Flex On 'Em: Best Stretching Exercises To Improve Your Flexibility
Written By: Taylor Rao
If you’re a regular at the gym, you should know the importance of stretching, but that doesn’t always mean you practice proper stretching on the reg. Some fitness classes offer guided stretching before and/or after class as an essential part of the workout, and others let you out the door as soon as the final bell rings.
So, regardless of how much time your fitness facility does (or doesn’t) dedicate to getting your stretch on, it’s truly up to you to make sure you’re giving your body the TLC it needs after a tough day at the gym, and that means stretching regularly to keep your muscles healthy and flexible.
We get it --you might feel like the time you spend at the gym is the only time you have and that you could go without stretching out pre or post-workout, but that simply isn’t true. Or if it is, don’t let it be. Getting into a productive and consistent stretching routine will make your body stronger over time, and allow you to withstand the intensity of your workouts without breaking down.
Not sure where to begin? Take a look at these simple, easy-to-do stretches that will leave you feeling more limber than ever.
Hip flexor lunge stretch
Hip flexibility and mobility is extremely important for athletes to be able to reach their potential in their sport or at the gym. A simple hip flexor stretch, starting with one knee lunging forward with your foot pointed ahead, hips square and your other leg bent behind you, can open the hip up and easily deepen into a more advanced stretch once you get the hang of it. As you lean your torso forward into the stretch, keep your abs engaged and pretend you’re pressing your back leg toward the ground as much as you can.
A quad stretch is one of the most needed (and easy to do) flexibility stretches out there. It feels so good you might find yourself sneaking this one in while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, but hey --no one’s judging. If you need to work on your stability, lightly touch your hand to a wall or grab onto a sturdy chair while you kick your non-standing leg behind you, using your other hand to grab onto your ankle. While pointing your foot toward the ceiling, you’ll feel a big stretch in your quads as you focus on your breathing and posture of your upper body. Hold this for 15 to 30 seconds, and then switch legs.
PS: If doing this move while standing isn’t for you, you can do the same movement while laying down on your side, using your elbow for balance.
Hamstring injuries are extremely common in sport and exercise, and some of those accidents could be prevented by properly stretching the hamstrings for the best performance. To stretch your hamstrings, stay standing upright as you extend one leg out in front and flex your foot toward the ceiling. While keeping your back straight, bend your body at the hips and lean your chest forward as you feel the stretch in the back of your leg. Over time, you can see improvement in your flexibility as your chest can lower all the way down to your thigh.
This is another, you-can-do-anywhere type of stretch that’s perfect to relieve some tension after a workout that absolutely crushed your upper body. Simply stand tall with your feet together (or a little wider than shoulder-width apart), swing your arms behind you and intertwine your fingers. With a slight bend in the legs, slowly lower your chest toward the ground as your arms extend behind you and reach for the ceiling.
To keep your arms feeling loose and to guarantee you can make improvements at the gym by getting deeper and more advanced with pushing and pressing movements, a standing tricep stretch should be part of your daily post-workout stretching routine. So, put the weights down for a second and raise your arms up, bending an elbow so that your forearm falls directly behind your head. Using your other hand, gently push back the bent elbow and hold this stretch until you really feel it. Switch sides and repeat.
A side stretch is a full body stretch. Not only does it improve the flexibility of the spine over time, but it elongates your abdominal and thigh muscles, and gives a good stretch to the muscles in between your ribs (betcha didn’t know you even had those). Simply raise your arms above your head and clasp your hands together, keeping your body straight as you slowly bend to one side and hold the stretch for 30 seconds before switching it up. It’s important to keep your body in a straight line as you bend, elongating each part and ensuring the deepest stretch you can get.
See, those stretches don’t seem so bad, do they? These stretching exercises are extremely easy to commit to doing before or after the gym, at home before your head hits the pillow, or whenever you have a few minutes of spare time. If you’re crushing your goals at the gym, make sure you keep your body in the best shape possible while staying flexible. It’ll improve your performance and make your workouts more efficient and longer-lasting. No one wants to have to skip a week (or worse, longer) because of a preventable injury.