The best stretches to increase full-body flexibility
Are stretches for flexibility a part of your routine? They should be! Whether you’re working out or always at work, your body is probably feeling it. Maybe it’s tension in your shoulders, a stiff and aching back, or a literal pain in the neck.
Tight muscles restrict movement, which can lead to all sorts of problems down the track. This is why stretches to make you more flexible are a part of my weekly mobility and recovery sessions on FIT. Because you can train to be strong, but strength means nothing if you’re not mobile!
Let’s take a look at why flexibility is so important, and what can impact your flexibility, then I’ll show you my favourite stretches to increase flexibility in each part of your body.
Why is flexibility important?
Our bodies were made to move! When your muscles are lengthened and stretched (as opposed to short and tight), you’re able to move through a full range of motion. This decreases your risk of injury and allows you to perform better at training or in sport, as well as in day-to-day functional activities, like sitting, lifting, bending down or reaching.
A good muscle stretch wakes us up in the morning and helps us wind down at the end of the day. But if you don’t do regular stretching exercises for flexibility?
Let’s take a look at how tightness and inflexibility can creep in and hold you back.
Join me on FIT to find all the stretches you need to improve flexibility and mobility. To try my mobility sessions and Yoga for Recovery, get started with a free trial today.
What can affect flexibility?
Modern life and mobility just don’t mix. We live stationary, sedentary lives, sitting at our desks, on our couches and in our cars… then wonder why our glutes and thighs feel tight when we finally go out to walk the dog. We contort ourselves into strange positions scrolling through our phones and tablets… then wonder why our neck and back are sore the next day.
However, a lack of movement isn’t the only problem. If you train regularly, like I do – lifting weights or sweating through a HIIT session – all that contracting of muscles leaves your muscles shorter and tighter. That’s why weekly mobility sessions (including flexibility exercises and stretching poses) are part of my training program on FIT. Finding a balance between strength and flexibility is so important to feel your best.
Then there’s genetics. Some people are just born less naturally flexible than others. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use stretches to become more flexible. I’ve selected moves to create the best stretching routine for flexibility in 5 key areas of your body.
Before you step into my flexibility training session, it’s important to remember that everything is connected. And I mean EVERYTHING! For instance, tight glutes could be the reason your hamstrings feel restricted or sore. But don’t worry, I’ve made sure the stretches for all key areas also target supporting muscles to increase your full-body flexibility.
5 of the best stretches for leg flexibility
Whether you’re feeling stiff after parking your legs under the desk all day, or walking funny up a flight of stairs after crushing leg day in the gym, you need these leg flexibility stretches! Maintaining optimum mobility in your lower body will reduce your risk of injury and keep you performing at your best.
1. Lying 4-point stretch
Good stretches for flexibility in your lower body begin with this amazing release for your glutes and hips. Use it after smashing leg day in the gym or when you spend a lot of your days sitting down.
How to do a lying 4-point stretch:
Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
Cross your left leg so that your ankle is resting just above your right knee.
Lift your right knee and grip it with both hands just below the knee.
Pull your right knee towards your chest to feel the stretch through your left glute and into your hamstring. You may not need to pull far to feel the stretch, but your range will grow as your flexibility improves.
After 30 seconds, swap sides to stretch your right glute.
2. Downward dog
Several yoga stretches for flexibility have become a must in my mobility sessions, including this one. Downward dog releases tension from your hamstrings, calves and ankles, and since it positions your heart above your head, also stimulates blood flow and circulation to aid recovery.
How to do downward dog:
Begin on hands and knees, with your hands shoulder-width apart and fingers spread wide for a good grip on the mat. Keep your knees under your hips.
Breathe in, then as you breathe out, press the mat away with your hands, lift your knees and push your hips high, straightening your legs as much as you can. (It’s fine if your heels don’t reach the ground, or you need to keep a bend in your knees.)
Once you’re in the downward-facing dog position, you’ll notice that straightening your knees or lowering your heels will increase the stretch through your legs.
Try to hold this position for 5-10 deep breaths.
3. Seated groin stretch
Just like your hip flexors, it’s common to have tight groin muscles thanks to all the sitting we do. Be gentle with this area, as it’s easy to pull.
How to do a seated groin stretch:
Sit on the mat and bring the soles of your feet together, forming a diamond shape with your legs.
Pull your feet in closer to your butt and let your knees drop down towards the floor.
Hold your feet together, sit up tall and straight, breathing steadily.
To increase the stretch, you can tip forward gently from the hips, keeping your back straight.
4. Back leg stretch
Hamstrings can often feel inflexible or tight, which can restrict your movement. That’s exactly why you need this classic stretch.
How to do a back leg stretch:
Sit on the floor with your right leg extended, and the other leg bent so your left foot is tucked in towards your butt.
Keeping your back straight, tip forward at the hips, reaching your hand towards your right foot. You will feel the stretch through the back of your thigh.
Tip as far forward as you can manage and hold the stretch. After 10 seconds or so, as your muscle loosens, you may be able to lean into it a little more.
After 30 seconds, swap sides to stretch out your left hamstring.
5. Thigh stretch
Stretching your quads and hip flexors (at the top of your thighs) is a must after training and extended periods of sitting.
How to do a thigh stretch:
Begin standing up straight. Lift your right foot up and back, then grip the top of your foot with your hand.
Pull your foot towards your butt to feel the stretch through your thigh.
If you have trouble balancing, hold onto the back of a chair with your opposite hand.
After 30 seconds, switch to stretching your left thigh.
5 of the best back stretches for flexibility
Back pain feels like a fact of life for a lot of us, and quite frankly, it sucks! But it doesn’t have to be this way, as a lot of pain begins with weakness or tightness – which then leads to awkward movement or overcompensation from other areas. These stretches will help to relieve back pain by strengthening and loosening crucial muscle groups.
Important: Depending on what is causing your tight back, these stretches might not be enough. Regular strength training and mobility work will help to address any weakness that is contributing to your back issues. If pain is acute or severe, consult a doctor or physiotherapist as soon as possible.
1. Cat cow
This yoga pose will help to loosen up your back, shoulders and neck, easing tension and freeing up movement. Remember to take it slow and move with your breath to protect your back.
How to do cat cow:
Position yourself on all fours, back straight and head neutral.
Breathe in, then as you breathe out raise your back up by lowering your head towards the floor and drawing in your stomach.
Hold it for a moment, then curve your back inward by raising your head to look up and dropping your stomach towards the floor.
Keep the move relaxed and steady, moving with your breath.
2. Lat + oblique stretch
The lat muscles on either side of your back and obliques on the sides of your abdominal muscles are often neglected. When they’re tight, other parts of the body (like the lower back) can overcompensate. Let’s wake up these muscle groups and release tension.
How to do lat + oblique stretch:
Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Place your left hand on your hip, then lift your right arm overhead and reach for the opposite side.
Lean further into the reach to feel the stretch down your right side. Hold the stretch for a count of 5, then switch to stretch the other side.
3. Neck rolls
Whether you’ve just crushed an upper-body workout or you’ve been looking down at a laptop all day, neck rolls will help to unwind your traps. They’re the muscles that run from the base of your neck, across your shoulders and down the middle of your back.
How to do neck rolls:
Stand up straight with your feet-hip width apart, and place your hands onto your hips.
Lock your shoulders back and down so they don’t shrug up and down as you move your neck.
Begin the roll by tipping your right ear towards your right shoulder, then follow a circular movement – rolling the back of your head over the top of your back, bringing your left ear down towards your left shoulder, your chin down towards your chest and your right ear back to your right shoulder.
Complete a circle and a half. When your left ear is back above your left shoulder, stop, then gently switch and roll back in the other direction.
4. Child’s pose
This yoga-inspired stretch delivers a gentle release for your back.
How to do child’s pose:
Kneel on your mat, resting your butt against your heels.
Take a deep breath in, then as you breathe out lower your chest down between your thighs and reach your arms out to place your hands on the mat in front of you.
Keeping your head face down to the mat, breathe deeply and sink into the pose, letting your muscles relax.
Hold the pose for as long as you like.
5. Lower back rotational stretch
This stretch twist will help to unwind your back, core and glutes.
How to do lower back rotational stretch:
Lay on your back with your feet on the mat and knees bent.
Move your arms out to the side, forming a T shape.
Slide your butt a little to the left and let your knees tip over to the right, gently twisting through your core.
Breathe steadily, holding the stretch until the count of 10, then bring your knees back up, shift your butt to the other side, and tip your knees to the left side.
3 of the best stretches for hip flexibility
Remember how I said everything is connected? Tight hips can send pain down into your legs and up into your lower back, while any restricted movement can decrease mobility in your lower and upper body. So we need to keep those hips free and functioning!
Find out more about practicing yoga for your hips here, or try these stretches from my FIT mobility sessions.
1. Lunge stretch
Your hip flexors and quad muscles can shorten after a tough lower-body workout or sitting all day. This stretch will release and lengthen these muscles to keep you moving well.
How to do a lunge stretch:
Step your right foot back and lower that knee onto the floor.
You may need to wriggle your front foot forward a bit to find your balance. You can also put your hand on the hip of your front leg, and raise the opposite arm in the air.
Keeping your torso upright, push your hips forward until you feel a stretch at the top of your thigh.
To increase the stretch, really tuck in your butt as you push your hips forward.
Hold the stretch on your right side for around 15 seconds, then switch and repeat the stretch on the other side by stepping back with your right foot.
2. Knee-to-chest stretch
This gentle stretch will open up the front of your hips to improve mobility.
How to do a knee-to-chest stretch:
Lie on your back with legs extended.
Lift your right knee and grip it just below the knee, interlocking your fingers.
Gently pull your knee towards your chest, and hold the stretch for a count of 10.
Switch and pull your left knee towards your chest.
3. Pigeon pose
Another yoga pose that is great for relaxing tight glutes and hips, leaving you feeling free to move.
How to do pigeon pose:
Start in a low lunge position, place your hands on the floor in front of your body, then slide your front foot over to the opposite hand.
Keep your hips square and your front shin facing forward as best you can while lowering your hips towards and ground and extending your back leg.
From this position, bend forward at the hips and down onto your forearms. Breathe in and out, leaning further forward with each exhale. Switch to stretch the other side.
3 of the best stretches for your arms and shoulders
Lifting weights and leaning on your computer mouse all day can lead to tightness in your arms and shoulders. You won’t be surprised to learn that we also carry a lot of tension in our shoulders and neck. These stretches will help dissolve the tension and restore your range of motion.
1. Behind-the-back clasp stretch
An awesome chest opener, this stretch will also release tension in the front and rear of your shoulders, and down through your arms. Use it after a strong upper-body workout or sitting at your desk all day.
How to do a behind-the-back clasp stretch:
Standing up straight, clasp your hands together behind your back.
Pull your shoulders down and back, then extend your arms out away from your butt, letting your chest naturally push forward.
Breathe steadily and hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds.
2. Alternating shoulder stretch
This will help to relax and increase the range of motion in your shoulders.
How to do an alternating shoulder stretch:
Stand up tall and bring your right arm across your chest.
As you cross the arm over, bring your left arm up to pin the opposite arm into place with your forearm resting just below the elbow joint.
Press your left arm in towards your body to increase the stretch through your right shoulder.
Hold the stretch for a count of 5, then switch sides. Keep alternating until your shoulders begin to loosen up.
3. Alternating tricep stretch
Tight triceps can restrict arm extension. This stretch will loosen and lengthen the muscles so you can get back to training and your usual day-to-day movement.
How to do an alternating tricep stretch:
Lift your arms above your head, then bring your right hand down to rest on your left shoulder blade, and grip your right elbow with your left hand.
Gently pull down on the elbow with your left hand to feel the stretch through your right tricep.
Hold the stretch for a count of 5, then switch sides to stretch your left tricep.
Now that you’ve learned how to increase flexibility and tried some of my best stretches for flexibility, keep the release coming by joining me on FIT! Get started with a free trial today.
Personal trainer • Founder
Emily Skye is a strength training expert and the face of FIT, the digital fitness app that helps women worldwide build strength and confidence, stay active through pregnancy and rebuild post-pregnancy. Emily holds a Certificate IV in Fitness and Master Trainer qualification from the Australian Institute of Fitness. She is also co-founder of James Cosmetics and a mother of two.
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