A strong core is an essential component of overall fitness, athletic performance, and daily life.
Your core muscles include:
- transverse abdominis
- rectus abdominis
- hip flexors
- pelvic floor
- low back
These all work together to help stabilize your spine, prevent back pain, and keep you moving safely.
When you exert your abdominal muscles through core exercises or a workout, you need to care for them just like you would any other muscle group.
Warming up with dynamic stretches before you exercise and cooling down with static stretches after you finish can help.
This article will take a closer look at why stretching your abdominal muscles is so important for overall performance and better health.
Plus, we’ll give you some specific stretches you can do at home, the gym, or anywhere you decide to work out.
Stretching, in general, is critical to the success of your workouts and your health. To get a better idea of why you should make time to stretch your abdominal muscles, check out these benefits.
Prevents back pain
When it comes to preventing lower back pain, a combination of strengthening and stretching exercises for the abdominal muscles is the way to go.
Tight muscles can cause a decrease in your range of motion. When this happens, your muscles become less flexible and can become more prone to injury.
Stretching the abdominal and lower back muscles can help prevent this, and may even help relieve existing back pain.
Stretching a muscle after a workout can help improve flexibility.
“Some muscles can lose their flexibility after repeated workouts, which can alter your posture and put additional pressure on your spine,” explains Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center.
By stretching your abs, Conrad explains, you’re helping the muscles return to full motion and recover quicker so you can work out again soon.
“Core muscles like abdominals can be worked multiple times a week versus muscle groups like quads or biceps, which require spaced out workout days due to the weighted resistance their exercises use,” he explains.
In order to keep your ab routine moving forward, Conrad recommends stretching abs regularly.
Prepares your body for exercise
According to Cleveland Clinic, performing dynamic stretches — stretches based on movement before you work out — allows your abdominal muscles to warm up and to get prepared for the activity ahead.
These types of movements may also improve your athletic performance and reduce the risk of injuries.
When you stretch your abs may be just as important as the stretches you perform.
“Muscles can cramp after an intense abdominal workout, and stretching can help prevent future injuries,” says Conrad. That’s why he recommends stretching right away after a good ab workout, which can help prevent muscle soreness the next day.
Cobra Pose abdominal stretch
Cobra Pose opens up your hips and gives your abdominal muscles a gentle, but thorough, stretch.
- Lay face down on the floor or an exercise mat. This is your starting position.
- With your hips flat on the ground, push your upper body upward, while looking straight ahead. This will stretch the abdominal muscles.
- Hold the position for 20 seconds, then return to the starting position.
- Repeat 3 to 4 times.
Cat-Cow stretch helps with the mobility and flexibility in your abdominal muscles. It also helps stretch and strengthen your lower back.
- Get on your hands and knees, and tuck your head downward as you arch your back, similar to how a cat does it.
- Extend the neck all the way upwards, and drop your belly all the way downwards, stretching the abdominal muscles.
- Hold for 20 seconds, then return to the starting position.
- Repeat 3 to 4 times.
Seated side-straddle stretch
The seated side-straddle stretch allows you to lengthen the abdominal muscles, hips, and thigh muscles while improving flexibility in the spine.
- Sit upright on the floor with your legs apart.
- Raise your arms to the side with your elbows bent and fingers pointing up.
- Engage the abdominal muscles and slowly bend sideways to the right, bringing the right elbow towards the floor. Don’t bend forward or rotate. You should feel the stretch through the obliques.
- Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the left side and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat 2 to 3 times on each side.
Chest opener on an exercise ball
This stretch promotes relaxation and gives your abdominals a thorough stretch. It also stretches the shoulders and chest.
- Lie on your back on an exercise ball. Your shoulder blades, neck and head should be on the top of the ball, with your back extended, feet flat on the floor, and knees flexed at 90-degrees.
- Begin the stretch by opening up your arms and letting them fall to the side of the ball. Make sure you’re looking up at the ceiling.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat 2 to 3 times.
To stay safe while stretching your abdominal muscles, keep these tips in mind:
- Go at your own pace. Stretching isn’t an activity that requires speed or the ability to keep up with the person next to you. To stay safe and to get the most out of your abdominal stretches, don’t push yourself beyond what’s comfortable.
- Avoid quick motions. Avoid doing any fast or jerky movements while stretching. This includes bouncing while moving through and holding the stretch.
- Only go as far as you can. During any type of stretching, it’s important to only go to the point of tension. If you go beyond this, you increase the potential for injury.
- Decrease the range of motion if your abs hurt. If you’re feeling extra tightness or discomfort in your trunk area, go easy on the stretching, and consider decreasing the range of motion. You don’t have to do the full range of motion to benefit from stretching.
Your abdominal muscles, which are part of your core, consist of some of the hardest working muscles in your body.
Stretching your abs regularly can increase your flexibility, improve your posture, decrease your risk of injury and back pain, and help you move and work out with ease.