Stretching is an essential component of both exercise and health, as it helps to maintain flexibility and range of motion in your joints. It is easy to forget to stretch before a workout, perhaps because we do not know exactly why it is that stretching is so important. Well, stretching improves muscle development, increases range of motion, reduces your chances of an injury and provides a warm-up for your muscles. When your muscles are more flexible, the body can perform activities and exercise with the correct form; therefore, stretching also helps to improve posture.
So stretching is important. But what stretches work for what muscle groups? Vicky Timón, a yoga expert and author of “Encyclopedia of Pilates Exercises,” created 36 beautiful illustrations to show you which muscles are affected by different stretches.
1. Camel Pose: Best reserved for those with good flexibility, the muscles highlighted in this stretch are the rectus abdominus and the external obliques. Sit on your heels and place your hands on your feet as you push your hips up and forward. Avoid putting too much pressure on your neck or spine.
2. Wide Forward Fold: This is a great exercise to open the hips while stretching the adductors and the hamstrings. Start this stretch with your knees bent. As your muscles begin to release, slowly straighten your legs, round out your back and reach for your feet.
3. Frog Pose: This is a deep groin stretch that works the adductors. Start by resting on your hands and knees and slowly widen your knees until you feel stretching in your groin muscles. Move your hips back and forward to feel slight variations.
4. Wide Side Lunge Pose: This is another stretch for the adductors. Start with both feet forward in a wide stance, and slowly walk your hands to your right foot while bending your right knee and rotating your left toes to the ceiling.
5. Butterfly Stretch: This stretch highlights the adductors. Start in a seated position and bring the soles of your feet together and sit tall. Place pressure on your knees with your hands. Bring your feet farther from your hips and slowly round your body to release your back muscles.
6. Forearm Extensor Stretch: To stretch your forearm extensor, start by pushing your shoulder down and back, then externally rotate your shoulder. Once in position, apply pressure to your opposite hand and begin to stretch.
7. Lateral Side Flexion of the Neck: This stretch highlights your sternocleidomastoid or SCM. Keep your neck as long as possible while slowly dropping your ear to your shoulder. You can progress this stretch by being seated on a chair and grabbing the bottom of the seat.
8. Neck Rotation Stretch: To stretch the SCM, slowly rotate your neck while keeping your chin elevated. For a deeper stretch, apply pressure with the hand opposite from the direction you are rotating.
9. Neck Extension Stretch: To work the SCM, place your hands on your hips while keeping your spine long and tilt your head back.
10. Lateral Side Flexion of the Neck with Hand Assistance: Stretch the SCM and upper trapezius by keeping your neck long and slowly dropping your ear to your shoulder.
11. Half Kneeling Quad / Hip Flexor Stretch: This stretch works your psoas and quadriceps. Start in a half-kneeling position. Slowly bring your right hip forward, grab your back foot and squeeze your back glute.
12. Forearm Extensor Stretch: Stretch the forearm extensor by pushing your shoulder down and back, and externally rotating the shoulder. Apply pressure with your opposite hand to begin the stretch.
13. Lateral Shoulder Stretch: To stretch your side deltoid, bring your arm across your body and lightly apply pressure to increase the stretch on your shoulder.
14. Standing Assisted Neck Flexion Stretch: This stretch will work your Trapezius muscle. Start by standing with your feet together. Keep your spine long, slowly sit your hips back and round your upper back while tucking your chin into your chest.
15. Lat Stretch With Spinal Traction: To stretch the latissimus dorsi, take a firm grip on a bar while slowly lifting your feet off the ground. Avoid this stretch if you have recently injured your shoulder.
16. Lat Stretch At The Wall: Also for the latissimus dorsi, place both hands on the corner of a wall or post. Keep your spine long while slowly pushing your hips out to the side. Avoid this stretch if you have lower back problems.
17. Child’s Pose: This is another way to stretch the latissimus dorsi. Start on your hands and knees, then slowly bring your hips back until your forehead is on the floor. Arch your upper back and rotate your shoulders to stretch your lats and chest muscles.
18. Standing Calf Stretch: To work the soleus and gastrocnemius, perform this stretch on the edge of a stair step. Lightly rotate your ankles to stretch the calf muscles actively.
19. Front Split: This is an advanced stretch to work your psoas and hamstring. Start in a kneeling lunge position, and proceed with caution if you have any hip problems.
20. Seated Forward Fold / Seated Toe Touch: To stretch the hamstrings and calves, sit and bend the knees as needed.
21. Single Leg Forward Bend: To work the hamstrings, start this position with one foot in front of the other. Bring your hands to your hips while keeping your back straight, and begin to bend from the hips.
22. Deep Squat: To work your glute muscles, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly lower yourself into a deep squat. Once in position, bring your arms inside your legs and lightly apply pressure to the inside of your knees.
23. Seated Half King Pigeon Pose: To work your glutes, start in a seated position and slowly pull your leg to your chest while rotating your hip and keeping your spine straight.
24. Standing Calf Stretch At The Wall: This stretch works your soleus and gastrocnemius. Start out in a lunge position with your back foot slightly turned out. Bring your back heel to the ground to stretch your calf muscles.
25. Lateral Flexion At The Wall: To stretch your external obliques, keep your spine long and slowly push your hips to the side.
26. Supine Twist: This will stretch your glutes and external obliques. Lie flat on your back and bring one leg across your body. Slowly rotate your upper body in the opposite direction.
27. Lateral Flexion With A Dowel: To stretch your external obliques and latissimus dorsi, keep your spine long and push your hips to the side while keeping your shoulder rotated.
28. Triangle Pose: This will work your external obliques. Start with a wide stance, your front foot straight ahead and your back foot at 90 degrees. Place your hand on your front leg or the floor as you sit back into your front hip, keeping your back straight.
29. Chest Stretch At The Wall: Work your pectorals by facing the wall with your thumb up. Slowly rotate away from the wall to stretch your chest muscle.
30. Assisted Chest Stretch: To stretch your chest and latissimus dorsi, lie on the floor with your palms facing up. Your partner will sit into a deep squat while helping you stretch.
31. Seated Half Pigeon Variation: To work your anterior tibialis, sit with your feet in front of you and bring one hand behind you as you rotate your hip and bring one foot above your knee.
32. Supine Shoulder External Rotation Stretch: This will stretch your subscapularis. Lie flat on your back and bring your arm straight out to the side with your elbow at a 90-degree angle. Slowly bring the back of your hand to the floor.
33. Down Dog Variation At The Wall: To stretch your pectoralis and latissimus dorsi, position yourself far enough from a wall so that when you touch the wall your body becomes parallel to the ground. Hinge at the hips and keep your spine straight. Push your chest forward creating a slight arch in your upper back; stretch your lats and chest muscles.
34. Assisted Chest Stretch Variation: To work your pectorals, lie face down on the floor with your palms facing down as your partner pulls back on your hands.
Stretching not only helps to save you from injury and maintain flexibility, but it also releases dopamine which makes you feel happier and more positive. Now seems like the perfect time to start perfecting these moves!