31 Stretches to Help You Become More Flexible

Alleviate stiff hips and tight hamstrings with these easy-to-master flexibility exercises.

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It's easy to go through life without stretching. After all, a traditional workday can involve eight hours sitting at a desk, an hour or so of commuting, sitting in front of the TV, and so on. Even after a workout, you might need to rush out of the gym without a proper cool down. So it's no wonder many of us are complaining about joint pain and stiffness.

"The nice thing about gentle stretching is that it's feasible to do when you're in pain—and often provides the fastest relief," Jamie Costello, fitness director at the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, previously told Prevention.com.

RELATED: The Best Yoga Stretches to Ease Stiffness and Pain

Below, we've listed 31 of the best stretches to alleviate pain and increase your flexibility and range of motion. These stretches will also help avoid injury during cardio or strength workouts. Gently lean into each position and observe which ones feel particularly challenging. Choose four of those and aim to do them once a day, every day, and you'll become more flexible within weeks.

What you need: a lacrosse ball or massage ball, a strap, exercise band, a foam roller, and a yoga mat

Hold times: Aim to hold the position for at least 2 minutes unless stated otherwise in the instructions (for example, the neck stretch should be done in about 30 seconds). If 2 minutes feels too difficult at first, simply hold for as long as you can. Aim to beat your previous stretch time with each new session.

Pro tips: Avoid pushing your body past its limits. You do not want to experience any pain when performing these stretches. And don't worry too much about where you should be feeling the stretch. The truth is, this can vary person to person. Attempt the stretch as best you can and observe where you feel tight. Use any suggested modifications if need be and trust that your body is releasing whatever it needs to so you can become more comfortable in the position.

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1 Toe Fanning

Targets: intrinsic foot muscles

How to do it: While either sitting or laying down, spread your toes as wide as you can then relax. You have the option to flex and point your foot as you do this exercise to get some extra ankle mobility work in. Repeat 10-15 times on each foot.

2 Foot Dome

Targets: plantar fascia (the thick tissue at the bottom of your foot)

How to do it: Grab a lacrosse ball or golf ball and place the middle of your foot on the top of the ball. Hold for your desired time. You might also want to use the ball to massage out any tension. Do this by rolling your foot back and forth on the ball, particularly in areas that feel a bit sore. Repeat on the other foot.

3 Banded Calf Stretch

Targets: calf muscle and achilles tendon

How to do it: Grab a yoga strap or exercise band and lie on the ground. Keep the right leg bent and rooted into the floor. Loop the band around the ball of your left foot and raise the leg into the air. Maintain a slight bend in your left knee. Flex the left foot an pull that band toward you until you feel a stretch. Repeat on the other side.

RELATED: 10 Best Stretches to Ease Lower Back Pain

4 Downward-Facing Dog

Targets: hamstrings, hips, calves

How to do it: Start on your hands and knees then hike your hips into the air as you bring your head back and through your arms. Push the tops of your thighs back and try to straighten out your legs as best you can but do not lock out 100%. Hold for your desired amount of time.

5 Double Leg Glute Bridge

Targets: hip flexors

How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees up, feet flat on the mat. Squeeze your butt and lift your hips into the air. Hold for 3 seconds then lower your hips to the floor. Repeat 10-15 times. By the way: This is a great stretch to do as a dynamic warmup before exercise.

6 Single Leg Glute Bridge

Targets: hip flexors

How to do it: This is a more challenging version of the double leg glut bridge. Lie down on your back with your right leg bent and your left leg straight in front of you. Lift the left leg slightly off the floor (the height doesn't matter). Squeeze your butt and lift the hips up into the air. Lower back down to the ground and repeat 10-15 reps on each leg. This is another dynamic stretch that is great for pre-workout warmups.

7 Sitting Hamstring Stretch

Targets: hamstrings, lower back

How to do it: Sit with your legs straight out in front of you. Sit tall and then reach for your toes (or as far as you can) without letting your back round. It's okay to keep your knees slightly bent. Hold for your chosen time.

8 Standing Forward Fold

Targets: hamstrings, hips, and calves

How to do it: From a standing position, reach for your shins, your toes, or the floor. Bend your knees if you find your hamstrings are particularly tight. Rest here and breathe.

9 Standing Quad Stretch

Targets: quads and hip flexors

How to do it: Stand with your feet right beneath your hips. Lift your right ankle and grab it with your right hand. For balance: stare at a point on the floor and/or lift your left arm up. Squeeze your right butt cheek to accentuate the stretch. Perform this on the opposite side.

10 Standing IT Band Stretch

Targets: IT band, hips, and lats

How to do it: Start standing with your feet together. Step your right foot behind you, and bring your right arm over your head. Shift your hips to the right and hold. Repeat on the other side.

11 Kneeling Hip Stretch

Targets: front of the hip flexors, quads, and groin

How to do it: Start in a kneeling position on the floor with your left leg up, right shin on the ground. Place a cushion under that right knee if this is uncomfortable. Shift your hips forward and imagine you are pressing your pelvis into the floor. To protect your front knee, make sure it doesn't move past your big toe. For an added chest opener, lift your arms toward your ears and lift your chest toward the ceiling. Hold, then repeat on the opposite side.

12 Pigeon Pose

Targets: Hips flexors and deep lateral rotators (the muscles that rotate the femur or thigh bone)

How to do it: This one is the easiest to get into from a downward-facing dog position. Start there, then raise your left leg up in the air up and back behind you. Then bend the knee as you bring that leg forward toward your chest. Rest the left leg on the floor with the shin as parallel to the front of your mat as possible. Rest your right leg straight (or bend it 90 degrees) behind you. Lean over your left leg and rest your forearms on the mat. Hold for your desired amount of time.

13 Figure Four Stretch

Targets: outer hip and glute muscles

How to do it: Lie on your back and bring your left ankle on top of your right thigh just below the knee. Grab behind your right leg and gently pull your legs toward your chest. Flex the left foot to protect the left knee. Do the same on the opposite side.

14 Butterfly

Targets: hips, groin, and lower back

How to do it: Sit tall on your mat with the soles of your feet touching one another. To put less stress on your knees, move your feet farther away from your body. Grab your feet with both arms, then lean forward from the hips and bring your torso toward the floor. If this bothers your lower back, keep your spine straight and only go as low as you can while maintaining a flat back.

15 External Hip Rotation Stretch

Targets: external hip rotators

How to do it: Lie on your back with your legs up in the air, knees flexed. Keep your shoulders anchored to the mat while your rotate your knees to the right as they reach for the floor. Hold for your desired amount of time, then switch to the other side.

16 Internal Hip Rotation Stretch

Targets: upper glutes and lower back

How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent toward the ceiling. Lift your left leg and place the ankle above your right knee or outside of your right thigh. While keeping both shoulders glued to the floor, rotate your hips toward the left until you feel the stretch. Hold for your desired time, then switch.

17 Clamshells with Resistance Band

Targets: glutes

How to do it: Activating your glutes is one of the best ways to take the burden off tight hips. And resistance bands come in real handy for that! Grab one and lie on your left side. Bend your knees. Squeeze your right glute as you lift you rotate that right knee up and back. Hold for a second, then bring that right knee back down. Repeat for 10-15 times and then switch and repeat on the other side.

18 Hurdler

Targets: hamstrings, hips, and lower back

How to do it: First, sit on your mat with your legs straight in front of you. Bring your left leg in so that your left foot is touching the inner thigh of your right leg. Sit tall then reach as far down your right leg as you can without letting your back round. It's okay to bend your right knee a bit. Hold for your chosen amount of time, then switch to the other side.

19 Cat-Cow

Targets: abdominal muscles, back, spine

How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees with your wrist directly beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. For cat: Inhale and arch your back into the air as you squeeze your bellybutton into your spine. Exhale as your transition into cow: Drop your belly toward your mat, lift your chest up and look to the ceiling.

20 Seated Twist

Targets: spine and hips

How to do it: Begin seated on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Cross your right leg over your left, keeping that right knee bent toward the ceiling. Then rotate your torso toward your right leg as you place your right arm on the inside of the right thigh. Maintain the twist and hold. Switch to the other side.

21 Angel Wings with Foam Roller

Targets: upper back and chest

How to do it: Grab a foam roller and place it parallel to your mat. Lie down and situate the roller in the middle of your upper back. Raise your arms above your chest and bend them. These are your "wings," so to speak. While keeping them bent, slowly drop them toward the floor. Then bring them back up to meet. Keep flapping your wings 10-15 more times for a great pec stretch and upper back massage.

22 Plow Pose

Targets: neck, shoulders, back

How to do it: Lie on your back with your legs in front of you. Squeeze your abs and lift your hips and legs up toward the ceiling until your torso is perpendicular to your mat. As you do this, bring your hands behind your back for support. Then slowly lower your toes to the floor above your head. If you can't reach the ground, just go as low as you can. Hold for your desired amount of time.

23 Spinal Decompession

Targets: Lower back.

How to do it: Grab a pillow and lie down on your back. Tuck the pillow under your lower back and bend your knees so that your legs are of the ground. Grab around your shins then pull them up toward your chest. Hold for your chosen time.

24 Baby Cobra

Targets: abdominals, spine

How to do it: Lie on your stomach and place your hands near-to or in front of your shoulders. Press up through your forearms and lift your chest up. Keep your elbows bent and hold for your desired time.

25 Thread the Needle

Targets: side and back of the shoulder, upper back

How to do it: As you get into a table top position, make sure your knees are directly beneath your hips and your wrists are below your shoulders. Place a pillow under your knees if this is painful. From here, reach your left arm below your torso and past your right arm. Let that left arm sink into ground as you rotate that right armpit toward the floor. Hold. Do the same on the other side.

26 Floor Pec Stretch

Targets: pecs, front of the shoulder, and hips

How to do it: Lie on your stomach and begin with your arms stretched wide, perpendicular to your mat. Bend your left elbow toward the ceiling and press your left palm into the floor. Lift and bend your left knee. Reach that left leg over the right as if you are going to touch the left foot to the floor. Keep that right shoulder glued to the ground and feel the stretch. Switch to the opposite side.

27 Standing Back Arch Stretch

Targets: spine, chest, and the front of the shoulders

How to do it: Stand and clasp your hands behind your back. Look toward the ceiling and lift your chest up and back. Hold and breathe through your nose.

28 Chest Stretch with Strap

Targets: upper back, chest

How to do it: This is an alternative to the standing back arch that can be easier if your can't clasp your hands behind your back or if you want a deeper chest stretch. Grab a strap or towel and hold the ends behind your back. Lift your chest up and reach your arms up and behind you. Hold for as long as you want.

29 Kneeling Wrist Stretches

Targets: wrists and forearms

How to do it: Start on your hands and knees with your fingers facing toward the front of your mat. Lean forward until you feel a stretch then hold. Once you're done, flip your hands in the opposite direction with your fingers facing your body. This time sink your butt back to your heels and hold.

30 Standing Wrist Stretches

Targets: wrists and forearms

How to do it: These are great if you don't want to put as much pressure on your wrists. Lift your right arm up with your fingers pointing toward the floor. Grab those fingers with the opposite hand and pull them to you. Meanwhile, press that wrist away from you. To get the other side of the wrist, try this stretch with your fingers pointed toward the ceiling. Again, pull those fingers to you. Press the heel of your palm away. Do the same on the opposite side.

31 Neck Stretches

Targets: neck and upper traps

How to do it: Stand tall, head upright, and place your right hand on your left ear. Ever-so-gently pull your head toward your right shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, then rest and repeat 2 more times. Switch and do the same on the opposite side.

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