6 Stretching Exercises for Tight Muscles and Reduced Injury

Introduction | Why you practice these stretching exercises | How to stretch safely | 6 Stretching Exercises | Stretching exercises FAQ

A woman performing stretching exercises as part of a flexibility improvement plan,

You don’t have to be an athlete, gymnast, or involved in a martial art to practice stretching exercises. This is a misconception held by many people.


If you participate in any sport or regularly workout you should include stretching exercises into your routine.


In fact, even if you do no physical activity whatsoever, practicing simple stretching exercises is arguably equally, if not more, important. It’s likely that throughout the day you sit down for protracted periods of time. Perhaps you spend many hours seated in front of a computer or steering wheel.


‘Sitting in a chair all day results in tight hamstrings in the back of the thigh,’ (Harvard Health – 2019). In addition to making simple movements such as extending your legs harder, tightness in the hamstrings is one of the leading causes of lower back pain.


Thus, whoever you are and whatever you do, you should aim to stretch for a minimum of 10-minutes every day.

Why use these stretching exercises?

Stretching is an important part of sport and exercise. In our article The Benefits of Stretching we highlight the many ways that stretching reduces injury susceptibility and enhances physical performance.


For example, a study cited in Norris’ The Complete Guide to Stretching ‘found that the risk of injury decreased as flexibility improved.’


And among those athletes who dismissed stretching, or were inconsistent in their practice, 15% more injuries were experienced compared to athletes who stretched habitually.

Stretching exercises keep muscles healthy

In addition to reducing injury risk, ‘stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints,’ (Harvard Health – 2019).


Furthermore, if we neglect to stretch, muscles shorten and become tight. When we are required to make an abrupt or sudden movement, tight muscles are unable to extend fully. ‘That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage,’ (Harvard Health – 2019).


Yet, even though stretching confers many benefits, it is probably the most overlooked aspect of training and exercise.


The six stretching exercises below will provide you with a whole-body stretching routine that you can complete on a daily basis. By regularly performing the six stretching exercises you may enjoy some of the following benefits.

The importance of stretching exercises

  • Most importantly: regular stretching can reduce your chances of injury

  • A consistent stretching regime can, over time, improve your body alignment and posture

  • Stretching exercises reduce the severity of the DOMS (delayed onset of muscles soreness)

  • Stretching improves body control and awareness

  • Greater increase in range of movement (ROM) around the joint

  • Stretching, simply put, makes you feel good – so try it!

How to apply these stretching exercises safely

Stretches are often performed incorrectly. The few people that do stretch after sport or exercise usually rush their routine or make simple mistakes.


Rushing a routine or incorrectly applying a stretch reduces the effectiveness of the stretching exercises while also increasing injury risk.


Such stretching misdemeanours are easy to avoid. Firstly, to prevent rushing your post-training stretch routine, ensure to budget enough time at the end of your session.


Secondly, to avoid applying incorrect technique, follow the dos and don’ts of stretching below.

Stretching exercises dos and don'ts

In this table, entitled How to Stretch Safely, it lists the dos and don'ts of stretching. The do are •	Before applying the stretch take a deep breath and then exhale as you slowly progress into the position. •	Always relax into your stretch. •	While holding the stretch position breathe slowly as this helps ease tension. •	Stretch on a comfortable surface – i.e., a soft Yoga mat. •	When stretching be mindful of what you are doing and concentrate on the muscle being stretched. •	Timing your stretches with a watch, not counting in your head, will ensure each stretch is applied for equal durations. •	Ensure to wear loose-fitting clothing when stretching. The don'ts include: •	Never bounce in the stretch position. •	Never stretch a cold muscle. Always warm-up prior to applying a stretch. •	Do not force a stretch to the point where it causes an uncomfortable pain in the muscle. •	While stretching never push or put any pressure against a locked joint. •	Do not rush your stretching regime. •	Do not hold your breath during a stretch. •	Don’t allow another person, such as a training partner or personal trainer, to apply your stretch. Only trained professionals, sports therapists/physiotherapist, know how to facilitate a stretch safely.

6 stretching exercises

The six stretching exercises below will enable you to reduce tightness while increasing the range of movement in all the major muscle groups. They also confer the same benefits to many smaller muscles as well.


For a basic, all-purpose stretching routine, the stretching exercises below are ideal. After a run, cycle, swim, gym workout, or game of your preferred sport, ensure to set aside 10-minutes to complete the stretches.


For best effect, aim to apply and hold each stretch for a minimum of two sets of between 20- to 30-seconds. Remember, a stretch should never be painful or induce discomfort. You should never force a stretch or rush your routine.

arm stretches

This position stretches much more than just the arm. When applying this exercise you will experience a stretch in the bicep, forearm, anterior deltoid and chest stretch.

A man performing arm stretches.

Stretching method

To apply this stretch stand side on to a wall and place the hand of the arm to be stretched behind you. The arm should be pressing against the wall and running parallel to the floor. You are looking forward and away from the arm.


Main areas stretched: Bicep, forearm, and pectorals (chest)


Other: Anterior deltoid


Apply the stretch twice on each arm for 30 seconds


Total stretch time = 2 minutes

 

shoulder stretches

Erroneously regarded as purely a shoulder stretch, this position can also release tension in the upper back.

A man performing shoulder stretches.

Stretching method

Hold the arm across the body as demonstrated in the picture. The arm being stretched should remain parallel to the floor for the duration of application. Use the other arm to help maintain the correct position. Avoid holding at the elbow joint and instead support the arm at the triceps.


Main areas stretched: Shoulder and trapezius


Other: Posterior deltoid, middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi


Apply the stretch twice on each arm for 30 seconds each


Total stretch time = 2 minutes

 

chest stretches

Here you are performing the exact same stretch outlined above for the arm (the first position). There are few other stretches that release tension in the chest as effectively as this one does.


Stretching method

To apply this stretch stand side on to a wall and place the hand of the arm to be stretched behind you. The arms should be pressing against the wall and running parallel to the floor. You are looking forward and away from the arm.


Main areas stretched: Bicep, forearm, and pectorals (chest)


Other: Anterior deltoid


Apply the stretch twice on each arm for 20-30 seconds


Total stretch time = 2 minutes

 

upper back stretches

Granted, this stretch makes you look like you’re trying to hug a hobbit. But it is an excellent upper back stretch and is ideal to perform after a heavy weightlifting workout or boxing session.

A man performing upper back stretches.

Stretching method

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, place the hands out in front with one clasped over the other. Keeping the arms slightly bent push the hands away from the body rounding the back as you do so.


Main areas stretched: Trapezius and latissimus dorsi


Other: Rhomboids, teres major and minor, and posterior deltoids



Apply the stretch twice for 30 seconds each set


Total stretch time = 1 minute

 

groin stretch

If you’ve ever done martial arts, you will no doubt have already made acquaintance with this stretch. It’s also a popular pre-training stretch position in other martial sports. The reason being is that this stretch is the most effective at increasing the range of movement in the hips and easing tension in the groin and hamstrings.

A man performing a groin stretch.

Stretching method

Firstly, take a seat on a soft training mat. Spread the legs open until you can feel a mild stretch creep into the hamstrings. The toes should be pointing up towards the ceiling and the back must remain straight throughout. Place the hands on the floor and slowly rotate the pelvis forward. To further apply the stretch, you can also lean forward.


Main areas stretched: Hamstring and adductors


Other: Semitendinosus, semimembranosus, gracilis, adductor magnus and longus, gluteus maximus, lower erector spinae, lower latissimus dorsi, medial side of soleus, medial and lateral head of gastrocnemius


Apply this stretch twice for 30 seconds each set


Total stretch time = 1 minute

 

quadriceps stretch

This is a classic stretch position and a favourite among sprinters and footballers. If you’ve ever watched athletics, you’ll likely have seen sprinters intermittently popping in and out of this stretch while also performing plyometric exercises. They do this to keep the legs limber and warm.

A man performing a quadriceps stretch as part of a stretching exercises plan.

Stretching method

Grasp onto the foot of the leg that is to be stretched. If you struggle to maintain your balance throughout, either lay off the spirits or use the other hand – the one that’s not holding the leg – to stable yourself.


Both knees should be directly in line and the supporting leg must remain bent. To apply the stretch ease the hips forwards.


Main area stretched: Quadriceps


Other: Vastus intermedius, rectus femoris, psoas major, middle and upper sartorius and gluteus medius


Perform two sets of 30 seconds each on both legs


Total stretch time = 2 minutes










 


Stretching exercises FAQ

Is static stretching best?

If you engage in sport or participate in exercise, then static stretching is probably the best method. Static stretching is the safest method and you do not need someone else to help you apply the stretch.


In addition, when practiced regularly and applied correctly, static stretching helps to improve flexibility and with it the range of motion around a joint.


These positive outcomes can reduce muscle tightness and injury susceptibility. Also, by increasing the range of movement around a joint, you may find a slight improvement in your ability to apply sporting/exercise techniques.

What’s pnf stretching?

PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. With PNF stretching the muscle is contracted for 10-20 seconds prior to the application of the stretch.


This initial contraction kind of circumvents the muscle’s safety system which in turn enables a greater stretch.


As Norris puts it: ‘The Golgi tendon organs,’ which are a type of sensory receptor that detect changes in muscle tension, ‘register the tension build-up and cause autogenic inhibition, allowing an increased range of motion to be achieved.’

When should you do ballistic stretching?

Never. Ballistic stretching is dangerous. If you’re unfamiliar with this method of stretching, it is where the limb, under muscle contraction, is ballistically propelled into the stretch. An example is where the dancer kicks their leg forward sending the foot level or higher than their head.


If performed by an inexperienced or inflexible person, ballistic stretching poses a significant injury risk factor.

dynamic stretching exercises

A safer method is dynamic stretching, popularised by Thomas Kurz in his excellent book Stretching Scientifically.


The dynamic method is almost identical to that of ballistic. But the difference being is, before the dancer kicks their leg forward, they hold out their hand to act as a stopping point. This is called 'hand kicking' drills.


The dancer would position their hand low to begin with, say level with their waist. After each successive kick they raise the hand six inches or so thus gradually and under control increasing the range of movement.


This simple modification makes ballistic stretching far safer.

How do you stretch tight hip flexors?

Tight hip flexors are experienced most often by runners, cyclists, and footballers. As well as causing a dull ache in the localised areas, tight flexor muscles restrict the range of movement around the hip. This can impede performance and increase injury risk. But thankfully this problem is easy to eradicate.

a man performing a hip flexor stretch to reduce tension in tight hip flexors.

Stretching method

Lie face down on a soft training mat. Place the hands and forearms on the mat either side of your face. Slowly extend the arms so that the abdominals have been raised off the floor. When you feel a mild stretch running down the abs hold the position. To increase the stretch, look up to the ceiling.


Main areas stretched: Hip flexors, rectus abdominus and external oblique


Other: Internal oblique, quadratus lumborum, psoas major, iliacus, rotatores and intertransversarii


Apply the stretch twice for 30 seconds per set


Total stretch time = 1 minute


In this textbox it says: (As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)    Blog Author Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.

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