Stretching, like warm-ups and cooldowns, might seem optional, but these aspects of exercise are just as important as your actual workout. There are so many benefits to stretching, for beginners and active folks of all fitness levels.
“Stretching improves your body’s ability to move and can increase your mobility significantly while decreasing exercise-related pain,” says Carlos Teasdale, ATC, CSCS.
Doing full-body stretches can also improve your range of motion, counteract the stress of exercise, boost flexibility, reduce injury risk, and give you greater power and endurance. To reap these benefits, include a mix of dynamic and static stretches in your stretching routine.
Here, Teasdale shares some of his favorite “stretching for beginners” moves (also good for anyone who could use a refresher on stretching). We begin with dynamic warm-ups you can use to start any workout, then shift to static stretches to help you loosen up after exercise.
This yoga standard gives you a full-body stretch and can prep you for workouts that include planks and push-ups.
- Start in high plank, with your hands under your shoulders and feet slightly wider than your hips. Push your hips up and back. Make a mountain shape with your body, with your tailbone at the peak.
- Keep palms flat on the floor with fingers spread wide, and press into your forefinger and thumb to protect your wrists.
- Straighten your legs or keep a soft bend in your knees. Drop your heels down toward the mat (it’s OK if your heels do not touch the mat).
- Keep your ears in line with your biceps to prevent straining your neck.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
This dynamic mini-flow is great before any workout. It stretches your back, core, and hips, as well as your neck and chest.
- Start on all fours with your back flat, your hands under your shoulders, and your knees below your hips.
- On the exhale, round your back toward the ceiling, tucking your tailbone and bringing your chin to your chest.
- On the inhale, arch your back downward, dropping your belly and lifting your chest, chin, and tailbone.
- Continue alternating between the two poses, flowing with the pace of your breath, for 5 to 10 breaths.
3. Walking Lunge
This dynamic stretch challenges your stability, requiring you to engage your core, glutes, and legs.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- Keeping your chest lifted, shoulders back, core braced, and back flat, take a large step forward with your right foot, lowering your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees bend to 90 degrees.
- Push into your front foot, driving down through your right heel as you bring your left foot forward to return to a standing position.
- Lunge forward again, this time with your left foot. Continue alternating legs, performing equal reps on both. Aim for 10 per side.
4. Hip Circles
This simple move will help loosen up your back, hips, and core before you exercise or anytime you feel tight.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hands on hips.
- Move your hips in a clockwise circle (forward, right, back, left), making larger circles as your muscles warm up.
- Continue for 30 seconds, and then repeat in the opposite (counterclockwise) direction.
5. Leg Swing
This move challenges your balance while warming up your hips and glutes.
- Stand tall with your feet together and your arms out to your sides or gripping a stable surface for balance.
- Shift your weight to your left leg and raise your right leg out to your side.
- Swing your right leg parallel with your shoulders back and forth in front of your left leg. Continue for 30 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat.
6. Shoulder Rolls
The shoulders carry a lot of tension, and this simple movement can help release it, increasing your range of motion as a result. This loosens them up before you work out.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your shoulders relaxed, and your arms at your sides.
- Slowly roll your shoulders in a circle (forward, up, back, and down).
- After 30 seconds, reverse directions.
7. Chest Stretch
This static stretch is simple but gets the job done. It opens up the front of your shoulders, too, making it perfect after a long day spent sitting.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your hands at your sides.
- Keeping your chest lifted throughout the movement, interlace your fingers behind your back.
- Pull your shoulder blades down your back, and straighten your arms as you keep lifting your chest and gaze toward the ceiling.
- Hold for 15 seconds, then gently release the clasp of your hands.
8. Eagle Arms
Easy to do anywhere, this stretch feels great in your shoulders and back.
- Stand with your arms out to your sides.
- Cross your right elbow under your left elbow and bring your palms to touch (point your fingers toward the ceiling). If aligning your hands is uncomfortable on your shoulders, cross your arms at your chest and reach for opposite shoulders (like a big bear hug).
- Lift your elbows in line with your shoulders and pull your palms away from your face. You should feel a stretch in between your shoulder blades.
- After 5 to 10 breaths, unwrap your arms.
- Repeat on the other side, this time crossing the left arm under your right.
9. Figure Four
Balance out a workout packed with squats and lunges with this stretch for your glutes and hip muscles.
- Lie down on your back, with knees bent over your ankles and your feet on the floor.
- Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Place the bony part of your ankle on the outside of your knee.
- Flex your right foot to protect your knee and reduce any discomfort.
- Lift your left leg off the floor. Keep your left knee bent to 90 degrees.
- Reach your arms around your left leg (on either side), and interlace your fingers against your left hamstring.
- If possible, press your right elbow into your right leg near your knee to intensify the stretch.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Repeat on the left side.
10. Standing Quad Stretch
During many workouts, your large quad muscles do a ton of work, so taking time for a static stretch like this can help decrease soreness and ease recovery.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, using a chair or wall for balance if necessary.
- Bend your right knee and lift your foot behind you, grabbing the top of it with your right hand.
- Keep the pelvis tucked and right knee pointed toward the floor (and aligned with your left knee). Use your arm to pull that heel toward your glutes until you feel tension in the quad muscles.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Release your leg, and repeat on your other side.
11. Side-Lying Quad Stretch
Here’s another handy static stretch to target the quad muscles, which tend to get overlooked.
- Lie on your right side with your legs straight and stacked on top of each other. Bend your right arm and use your hand to prop up your head.
- Bend your left knee, and reach your left hand back to grab your foot.
- Keeping your left knee aligned with your right knee, use your hand to pull your foot toward your glutes until you feel tension in the quad muscles.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Release the foot and repeat on the opposite side.
12. Half-Kneeling Posterior Tilt
Any stretching for beginners routine should include this simple move, which targets the psoas muscles deep in the hip flexors.
- Set up in a half-kneeling position, with your right leg bent to 90 degrees and your left shin on the ground or a mat.
- Engage your abs and squeeze the glutes of your rear leg to tilt your pelvis upward, making sure to keep your front knee bent 90 degrees. You should feel a deep stretch in the front of your hip.
- Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat five times before switching sides.
13. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Since you’re already in position, give the rest of your hip flexors a good stretch with this move, which helps ease tension in the lower back, too.
- Assume a half-kneeling position with your right foot flat on the floor and your right knee positioned directly above your ankle. Place your hands on your right thigh. Keep your left knee and top of your left foot on the floor.
- Keeping your back flat, chest lifted, core engaged, and hips square, push your hips forward while pressing down with your left foot.
- Hold for 30 seconds, switch sides, and repeat.
14. Wide-Sit Stretch
This might make you recall high school P.E., but this stretch is a classic for a reason. It stretches the hamstrings and adductors.
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended, and open them to approximately 90 degrees. Your knees and toes should point directly toward the ceiling, with your feet flexed.
- Without allowing your spine to round, start to walk your hands forward along the floor between your legs, hinging at your hip joints (not your waist).
- Walk your hands forward as far as you can, and hold for 5 to 10 breaths while keeping your quad muscles engaged.
- Slowly return to an upright position, using your hands under the backs of your knees to bring your legs together.
15. Cross-Leg Forward Bend
This stretch does double duty, targeting the hamstring and the top of the iliotibial (IT) band.
- Stand with the feet together and cross the right leg over the left (like an X).
- Bend forward at the waist, allowing your upper body to hang. To make the thigh stretch more intense, grab hold of your calves or ankles and pull your chest toward your legs.
- Hold the thigh stretch for 5 to 10 breaths and return to a standing position.
- Cross the left leg over the right and repeat the thigh stretch.