Did you know that stretching and increasing range of motion of all body parts is just as important as strength and cardio work? Not only does stretching reduce your risk of injury, but it helps improve flexibility and reduces aches and pains that manifest from tight, stagnant muscles.
Incorporating some full-body stretches into your fitness routine will alleviate undue strain on neighbouring tendons and joints, and will allow us to perform our favourite activities well into our old age.
Stretching is uncomfortable, and takes time, but by doing so, you’ll make your muscles less restricted, which will allow you to get fuller range of motion out of them. A greater range of motion in your hips and knees, for example, will allow you to sink deeper into a squat, such as when you need to bend down low to grab something. So while stretching might make you “ooh” and “ahh,” it’ll ensure you aren’t making those noises for other pain-related reasons down the road.
12 Powerful Full-Body Stretches
As I suggest with all of my stretching articles, make sure you breathe deep, and if you feel any sharp pain, stop stretching immediately. Go slowly into each stretch and take your time. By improving your flexibility and mobility with these full-body stretches, you’ll help relieve muscle tension and also alleviate any aches and pains. All so that you can live life a little more freely.
While most people don’t think twice when it comes to stretching their feet, it’s incredibly important. The muscles in the bottom of your feet connect with the ones in your calf and hamstring. So if you have tightness if your toes or arch of your foot, you could suffer from poor ankle mobility, or inflexibility of the legs. You can stretch out your feet by performing the following exercise as shown below:
1. Begin with your hands and knees on the floor.
2. Place your toes on the ground, keeping your weight in the balls of your feet.
3. Gently push back, until you feel a stretch along the bottom of both feet. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds.
4. Repeat this stretch 4 times.
Our feet and ankles are vital in our ability to walk, run and perform just about any exercise. If they’re weak, or inflexible (like a majority of the population), you definitely need to stretch them out. Stretching out your ankles can also help prevent future discomfort by improving the flexibility and strength of the ankles.
1. Sitting in a chair, drop your toes to the ground and press the top of your feet down toward the floor.
2. Hold for 15-30 seconds, and then relax.
3. Repeat this stretch 4 times.
You can think of the calves as shock absorbers, so you can imagine that having inflexible shock absorbers completely defeats their purpose (kind of like a car). When you calves are tight and inflexible, you’ll end up with knee pain. Try this simple calf stretch to keep your knees healthy.
1. Stand a step-length away from a wall, and take a small step with your right foot forward. Your left foot will be pointing straight toward the wall – this is the leg you are going to stretch.
2. Put your hands on the wall to stabilize your body, and then you are going to lean in towards the wall.
3. Make a little bend in the left knee – you will start feeling the calf stretch at this point. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
4. Do 2-3 repetitions on each leg.
Note: if your ankles are too tight to do this stretch, put a little rolled up towel underneath the ball of the left foot.
Our hamstring muscles are some of the tightest muscles in our body. If your hamstrings are tight, it is most likely that you’ll suffer from some sort of lumbar (lower back) pain. Tight hamstrings and hip flexors will often occur together. Their constant pull can lead to an anterior pelvic tilt, which ultimately results in back pain and weak lower abdominals. This stretch will help release your tight hamstrings.
1. Standing, place one foot up on a stable surface (like a table or chair).
2. Your foot should be slightly out to the side (like 30 degrees), instead of directly in front of you.
3. Keeping your back straight, lean forward, bending at the hips, and hold where you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh for 20-30 seconds.
4. Repeat on the other side, and perform 2-3 repetitions on each side.
The quads connect the knee and the hip, so any tightness you have in your quads will eventually lead to pain and tightness in the knee and hip areas.
1. Find a surface, like a bench, that is just about as high as your knee.
2. Put the front of your right ankle onto the bench, placing the right knee on the ground (use a pad like a pillow or rolled up yoga mat to protect the knees).
3. Keep your chest up, back straight and squeeze your glutes. You should feel a stretch once you start squeezing the glutes. If you don’t, pulsate back and forth to feel the stretch.
4. Hold for 20-30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
5. Perform 3-5 repetitions on each side.
6. Hip Flexors
Sitting for long periods can shorten and tighten your hip flexors. This can lead to problems with posture and back pain, as well as foot, ankle and knee injuries. Tight hip flexors also often accompany an anterior pelvic tilt, where the front of your pelvis is pulled forward from your spine and out out of alignment. This puts lots of pressure on the lower back, and is a major trigger for low back pain in most people.
1. Begin by sitting tall on your knees. Bring your right knee forward, bending at the hips. Your left knee and toes should be touching the floor.
2. Step forward with your front foot, and bring both hands tot he ground beside it. Relax your back leg, by bringing your left knee to the ground.
3. Hold for a few breaths as your bring your left hip toward the ground.
4. Bring your right hand to the right of your right foot and shift your weight to sit on your left thigh. Your right leg should straighten out as you do so. Hold for 5 deep breaths.
5. Return to the main position, and twist your chest towards your right knee, while holding here for a few breaths. You can repeat the twisting motion away from your knee as well if you like.
6. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side.
7. Hip Adductors
If you’ve ever experienced pain in your groin area while walking or exercising, there’s a good chance your hip adductors are tight. While not many people stretch these muscles, they are super important for avoiding an anterior pelvic tilt (as described above). An anterior pelvic tilt weakens the core, and a weak core often leads to back pain. Keep your hip adductors from locking up by performing the stretch below.
1. Lie on your back with your legs resting against the wall.
2. Let your legs drop out to the side. Here, you’ll feel a stretch on the inside of your thighs. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
3. Repeat 3-4 times.
The infamous piriformis muscle. When the piriformis is tight, your low back will suffer, and you’ll experience buttock pain and pain down the leg. Why? When the piriformis muscle is tight and inflexible, it can irritate the sciatic nerve, because they lay in close proximity to each other. By irritating the sciatic nerve, the result is pain, numbness and tingling along the back of the leg and into the foot.
1. Laying with your stomach on the ground, place the affected foot across and underneath the trunk of the body so that the affected knee is on the outside.
2. Extend the non-affected leg straight back behind the body and keep the pelvis straight. 3. Keeping the affected leg in place, move your hips back toward the floor and lean forward on the forearms until a deep stretch it felt.
4. Hold for 30 seconds to get a deep piriformis stretch, and then slowly return to starting position. Aim for a total of 3 stretches.
Your latissimus dorsi muscle is one of the widest muscles in the human body. The muscle runs obliquely, superiorly, and laterally through the back and armpits to insert on the posterior side of the humerus of the upper arm. Problems with this muscle will give you shoulder issues, and the bad news is, is that this muscle is tight in most individuals. A lot of shoulder and neck pain actually results from a locked up latissimus dorsi muscle, because they limit the range of motion in your upper back. Doing the stretch below should ease up some of this tension.
1. Kneel down on a pad, and put both of your elbows onto a chair or bench in front of you. Put the elbows as close together as you can.
2. Back up and sit back with your bottom towards your heels. As you sit back, you want to round up your back like a cat.
3. Take a few deep breaths, and hold for 30 seconds.
4. Repeat 3-4 times.
Our chest muscles are one of the least-stretched muscles in the body, mainly because it is so difficult to get to them. Tight chest muscles can cause your shoulders to round forward, and give you poor posture. They will also put strain on the upper back and shoulders, so stretching them as often as possible is important!
1. Start by lying on one side with the knees bent, in line with your hips. Bring the leg that is closest to the floor straight, with the top knee remaining bend. Place a pillow, ball, or bolster under the knee that is bent.
2. Place both arms out in front of you, elbows straight and palms together.
3. Inhale and take the top arm to the ceiling as you look up.
4. Exhale and bring the top arm down behind your body as far back as it will go.
5. Stay in this position for 4-5 deep breaths, relaxing your shoulders.
6. Inhale, and then exhale and return to starting position. Repeat on the other side. Do 3 repetitions for each side.
Our shoulders are a complex set of muscles, which when tight, cause an array of issues. Tight shoulders can cause upper back pain, neck pain, and chest pain, and they also contribute to headaches. Making sure you keep your shoulders lean and limber is essential if you want to live pain-free.
1. In a relaxed, standing position, standing tall, choose whatever side is hurting you (say the right side) and lift your right shoulder blade up. Pull it backwards.
2. Lean your head back, and take the right ear and bring it over to the right shoulder.
3. Look up away from the right shoulder, and feel the trapezius muscle contract. Hold for 30 seconds and relax.
4. You can repeat several times a day.
A stiff neck is often caused by weak neck muscles, and is characterized by soreness and difficulty moving the neck, especially when trying to turn the head to the side. A stiff neck can also be caused by tight shoulders, or upper back pain, which are often caused by poor posture.
1. Start with your hands and knees on the floor, palms directly under the shoulder rand knees directly below the hips.
2. Breathe in and pull your abdominal muscles in as you arch your back up like a stretching cat. Let your head and tailbone drop down toward the floor.
3. Return to the initial position, and then extend the upper part of the spine upwards, supporting it with your abdominal muscles and not letting your neck sink into your shoulders, or your shoulders crunch up into your neck. Make sure your neck is a long extension of your spine, and don’t let the head fall back.
4. Return to starting position and repeat 5 times.