You know that moment when you just need to stretch — maybe it’s before getting out of bed in the morning, during a long flight or right after a long run. Think about how your go-to muscle-loosening move makes you feel. Does it make you say “ooh” and “ahh”? Well, that’s exactly what stretching can do for you: Wake up your muscles, relieve tension throughout the body and make you feel oh-so-good.
But the benefits of stretching go even further. “There are many factors that can limit or enhance movement, including prior tissue damage, strength, stability around the joint and, of course, flexibility,” says Lisa Wheeler, vice president of fitness programming for Daily Burn. “That’s where stretching comes in. If the muscles around the joint aren’t flexible, it’s difficult to move efficiently.” In other words, that stiffness can prevent you from doing full range of motion exercises, cause injury and worse, keep you from progressing with your fitness goals.
To help you loosen up the joints used in most daily movements — especially those that get tight from sitting all day — we rounded up 15 lengthening and strengthening stretches to do daily. Wheeler says it’s best to do a dynamic warm-up before a workout and static holds after exercise. Thankfully, you can use most of these stretches for both by either staying in the position shown for 30 seconds (static) or moving in and out of the pose (dynamic). Focus on deep breathing and you’ll probably experience some mental stress relief, too.
RELATED: The 5 Keys to a Perfect Warm-Up
15 Stretches to Relieve Tension Now
1. Downward Dog
A yogi favorite, this pose focuses on hip and shoulder mobility, while stretching your hamstrings, lats (muscles in your mid-back) and deltoids (muscles in your shoulders).
How to: Start in plank position with shoulders directly over wrists (a). Push your hips up toward the ceiling so you form a triangle with your body. Keep your head between your arms and straighten your legs as much as possible (b). Reach your heels toward the ground and spread your fingers, so your bodyweight gets distributed evenly through the hands and feet.
Make it dynamic: Continuously move between plank position and downward dog.
2. Side Oblique Stretch
You’ll lengthen through the side of your body as you stretch your lats, hips and obliques.
How to: Stand with feet a little wider than hip-distance apart (a). As you lift one arm overhead with your palm facing inward, reach and lean toward the opposite side of the arm raised (b). Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: After you reach with one arm, bend that elbow as you pull it down by your side and stand straight. Reach back up and over. Do eight reps, then switch sides.
3. Crescent Pose
Find length and balance as you engage your abs, hip flexors and chest with this high lunge.
How to: Stand with your feet staggered: one in front and one behind you (a). Bend your front knee to create a 90-degree angle. Keep your back leg straight behind you (b). Lift your arms up in the air by your ears, palms facing inward. Lift your chest up, slightly arching your back as you press your back hip forward (c). If possible, lower your lunge as you exhale. Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Bend and straighten your front leg as you lift and lower your arms. Repeat for eight reps, then switch sides.
4. Child’s Pose
Take it from Daily Burn’s Becca Pace: This stretch is probably one of the most calming postures, and works well for recovery, too. You’ll stretch the low back, lats and shoulders.
How to: Get on all fours on an exercise mat (a). From your hands and knees, push your hips back until your butt rests on your heels. (Knees slightly wider than hips.) Keep your arms straight out in front of you and look at the floor.
Make it dynamic: Continuously flow through hands-and-knees position to child’s pose.
5. Single Leg Stretch
If you’re like most adults, you need a little more flexibility in your hamstrings. Bonus benefit: You’ll also work your core.
How to: Lie on your back and lift legs toward the ceiling (a). Lower one leg toward the floor as you pull the other leg toward your face (b). Hold the back of your raised leg (calf or higher) and lift your shoulders off the mat (c). Keep legs as straight as possible and toes pointed. Hold, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Switch legs repeatedly, gently grabbing your calf and pulling it toward you.
6. Figure 4
This is an ah-mazing stretch for runners, as it alleviates tightness in the glutes and the hard-to-reach piriformis (another muscle in your backside).
How to: Sit on a mat with your legs extended in front of you (a). Place your hands behind you, fingertips facing away from your body. Lift one leg, placing your ankle on your opposite leg, just above the knee. (Keep your feet flexed to protect your knees.) (b). Slowly bend your bottom leg toward you, until you feel a stretch in the outer hip of the other leg (c). Straighten your back, roll your shoulders down and push out your chest. Hold, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Continue to bend and straighten your bottom leg.
Have a stiff back? This pose will encourage blood flow and more mobility in your spine.
How to: Get on your hands and knees on an exercise mat, with wrists in line with shoulders and knees in line with hips (a). Round your back, tuck your pelvis and look toward the floor, as you scoop your abs upward (b).
Make it dynamic: Inhale and exhale as you flow through cat and cow (below).
Counteract the cat pose with cow, which stretches your abs and chest muscles.
How to: Get on your hands and knees on an exercise mat, wrists under shoulders and knees in line with hips (a). Arch your back, look slightly upward and stick your chest out (b).
Make it dynamic: Flow through cow and cat together, exhaling as your back arches and inhaling as it rounds.
9. Sumo Squat Twist
This pose is great for wringing out tension in your spine, specifically your upper- to mid-back, as well as your shoulders.
How to: Stand with feet wide, toes pointed outward about 45 degrees. Place your hands just above your knees (a). Lean forward as you bend your knees to form right angles (or as close to it as possible) (b). Bring one shoulder toward the floor as you look over your opposite shoulder. Keep your hips aligned and arms as straight as possible as you twist further on each exhale. Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Continuously switch the twist from side to side.
10. Tiny Fencer Stretch
This is Daily Burn 365 trainer Gregg Cook’s favorite stretch and here’s why: It loosens up your lower half, including your inner thighs and hip flexors, while improving ankle mobility.
How to: Kneel with both legs on an exercise mat (a). Step one foot out to the side, knee bent, toes facing out and heel in line with opposite knee. Open arms on a diagonal, pressing your forearm into inner thigh (b). Bend your front knee on the leg that’s turned out, as you press your hips forward, reaching arms as long as possible. Allow the knee to move past the toe, which helps to increase ankle range of motion. Hold for eight seconds, then switch.
Make it dynamic: Rock side to side, increasing range of motion each time.
11. Half Kneeling Twist
Great for offsetting a day of sitting, this pose stretches your chest muscles, obliques and hips.
How to: Start in a kneeing position (a). Step one foot out to the side, knee bent, toes facing out and heel in line with opposite knee. Place the hand opposite of your front knee on the mat in front of you (b). Twist your upper body as you reach your other arm up toward the ceiling, keeping both elbows straight. Avoid pushing your hip out to the side. Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Slowly twist and untwist your upper half.
12. Crab Reach
You’ll feel like a rock star with this move that sends tension flying — from your hip flexors and obliques to your upper- and mid-back.
How to: Sit with feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart (a). Place your hands down about six inches behind your hips, fingertips facing away from your body (b). Bring one arm toward your chest, then lift your hips to tabletop and reach that arm over your head (c). Press into your feet. Rotate through your torso to look down at your bottom hand. Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Bring your lifted arm up and down, as you also lift and lower your hips.
13. Lying Hug Stretch
When in doubt, hug it out. It’s the perfect position for relieving tension in your low back.
How to: Lie on your back on an exercise mat (a). Tuck your knees toward your chest and grab your calves, as you roll your head up to meet your knees (b).
Make it dynamic: Roll your legs up and down, keeping knees bent.
14. Side Lunge Stretch
Give rigid inner thighs some relief with this Anja Garcia-approved pose.
How to: Start standing with feet a little wider than hip-distance, toes pointing slightly outward (a). Bend one knee, as you push your butt back and lean forward slightly. Keep your back straight (b). Touch the floor with your fingertips, if possible. Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Continue to switch from side to side.
Cardio kings and queens take note: This pose helps increase mobility in your glutes and hip flexors.
How to: From a downward dog or plank position, lift one leg and place that knee next to the corresponding wrist, shin parallel to the mat. The other leg should stay straight behind you, with your toes resting on the floor (a). Stay upright or if you can, lean forward with a flat back, moving your hands out in front of you to anchor you to the floor (b).
Make it dynamic: To deepen the stretch in your hip, push up and down on your hands and front leg, as you lift and lower your hips just a bit.
Additional reporting by Goldyn Belgarde