5 Essential Stretches You Should Do Daily

The excuse that you're "horrible" at stretching just doesn't count anymore.

April 16, 2014
woman stretching in bed

Even for fitness fanatics, flexibility work is often the first thing left out of a workout. And that’s a bad thing: Letting the body tighten up can result in hindered performance at the gym, lack of mobility in the joints, posture issues, and pain in the back, knees, neck, hips, and shoulders. 

More: Stretching Exercises That Build Strength

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Save yourself a little pain with these 5 stretches you can spread throughout the day. As a bonus, you’ll improve your energy levels, readiness for sleep, and your workout results --well worth the 4 or 5 minutes they’ll take up in your schedule.

1. A forward bend with a twist
Almost everyone has tight calves, says Chrissy Carter, a yoga instructor in New York and star of Gaiam’s DVD “Beginning Yoga.”

“We’re always on our feet, we’re walking around … or we’re stagnant,” she says. All of this can lead to tightened calves, which can cause pain in the ankles, feet, pelvis, and even back. “Tense calves also prevent our weight from sinking and releasing into our feet. So we’re never really grounded in our posture.”

To give your lower legs a new kind of relieving stretch, Carter suggests rolling up a blanket or yoga mat. Place the balls of your feet up on the mat so that your heels are on the floor and you’re still standing almost upright. From this position, hinge forward at the hips to bring your body into a forward bend.

“Depending on your hamstring flexibility, follow these progressions: Beginners can rest their arms or elbows on a table,” she says. “Next would be yoga blocks. A flexible practitioner can always go all the way to the floor.”

Keep your hips stacked over your heels throughout this forward bend. To avoid tightness, Carter says, the body will try to push your hips back. To maintain the calf stretch, only fold as far forward as you can go while keeping your hips above your heels.

More: The New Rules of Stretching

2. Kneeling hip flexor stretch
“Everybody has tight hips,” says Jeremy Frisch, owner of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Mass. It’s especially true for "desk jockeys." Sitting all day shortens the hip flexors, which can result in back pain and poor posture.

To combat this, Frisch has almost all of his clients warm up for their workout with a kneeling hip flexor stretch. To do it, kneel on one knee while facing a wall at slightly less than arm’s length. Put your hands against the wall.

“Push against the wall really hard, like you’re trying to push it over. That activates the core,” he says. Now try to push your kneeling knee into the floor—like you’re pushing towards the center of the Earth. “This turns on your glutes and abs to release the extension of the hip.”

Hold this pressure on the wall and floor for a few seconds. Switch sides, and repeat.

3. The chair trifecta stretch
If you’re an office worker, your chair is hurting more than just your hips, of course. It’s also increasing your risk of death: In a recent study, workers who sat 9 or more hours per day had an increased risk of death from heart disease and cancer.

So get out of your chair, increase overall mobility, and give yourself a much-needed midday energy boost with this tri-planar flexibility move from Aaron Brooks, a biomechanist and owner of Perfect Postures in Auburndale, Mass.

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Stand facing your chair and place one foot on the chair with knee bent 90 degrees. Your other foot should be behind you with your knee straight and your foot slightly pigeon-toed. Draw your abs in to stabilize your spine. In this position, lean forward until you feel a stretch in your groin—this will help loosen your hip flexor. While maintaining this stretch, you’ll perform three movements.

First, lift your arms straight overhead, palms facing each other, as your pelvis comes forward. Next, bring your arms straight out in front of your chest. Rotate your arms, chest, and head away from your standing leg. Finally, rest the arm on your bent-knee side on your bent leg. Lift your arm on the side of your standing leg straight up next to your ear. With your arm raised, lean forward slightly while you simultaneously reach your hand over your head, stretching your side body. When you’ve finished, switch legs and repeat all movements.

Brooks recommends this series because “you’ll get thoracic spine mobility, shoulder mobility, and work your proprioceptive system,” the system that helps your body maintain balance. When repeated on both sides, the series also awakens the nervous system, giving the body an energy boost. “People feel so mobile and so awake, they want to go for a run.”

4. Putting your best stretch forward
Before your next workout, stretch your quads, hip flexors, abs, and shoulders—and do it all at once with this move from Frisch.

Start in a crab walk position, with your knees bent 90 degrees, your arms straight down below your shoulders, and your stomach facing the ceiling. In this position, lift your hips up and squeeze your shoulder blades together so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to knees, perpendicular to the floor.

From this position, shift your weight forward so your knees go towards and past your toes, and your heels almost touch your butt. You’ll feel a stretch all over the front of your body.

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“You’re getting into extension all over,” Frisch says. The stretch results not just in an all-over anterior stretch, but is invigorating—taxing so much of your body at once wakes you up, which makes this stretch not just great for pre-workout, but when you need a pick-me-up during a long day at work.

5. A hip-groin stretch
Get even more stretch for your hips just before sleeping, says Carter.

“Tension or tightness prevents us from letting go. Releasing that tension allows you to do so. You’re grounded, and it’s a great way to end the day,” she says. “And when you do poses in bed, the softness of the mattress is forgiving.”

Carter’s before-sleep suggestion: A simple hip and groin stretch. Lie face up on your mattress with your feet flat on the bed, knees bent. Hug your right knee to your chest, then turn your thigh out so that your right ankle goes across your left thigh just above the knee. In this position, your right leg and left thigh will form a triangle.

Reach your arms around your left thigh to grab your left shin. Pull your left shin towards your chest, rolling slightly onto your back. In this position, you should feel a stretch in your outer right hip and glute. Hold for a few seconds, release, and switch sides.

Tags: Stretching