From Head to Toe: The Ultimate Stretching Guide
After a tough week of workouts, give your body some love for all that hard work with a lengthy stretching session. Make sure you start with your neck, giving extra attention and time to the places where you're experiencing soreness or tension. Check out the index below to jump to the perfect place easily.
— Additional reporting by Susi May
Seated Neck Release
This gentle stretch targets the sides of your neck.
- Sit on the floor in a cross-legged position or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Extend your right arm next to your right knee or along the right side of a chair. Place your left hand on top of your head and slowly tilt your head to the left. Apply gentle pressure with your hand to increase the stretch.
- To feel a deeper stretch, you can hold on to your right knee or the seat of a chair. This stabilizes the torso and allows you to isolate the stretch on the side of your neck.
- Hold on this side for 30 seconds, then slowly lift your head up and repeat this stretch on the other side.
Seated Clasping-Neck Stretch
Use your hands to offer a deep stretch for the back of your neck and your upper back.
- Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor.
- Clasp your hands and bring both palms to the back of your head. Sitting with a tall spine, ground your hips firmly into your seat.
- From here, begin to gently press your hands down toward your thighs, tucking your chin into your chest. As you press down, use the heels of your palms to pull your head away from your shoulders. This will intensify the stretch even more.
- Hold here for at least 30 seconds, and then slowly lift your head up and release your hands.
Behind-the-Back Neck Stretch
This standing stretch can be done anywhere and will offer a deep stretch in the sides of your neck.
- Stand with your feet hip distance apart, arms by your sides.
- Reach both hands behind your backside and hold on to your left wrist with your right hand. Use your right hand to gently straighten your left arm and pull it away from you slightly.
- To increase the stretch in your neck, slowly lower your right ear toward your shoulder.
- Stay here for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
Lying Side Quad Stretch
This is a great stretch if you have knee issues or if you'd rather recline than stand up.
- Lie down on one side and prop your head up with your hand. Pull your foot toward your butt, and bend your bottom knee if you're having trouble staying steady.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Grounded Tip-Over Tuck
Here's a relaxing stretch for your neck and shoulders that can also help relieve headaches and drowsiness.
- Come into Child's pose with your shins and forehead on the floor. Stay here for a few breaths, working on lengthening your spine as you relax your chest to your thighs. When you're ready, interlace your hands behind you in a double fist. If you can, press the heels of your palms together to increase the stretch in your shoulders. Then lift your hands as high as you can.
- Inhale to shift your weight forward and lift your hips off your heels. Come to rest on the top of your head and extend your hands as close to the floor as you can. Stay here for 10 seconds and then lower your hips back to your heels. Stay here for 10 seconds and then lift your hips up again. Continue this cycle five or more times, then release into Child's Pose with your arms on either side of your legs.
This tangled arm position stretches the rounded muscle that covers the shoulder joint.
- Reach your left arm across your body at chest height. Support the left arm with your right elbow.
- Use your right arm to pull the left arm closer to your chest to increase the stretch.
- Hold this stretch for 20 seconds then switch sides. Stretch each shoulder twice.
This simple stretch will lengthen the muscles on the back of the upper arm.
- Reach your left arm overhead to lengthen the left side of your body. Maintain the length as you bend your left elbow, bringing your fingers to the middle of your upper back.
- Grab your left elbow with your right hand and gently pull the left elbow toward the right.
- Increase the stretch by lengthening the left side of your torso even more by bending sideways to the right.
- Hold for 15 to 20 seconds then switch sides.
Rotator Cuff Stretch
This sassy position stretches the group of small muscles that wrap around the shoulder joint.
- Standing tall with your core engaged, place the outside of your left wrist at your waist. Your palm will be up, and your fingers will be pointed backward.
- Take hold of your left elbow with your right hand and gently pull your left elbow forward.
- Hold this stretch for 20 seconds, then switch sides. Repeat once more on each side.
Open up your chest one side at a time.
- Reach your left arm behind you, placing your forearm against your back with your palm facing out.
- Place your right palm on top of the left and gently press your palms together.
- Breathe into your chest to increase the stretch.
- Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds, then switch sides. Do two reps of the stretch on each side.
Seated Heart Opener
Stretch through the front of your neck, chest, and shoulders with this relaxing heart opener.
- Begin sitting on the heels as if coming into Reclining Hero pose.
- Lean back and place your palms flat on the floor about eight to 10 inches behind you, so your fingertips are pointing away.
- Press your hands firmly into the ground to lift the chest high, arching your back and pushing your hips into your heels. To increase the stretch, lower your head behind you, stretching through your throat and the front of your chest even more.
- Stay for 30 seconds, then lift your head and torso up.
This classic yoga pose works to relieve stress while stretching your spine, chest, and neck.
- Begin by lying flat on your back with your arms along the sides of your body, with your palms facing down.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Walk your heels as close as you can to your bum, keeping them hip width apart. Make sure both feet are parallel.
- With your palms and feet pressed firmly into the ground, lift your hips off the floor.
- Stay here, or clasp your hands together below your pelvis, extending through your arms. Rock your weight from side to side to bring the shoulder blades closer together.
- Stay here for 30 seconds, continuing to lift the hips high.
- To release this stretch, gently lower your booty back to the ground. Then stretch through your lower back by hugging your knees into your chest.
Lying Knee Tucks
Stretch your lower back and glutes with lying knee tucks.
- Lying on your back, hug one knee into your chest while fully extending the other leg, hovering it above the ground.
- Keep your focus on lengthening your leg away from your body while simultaneously squeezing your knee to your chest.
- Hold for two to three seconds, then alternate legs. Complete 10 reps.
If your back feels strained from this, place your feet on the floor with bent knees and rotate your knees back and forth, keeping your feet on the ground.
- Lying on your back, extend your arms out to your side as an anchor. Bring your knees up to a 90-degree angle.
- Starting the movement from your core, rotate your knees to the left and hold for five seconds. Then slowly rotate to the right.
- Complete 10 reps in each direction.
Runner's Lunge Stretch
Release tension in your hamstrings and hips with this common stretch. If it is difficult for you to swing your leg up to the above position, start on your hands and knees, then extend your back leg in the lunge position.
- Starting in a plank position, bring your left foot up and around and to the outside of your left hand.
- Hold for five seconds and bring the foot back into the plank position. Repeat this movement on your right side.
- Complete 10 reps on each leg.
Modified Pigeon will bring a big release to tight glutes and hip flexors.
- Kneel on your mat, then bring your right leg behind you. Lean your torso forward, placing your forearms on the mat. Open your left knee outward to the left — your left ankle might need to slide forward, so your pelvis can lower toward the floor.
- Bend your elbows to deepen your stretch.
- Hold for one minute, then switch legs.
- For a deeper stretch, try the full version of yoga's Pigeon pose.
Supine Cow Stretch
Give your glutes a serious stretch with this move.
- On your mat, lie on your back and cross your right knee over your left knee. Hug both knees toward your chest, making sure you keep a neutral back and neck.
- If you don't feel a stretch, then work your hands down your legs, aiming for your ankles. Make sure you keep your head down.
- Hold here for 30 seconds to one minute, then uncross and repeat with your left knee over your right.
Seated Spinal Twist
This gentle twist offers relief to your spine and glutes.
- Begin seated on your mat with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
- Bend your right knee and place your right heel as close to your left sit bone as you can.
- Reach your right arm behind you, and plant your palm or fingertips on the floor. Place your left hand or elbow on your right knee or thigh, and gently pull your knee to the left until you feel the stretch in your glutes.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then release and straighten your legs again. Repeat on the left side.
Seated Leg Cradle
This seemingly simple move offers a big stretch to your backside.
- Sit on your mat cross-legged or with your feet touching each other. Lift up your left leg and hook your calf over your left arm. Grab onto your feet with your hands for support.
- Slowly lift up your left leg until you feel a stretch in your glutes and hips. You can gently rock your leg from side to side to move the stretch to different parts of the muscle.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
Easy Quad Stretch
This basic quad stretch can be done anytime, anywhere.
- Stand on one leg with your knees touching. If you need to, grab hold of a chair or wall for support.
- Grab your left foot with your left hand and pull it toward your butt. Do your best to keep your chest upright, and don't worry about how close your foot is to your butt. Keep your focus on getting a good stretch in your quad.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then stretch the other leg.
Kneeling Quad Stretch
For a slightly different effect from the standing and reclined stretches, this kneeling quad stretch loosens the muscles right above your knee especially well.
- Start off in a high lunge position, with your right foot forward. Then slowly drop your left knee to the ground.
- Take a few moments to find balance, and once you're stabilized, with your left arm, reach back for your toes on your left foot.
- Hold for 30 seconds. Slowly release your hold on your left foot. Come back to the high lunge position, then switch sides with your left foot forward. Perform this move on your right quad.
Tip-Over Tuck Hamstring Stretch
This stretch opens up hamstrings while loosening up tight shoulders.
- Stand with your feet hips width distance apart. Interlace your hands behind your back. Keeping your legs straight, bend at the hips, tucking your chin and bringing your hands over your head.
- Relax the back of your neck, and if the stretch is too intense, release your hands, placing them on the backs of your thighs, and soften your knees. Hold for 30 seconds and slowly roll up to standing.
Scissor Hamstring Stretch
Easy to do anywhere and safe for injured backs, this hamstring stretch is great if you're really tight.
- Stand with your feet together. Step your right foot back about two feet and bend forward from your hip joint, keeping your back and both legs straight. After holding for 30 seconds, switch sides.
Advanced Standing Hamstring Stretch
If the previous stretch isn't deep enough for you, then try this variation. It's perfect for doing on a bench after a run in the park.
- Prop your left heel up on a surface that is a little lower than your hip, such as a chair or bench. Flex your foot.
- To increase the stretch, bend forward toward your flexed foot by creasing at your hips. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
Modified Hurdler Stretch
This basic stretch is perfect for targeting one leg at a time.
- Sit on the floor and straighten your left leg in front of you. Bend the right knee, placing the sole of your right foot against your left inner thigh.
- Fold over your left leg, keeping your back straight. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
Forward Bend With Rounded Back
This stretch targets both hamstrings as well as the lower back.
- Sit on the floor, extending both legs straight out in front of you, legs together.
- Fold your torso over your thighs, gently rounding the back, but keeping the legs straight. Hold here for 30 seconds and then sit up.
Reclined Hamstring Stretch
Here's a relaxing way to stretch one hamstring at a time:
- Lie on your back. Raise your left leg as high as you can, keeping your pelvis flat on the ground. Hold your lower thigh and encourage the leg to move toward your head. Flex your foot to stretch your calf, too.
- To deepen the stretch, place a yoga strap or towel on the ball of your foot and use your hands to pull the strap toward you. After 30 seconds, switch legs.
Wall Calf Stretch
Make the most of a wall to give your calves a nice deep stretch.
- Stand a little less than arm's distance from the wall.
- Step your left leg forward and your right leg back, keeping your feet parallel.
- Bend your left knee and press through your right heel.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and switch legs.
Calf and Shoulder Stretch at the Wall
This stretch is a great multitasking stretch that opens the shoulders as well as the calves.
- Stand in front of a wall with your feet together. Place your hands on the wall, shoulder width apart.
- Rock your weight back on your heels without locking your knees, so your toes get pulled off the ground. Reach your bum out as far as you can by lengthening through your spine. Tuck your chin to feel a deep stretch in the back of your neck.
- Stay here for 30 seconds and then shift your weight forward, placing your toes back on the ground.
Seated Calf Stretch
Try this simple stretch for your calves that uses a towel or band for extra resistance.
- Sit comfortably on the floor. If the backs of your legs are really tight, and you find yourself slumping, then sit on a pillow, so you can keep your spine straight.
- Fold your right leg in, and reach your left leg long.
- Wrap a yoga strap or Thera-Band (or an old tie or belt from your bathrobe) around the ball of your left foot.
- Use the strap to pull your toes toward your head.
- Do not jam your knee into the floor, and keep your left heel on the ground.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
Downward Facing Dog
Try this common yoga pose for a calf stretch. The more weight you press into one leg, the more of a release you'll feel in your bent leg.
- Begin in a Plank pose with your hands under your shoulders, then lift your pelvis up, making a "V" with your body. Spread your fingers wide.
- Work on bringing your heels toward the ground.
- Allow your heels to flare out slightly wider than your toes.
- Reach your sit bone, on the bottom of your pelvis, high to the ceiling to increase the stretch.
- To deepen the stretch in your calves, try treading lightly by pressing down on one foot while bending your other leg (as shown). Hold a few seconds per leg and then switch.
- Hold or alternate your feet for a total of 30 seconds.
- You can increase your stretch even more by lifting up one leg into Three-Legged Dog.
Wall or Curb Stretch
This is one of the easiest stretches to do as soon as you finish a run. If you have weak Achilles tendons, do the variation using a wall instead of a ledge.
- Find a wall and stand a few inches away. With one foot, put your toes on the wall, keeping your heel on the floor, and flex.
- Hold for about 10 to 15 seconds, then alternate with your other foot.
- You can also do this stretch using a curb or step and hanging your heels off the ledge.
This weight-bearing move works the muscles that support the front of the ankle but leaves tired feet feeling invigorated.
- Standing with your feet shoulder distance apart, lift your toes as high off the ground as possible so that only your heels are touching.
- Walk toward your left for 20 yards, keeping your heels on the ground while flexing the toes toward the sky.
- Repeat the same motion back toward your right, resting at your starting point. Repeat three times.
Plantar Fasciitis Stretch
Prevent inflammation, scar tissue, and inflexibility in your feet with this simple and effective stretch.
- Sit down on a chair or bench. Bend your left leg and place your left ankle on your right knee.
- Hold on to your left toes with your left hand and gently press your left toes to the right, so your foot is in a pointing position. Stay here for a few seconds.
- Then use your hand to pull your left toes to the left, flexing your foot.
- Repeat this stretch 10 times and then do it with the other foot. Complete this stretch at least three times a day to experience the full benefits.