stretches to improve flexibility

Have you ever observed a baby chimp in the wild? Notice how they roll around on the floor, twisting, turning, and bending, enjoying their full range of motion. Human babies are very similar. For some reason, though, the older we get, the less we use our bodies; and our range of movement decreases. With this comes tightness, stiffness, and a reduction in strength. We also become more injury prone.

One effective way to combat our sitting culture and immobility is to stretch! By incorporating a regular stretching routine, you can additionally expect to benefit from:

  • Improved posture
  • Better sports performance
  • Quicker recovery
  • Stress reduction

Unlock your body by practicing these five functional stretches.

1. The Foldover

stretches to improve flexibility

The foldover is one of my favorite stretches that works the entire chain of tendons and muscles.

How to Do it

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.

Gently inhale as you slowly bend forward at the hips, lowering your upper body down toward the floor, keeping head, neck, and shoulders relaxed.

Wrap your hands around the back of your legs and attempt to straighten them as you intensify the stretch.

Hold for at least 20 seconds, and then slowly release out of the stretch as you exhale and return to standing. Be careful not to do this too quickly to avoid dizziness and keep your core contracted throughout.

Muscles Stretched

  • Neck
  • Back
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

Alternative Option: Forward Fold Shoulder Opener

To add a shoulder stretch to your forward fold, clasp your hands behind your head and lift them toward the ceiling as you bend forward. You will receive all the same benefits but with the addition of flexible shoulders.

2. Hip Flexor/Quad Stretch

stretches to improve flexibility

I was at a friend’s recently when their three-year-old was rolling around on the floor. The kid’s grandfather decided to follow suit and ended up breaking his hip! This simple stretch will open up your hips and help prevent stiffness so that you don’t have to worry about whether or not you can keep up with the young uns.

How to Do it

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lunge your right leg forward about 90 degrees while bending the knee of your stationary leg. Keep your right foot directly under your knee for balance while using a table or wall if extra stability is needed.

Carefully bend your right leg into the stretch and go as deep as comfortable while keeping a straight back. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.

Step out of the stretch, alternate legs, and repeat on the other side.

Muscles Stretched

  • Hip flexors
  • Quads (thighs)
  • Hamstrings

Alternative Option: Lower your trailing knee to the floor and lift your back foot to your buttocks to intensify the stretch. 

3. Spinal Twist

stretches to improve flexibility

I don’t know about you, but when I go to a yoga class, the spinal twist is my favorite stretch. Don’t worry if your back cracks when you do this twist, provided you don’t feel any pain. You are simply realigning the vertebrae, which is the goal. Be careful not to push too hard, though.

How to Do it

Sitting tall with your bum on the ground and legs stretched out, cross your right leg over your left thigh, keeping your right foot flat on the ground.

Bend your left leg at the knee so that your left heel is as close as possible to your right buttock. Your right leg should be propped up in front of you with your knee in line with your chest.

Cross your left arm to the right and stick your elbow on the outside of your right knee while keeping your back straight. Gently twist to the right.

Try to avoid twisting from your shoulders. Hold this position for three to four deep breaths (or 10 seconds). Finally, turn your head, looking over your right shoulder.

Swap sides and repeat. Do at least five twists on each side.

Muscles Stretched

  • Glutes
  • Back
  • Lats
  • Neck

Alternative Option: Sit in a deep squat and twist to your left, placing your right arm over your left knee, and twist. This adds a deeper spinal twist while strengthening your ankles and knees.

4. The Butterfly

butterfly stretch

A few years ago, I damaged my left adductor muscle (groin) during a workout. Over time, I noticed flexibility in that area had dramatically reduced, and I wanted to find a stretch that could fix the damage. The butterfly is that stretch!

How to Do it

Sit tall on the floor and bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet together. Your knees will splay out to the sides like a frog; if you are inflexible, then your knees will be quite high.

Grab your ankles and gently push your elbows into your knees and toward the floor, while lowering your upper body as far as possible.

Hold for 30 seconds and repeat five times.

Muscles Stretched

  • Neck
  • Back
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Thighs

Alternative Option: If the stretch is too deep for you, try placing blankets under your bottom to elevate your hips. 

5. The Bridge

stretches to improve flexibility

There is nothing more debilitating than pulling muscles in your back. The bridge will both heal and strengthen this area.

How to Do it

Lay flat on your back, and bring your heels to your bum so your knees are bent, pointing upward.

Place your hands next to your head (in line with your ears) and push your mid-section upward, lifting your head and creating an arch in your entire body. Your hands and feet should be the only things touching the floor.

Hold for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat three times.

Muscles Stretched

  • Lower back
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves 

Alternative Option: If this is a little too challenging, try keeping your head on the ground, using the crown to support you.