Most of us are introduced to stretching exercises as the boring but obligatory starting point of a school P.E. class, and (perhaps for this reason) many people don’t tend to think of them as a form of exercise at all. In fact, stretching is at the heart of many popular forms of workout, including yoga and pilates. Stretching supports flexibility, and can be a gentle way to help your joints maintain a healthy range of motion.
You don’t need to be in an expensive class or gym to make stretching a part of your daily routine. There are plenty of simple stretching exercises for you to try at home: check out the stretching routine below for a thorough full-body routine, or download our PDF guide to see more basic stretching exercises here.
How to stretch before exercise
Stretching is best done at the end of a warm up: use gentle movements, such as marching on the spot and knee lifts, to get your heart rate up first, as cold muscles are unsuitable for even basic stretching exercises. Whatever your fitness level, it’s important to start slowly and gently every time you stretch.
Try to do an all-round stretch of your whole body, rather than focusing exclusively on one area. When you exercise, you’re likely to be using far more muscle groups than you’re aware of. When performing basic stretching exercises before working out, work from top to toe.
Don’t push yourself too hard, either – it’s good to go gently, and (according to Harvard Medical School) spend about 60 seconds on each stretch, split up into 15 or 20 second bursts.
Finally, remember that stretching is best understood as a regular routine, with or without exercise. Try to make time for simple stretching exercises two or three times a week.
How to stretch: Simple stretching exercises to start your day
When your alarm goes off in the morning, rather than hitting the ‘snooze’ button, try getting up, warming up, and then doing these basic stretching exercises. As above, try each pose for 15-20 second bursts at a time, adding up to a minute each.
- Once you’ve warmed up, roll onto your knees, and let your body droop downwards, resting your buttocks on your legs, and your chest on your thighs. This position, known as the “child” pose, will arch your back and help relieve some night-time tension.
- Next, lie flat on your stomach with your arms and legs stretched out like a pencil. Lift your head and chest a little, and carefully lift up one arm, like superman, along with the opposite leg. Repeat this on both sides to lengthen and straighten your spine and limbs.
- Now lie on your back, place your feet flat with your knees bent and your arms by your sides. Lift your bum and hips slowly up into the air, resting your weight in your feet and shoulders, and working all of the muscles in your inner core. This might be a little challenging if you have a soft mattress, in which case you can move to a (ideally, carpeted) floor.
- Finally, sit yourself on the edge of the bed and lift one arm straight above your head. Slowly lean sideways in the opposite direction, feeling the muscles down your sides and in your arm stretch. Don’t forget to repeat on the other side! If your bed is a bad height for this, don’t worry – standing up is also fine.
A great advantage of learning how to stretch is that you can fit routines into almost any part of your day. Simple stretching exercises can be done while sitting at the computer, taking a shower, and even before you get out of bed in the morning!
For more details of this easy routine, along with some more information on how to stretch and simple stretching exercises to try, take a look at our guide to getting started with stretching exercises!