Touch your toes. Fold your right arm across your chest. Pull your left ankle to your butt.
Guessing you’ve done those stretches, right? Listen, they’re all great: These tried-and-true stretches can help improve flexibility, joint mobility and even help beat stress. But while the stand-bys are solid, they aren’t the only stretches you should practice regularly.
“The basic stretches we all know tend to prioritize the big muscles over the smaller ones,” says Kelly Moore, a certified yoga instructor and co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness in Chicago. The catch? “Only when every muscle is equally addressed can stretching effectively reduce the risk of imbalances and injury,” she says.
In addition to the major muscles like your quads and triceps, “your smaller stabilizer muscles, like the multifidus muscle that runs along your spine, and the psoas muscle that keeps your hips in check, are at work during everything you do, even when it’s just sitting still,” says Jacquelyn Brennan, CSCS, a personal trainer and co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness. That’s why “it’s so important to expand your stretching routine to benefit every muscle in your body,” Brennan says.
Since you’re probably already tackling the big guys with your regular stretching routine, here are six stretches, recommended by Brennan and Moore, to round out the mix.
6 Ah-Mazing Stretches to Try Right Now
1. Puppy Dog
Unlike child’s pose, which flexes the spine, this modification is like a backbend, putting the spine into extension to stretch the middle back as well as the upper chest.
How to: Begin on all fours with hands underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips (a). Walk your hands forward as far as you can to pull your chest toward the floor (b). Keeping your hips over your knees, lift your tailbone toward the ceiling (c). Allow your chin to lower toward the floor (d). Hold for six to eight breaths.
2. Crouching Tiger
A deeper, more intense version of the side lunge, this stretch rotates the hips so that you hit the deeper hip muscle, known as the psoas.
How to: Take a wide stance and bend forward at the hips to lower your hands to the floor (a). Shift your weight to your right leg, lift your right heel and bend your right knee to lower your body toward the floor (b). Walk your hands forward to deepen the stretch (c). Hold for six to eight breaths, then shift your weight to the left leg to repeat on the opposite side.
3. Standing Pigeon
A tweak on the traditional Pigeon yoga pose, this standing modification allows you to deepen the stretch as well as strengthen your hips, knee and ankle joints for improved balance. (Thanks, gravity!)
How-to: Stand tall with legs together. Then, without moving your hips, transfer your weight into your right leg (a). Lift your left leg to place your left foot on your right thigh (b). Bring palms together in front of your chest and slowly bend right leg so that your weight sinks toward your heels (c). As you lower, allow your left knee to fall toward the floor to deepen the stretch (d). Hold for six to eight breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
4. Forward Fold Twist
Any kind of touch-your-toes stretch feels good, but by adding in a twist, this upgrade on the original lets you loosen up more muscles, including the IT band and the hip rotators.
How to: Standing tall with your legs together, bend at your hips to lower your hands to the floor (a). Keeping knees straight, walk your right hand about six to 12 inches in front of you (b). Bend your right knee and reach your left arm up toward the ceiling, making sure to look up at your fingers (c). Hold for six to eight breaths. Repeat on the other side.
By straightening your back leg and dropping your torso, you’ll decompress your spine, opening all the smaller muscles in your back.
How to: Start in downward facing dog (a). Step your left foot forward just shy of being between your hands, keeping hips square, legs straight and feet firmly on the floor (b). Raise your torso and stretch arms overhead, then fall forward to reach forward on the floor (c). Hold for six to eight breaths. Repeat on the other side.
6. Lizard Lunge
By taking the runner’s lunge all the way to the floor, this advanced variation deepens the stretch not only in the hip flexor and quad muscles, but the smaller, inner thigh adductors as well.
How to: Start in downward facing dog (a). Step your left foot forward between your hands and lower your right leg onto the floor (b). Keeping your right arm firmly planted on the floor, raise your left hand to your left leg (c). Sink into your hips to deepen in the stretch (d). Hold for six to eight breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Originally posted October 2015. Updated April 2016.