9 Insanely Effective Stretches To Improve Your Flexibility

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So you just tried the 5 Flexibility Tests and you determined that you’re about as flexible as a steel rod.

Don’t worry, we can help you.

We have created a list of the 9 best stretches to improve your flexibility, fast.

There are hundreds of stretches you can do. Some are more useful than others.

This post will cut through all that junk, and show you the top 9 stretches you need to regain the mobility your mama gave you.

Welcome to the third installment of the WCT stretching series.

 

In today’s post we are going to cover

  • The Best Stretches For Your Shoulders, Chest, Back, Hips, Hamstrings and Ankles
  • How To Create A Full Body Flexibility Routine
  • FAQs such as: How Long You Should Stretch For? and How Often You Should Stretch.

Ok, let’s get moving.

The 9 Best Stretches To Improve Flexibility Fast!

Alright, let’s get right to it.

Here are the top 9 stretches to improve your flexibility listed by body part.

The entire routine is will address the biggest problem areas often seen in the general population.

Each stretch will also include the functional movement pattern that’s associated with them.

Shoulder Stretches

We will begin with the shoulders and work out way down.

 

Double Internal Rotation Stretch

Shoulder internal rotation is critical whenever you are performing pushing exercises such as dips, pushups and bench presses.

Unfortunately, a lot of people lack shoulder internal rotation. Chances are you do too.

A lack of mobility in this movement pattern increases the chance of shoulder injuries during pushing exercises.

Here is a quick and easy stretch that allows you to improve the internal rotation of both shoulders simultaneously.

 

Lie on your back and elevate your hips off the ground. Squeeze your scapula together. Place your hands underneath your back with the palms facing downwards. Slowly lower your hips down toward the floor. DO NOT let your shoulders roll forward or come out of their retracted position.

 

Shoulder Extension Stretch

Many people also lack shoulder extension, or the ability to bring your shoulders behind your body.

This is often due to the fact that we are anterior dominant, and we do not deal with things behind us very often.

Shoulder extension is necessary for optimal shoulder health and mobility.

Don’t ignore it.

Find a ledge, table or barbell that you can anchor your hands on to. Position both arms behind you with your palms down and keep your shoulders locked into their sockets. You can lower yourself to increase the stretch. If this stretch is too painful, try one arm at a time.

 

Back Stretches

If someone were to tell you to stretch your back, you’d probably bend down to touch your toes or begin rotating your spine like crazy.

Please do not stretch your lower back.

If you only get a few things from this post, let this be one of them.

The vertebrae of your lumbar spine are meant to be for stability, not mobility.

Instead, you probably need to stretch your upper back, and improve thoracic mobility. Thoracic mobility is what will allow you to maintain a healthy posture, and keep your shoulders where they need to be.

These are by far the best stretches for your upper back/thoracic spine.

Thoracic Extension Stretch

 

 

Position yourself on top of a foam roller lying horizontal across your thoracic spine. Raise your arms overhead and begin arching your upper back over the foam roller. Keep your core tight and engaged throughout the stretch.

 

Double Overhand Lat Stretch

The lattisimus dorsi muscle is another problem area in the general population. Tight lats can often pull your shoulders into unhealthy positions and impact your overhead mobility.

The double overhand lat stretch will improve your spinal position during squats and your overhead reach position. It will also help treat a rounded upper back posture. Check out You Probably Have Bad Posture- Here’s How to Tell to learn more.

 

Place your hands palms down on a desk or bar. Keep your scapula retracted and shoulder back. Brace your core and begin hinging at the hips. Maintain your knees locked out and your back neutral. You can increase the stretch by driving your chest down.

 

Chest Stretches

 

Doorway Pec Stretch

The chest is by far one of the most commonly restricted areas in the general population. Again, likely due to the fact that we are anterior dominant creatures.

A tight chest will round your shoulders and worsen your posture.  Here is a great way to open up the pecs and reverse the restriction.

 

Position yourself in a doorway or power rack so that you can place your arms perpendicular to your body. Keep your scapula and shoulders back. Brace your core and try to push your chest forward while keeping your arms locked in place.

Okay now let’s go over the best stretching exercises for the legs. We will begin with the hips and work our way down.

 

Hip Stretches

 

Wall Squat Stretch

Were you able to get into a deep squat with your heels flat on the floor and your back flat?

Don’t worry, many people struggle with this basic movement. Here is by far one of the best stretches to alleviate that problem.

The wall squat stretch is pretty self explanatory. You will feel it pretty much everywhere. The stretch improves hip range of motion for squats, thoracic position for squats, and ankle mobility.

 

Get your butt as close as you can to a wall and place your feet on the wall in a squat stance. Keep your feet pointing forward and your back and head flat on the floor. Use your elbows to push your knees outwards. For an added bonus, you can stretch your arms overhead to also work on overhead mobility.

 

The Couch Stretch

Are you ready to hurt?

Oh man, do I hate this stretch.  Whenever you dislike a stretch, it is probably because you really need to work on it.

The couch stretch is by far one of the most brutal yet effective stretches in improving hip range of motion.

It also stretches the hip flexors and the quads simultaneously, making it twice as good.

Almost everyone is in need to use this stretch due to our obsession with prolonged sitting. This stretch improves flexibility for squats and for lunges. It is also one of the most effective hip stretches for lower back pain.

Do it. I dare you.

 

Find a bench or a chair so that you can elevate your rear foot with a vertical shin. Keep your front leg at a 90 degree angle with your knee directly above your foot. Squeeze the glute of the back leg and keep your torso as neutral as possible. As you become more flexible, attempt to make contact between your glute and your back heel.

 

Hamstring Stretches

Do you remember that sit and reach Stretch I said was horrible? Here is how you should actually stretch your hamstrings.

 

Banded Hamstring Stretch

 

 

Lie flat on your back and obtain a band or a rope. Place the band on your foot and straighten your knee. Keep your other leg straight on the floor and keep your back neutral on the floor. Feel free to bring your hamstring yo varying angles from your body.

 

Ankle / Calf Stretch

Almost everyone has tight calves and restricted ankles. Especially runners. It is very important to keep your ankles flexible and your calves supple because failure to do so will cause significant problems upstream.

This includes knee pain, and ultimately hip pain.

Fortunately, using this simple stretch often will help reverse tight ankles.

 

Find a slanted board, or a wall where you can place the ball of your foot against.  Try and drive your heel as close to the wall as possible. From here straighten your knee and drive your weight forward. Keep your spine neutral.

 

That’s it. These are the top 9 stretches you need to improve your flexibility.

If you thought these stretches were awesome, head over to Kelly Starrett’s website, Mobility WOD to learn a lot more stretches for every possible area you need work on.

 

What Stretches Should You Include In Your Flexibility Training Program?

Why do you stretch?

Many people often stretch because it feels good. They just move around into random positions and find something that feels tight and hold it.

Don’t do this.

Why? Because there are many stretching exercises which can actually cause more harm than good.

A prime example is the ‘bend down and touch your toes’ Test.

PLEASE STOP performing this stretch. 

It is unfortunate that so many people use this horrible stretch as a marker of fitness or something.

While “stretching your hamstrings” you are putting the remainder of your body in a compromised position.

You should never round your back in this manner.

Ever.

Do not forget this concept. If you are going to perform a stretch, the rest of your body should be in an optimal position.

In addition, you should stretch only if you lack flexibility in key functional movements.

This is where flexibility exercises come into play.

Flexibility exercises are done for a specific purpose. If you lack mobility in a key functional movement pattern, then you stretch to improve that position.

If you need to know the 5 positions you should be able to perform, go back to Part 2 of this series.

 

How to Create a Flexibility Workout Plan

After you determine which areas you need to stretch, then you can create a workout plan to improve your flexibility.

Here’s how:

1) Write down the limitations you possess, and group them into categories.

The Categories should be
– Shoulders
– Upper Back
– Quads/Hips
– Hamstrings
– Calves/Ankles

If you lack flexibility in all 5 categories, that is ok. Improving flexibility in one major joint can help improve the flexibility in other joints.

2) Divide the areas that need improvement into upper body and lower body.

3) Select 2-3 stretches that you will work on each day for your upper or lower body.

4) Spend 5-10 minutes before bed each day alternating between 2-3 upper body stretches on 1 day and 2-3 lower body stretches the next day. This will help alleviate the monotony of stretching and also help relax you for bed.

 

How Long Should I Stretch?

When performing these flexibility exercises, it is important to hold the position for at least 30 seconds.

Research has shown that anything beyond this does not confer any benefit however, there are many anecdotes of people experiencing great improvement from holding stretches for up to 2 minutes.

Bottom line; hold each stretch from 30 sec- 2 minutes.

 

How Often Should I Stretch?

The more you stretch the better you will be.

I recommend stretching on a daily basis, for a maximum of 5-10 minutes. Anything more than that and you are likely wasting your time, which you have very little of.

If you can’t stretch everyday, then it is absolutely important to do this AT LEAST 5 days a week. Persistence is key in improving flexibility. Find a way to integrate the stretches into a pre-sleep ritual.

It is certainly not necessary to stretch more than once per day.

 

When Should I Stretch?

It is always best to stretch muscles when they are warm. Therefore it’s best to do it after a workout or even after a warm shower.

As we discuss in Part 1, it is not ideal to stretch before a workout.

Otherwise, if you are not working out that day, you can stretch right before bed.

 

An Effective Flexibility Training Program

Here is a quick example of a flexibility training program that you can use to work on your entire body. They are broken up into upper body and lower body days.

DAY 1: Upper Body (Great for Improving Overhead Technique)

Thoracic Extension Stretch: 1-2 minutes

Double Overhand Lat Stretch: 1-2 minutes

Chest Opener Stretch: 1-2 minutes

Day 2: Lower Body (Great for Improving Deadlift Technique)

Couch Stretch: 1 minute each side

Banded Hamstring Stretch: 1 minute each side

Calf Stretch: 1 minute each side

Day 3: Upper Body (Great for Improving Pressing Technique)

Shoulder Internal Rotation Stretch: 1-2 minutes

Shoulder Extension Stretch: 1-2 minutes

Chest Opener Stretch: 1-2 minutes

Day 4: Lower Body (Great for Improving Squat Technique)

Wall Squat: 1-2 minutes

Couch Stretch: 1-2 minutes

Calf Stretch: 1-2 minutes

Rinse and repeat.

 

Now Go Create A Daily Stretching Routine!

You don’t need to do hour long yoga sessions to notice an improvement in your flexibility.

You also don’t need a deck of hundreds of stretches.

Use these 9 stretches to improve flexibility, and regain control of your body.

Next you should learn:

Now we turn it over to you

Which stretches are your favorites?

Any you would add to this list?

Do you have a lot of restrictions? Or are you naturally very flexible?

Comment below and let us know!

By the way, what is the purpose of having flexibility if you aren’t going to use it in the real world. Why not go develop the functional movement patterns that these stretches improve by checking out The Best Workout Template For When You Have Little Time To Train!

PS. Don’t forget to share this article if you found it useful -> 

 

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, a NASM CPT, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy individuals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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12 thoughts on “9 Insanely Effective Stretches To Improve Your Flexibility”

  1. These tips are great and so comprehensive! I can tell that I am losing flexibility as I get older, and it’s wonderful that you included when and how to stretch. Fab ideas!

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      Thank you Jennifer. These stretches are definitely effective. Good luck and let us know if there is any other way we can help you.

  2. Awesome tips, thank you!! I use to be sooo flexible as a child/teen when I was participating in gymnastics and dance, but now I am the most non flexible person haha! I will start to include these stretches into my workout routine 🙂

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      I hear you. Flexibility tends to disappear as we get less active and sit more. Give them a shot and let us know how it goes!

  3. Sherry Cracks To Carats

    Thank you for the great tips! I am not as flexible as I would like to be and I’m going to start incorporating these stretches in with my workout!

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