreness), but it slowly increases your flexibility. While we usually think of flexibility as something that’s only needed for dancers or performers, flexibility is important for all bodies. Lack of flexibility can cause injury, delay recovery, and affect everyday mobility. Adding stretches for maximum flexibility to your workout ensures you avoid these issues while helping your body perform better each day.
It’s important to remember that flexibility builds over time. You do not need to force yourself into a split on day one! If beginner flexibility is your goal, a good set of yoga bricks and a yoga strap are good investments that help make stretching more accessible and feel more achievable. While stretching isn’t the same as an intense HIIT workout, you should expect some level of discomfort while building flexibility through the joints. If you move into a range of motion that feels like you’re straining too far, ease out of the stretch slowly. Stretching can be uncomfortable, but it should never make you feel like you’re in pain. When in doubt, practice stretching in a conservative range of motion. Over stretching or forcing yourself into an intense stretch can make joints susceptible to injury.
Here are some of my favorite stretches to help build maximum flexibility:
For many of us with sedentary lifestyles, sitting at a desk is a prime culprit of tight hips and hamstrings. Eve’s Lunge helps open up hip flexors and obliques to help breathe length through the front of the hip and through the ribs.
Begin by starting in a proposal stance with your front leg slightly forward. If you’re more flexible, let your front leg come further out. If you’re beginning, using yoga bricks on either side of your front leg can help support your balance.
Scoop your tailbone underneath you so your pelvis comes forward and the front of your pants feels flat, allowing your weight to shift into your front leg so your back leg’s hip opens and lengthens.
If accessible, reach the arm on the same side of your back leg up and over for an intensified stretch for the hip and obliques. Hold and breathe for at least 30 seconds.
Start in a proposal stance — this stretch is great immediately following Eve’s Lunge. Using your hands or yoga bricks as support, gently hinge hips toward your back heel, allowing your front leg to lengthen. Keep the front heel flexed, with toes coming toward your forehead. Try to squeeze your front quad to help release the back of the hamstring. Hold and breathe for at least 30 seconds.
For advanced movers who already have a foundation of flexibility, working on your splits is a great goal to help you stay motivated and challenged in your stretching. Split stretching should come near the end of your stretching routine, after your body has already had a chance to warm up.
Start in a proposal stance. Using your hands or yoga bricks for support, Allow your front leg to stretch forward and your back leg to reach behind you in extension. Try to square off your hips by keeping both of your hip bones in the same line. Your back leg’s hip will want to open toward the side but think about pulling your front leg’s hip back as the back hip gently pushes forward.
Only stretch in a range of motion that feels comfortable. Do not force your split stretch.
Overtime, outer hip tightness can become uncomfortable and inhibit our range of motion when walking, running, or cycling.
Start seated with one leg bent to your side and the other leg bent in your front — sometimes referred to as a “z” sit or mermaid pose in Pilates.
Using your arms for support, gently stretch your back leg to straight as your front outer hip finds the stretch. If the stretch is too intense, use yoga bricks to support your weight in front of you. If you need more of a stretch, allow your forearms or forehead to come to the mat, hinging from your hips. Hold and breathe for at least 30 seconds.
We don’t always connect flexibility to our shoulders, but having flexible shoulders and a mobile upper body keeps us feeling strong and standing tall.
Using a chair, bench, or even couch, kneel in front of your elevated surface. Bring hands into a prayer pose and rest your elbows right on the edge of your surface. Allow hips to hinge back, emphasizing the stretch underneath your armpits and continue to let your chest sink to the floor. Hold and breathe for at least 30 seconds.
Typing on a keyboard all day can cause our chest and the front of our shoulders to round forward and become tight. Overtime, this can shorten your pectoral muscles found on the front of your chest.
Sitting down with your legs in a comfortable position in front of you, place hands behind you, turning the fingers away from your body. Shuffle hips forward until you find a comfortable stretch that opens up the front of your chest. Keep your gaze toward your navel to keep your neck and traps comfortable. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds.
Cat Cow is a classic move for a reason! It might not transform you into a Rockette, but having a flexible spine is key to staying mobile and feeling strong.
Starting on all fours, make sure knees are stacked underneath hips and shoulders are over wrists. Gently arch and round the back, being mindful to take your gaze with you — remember your neck is a part of your spine!
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About the author
Emi Gutgold is a PMA NCPT and NASM CPT based in New York City. Just like Elle Woods, she is also a gemini and vegan. When she's not teaching Pilates or lifting heavy weights, she's eating pita and hummus with her dog, Chickpea, and binging trash reality TV.