Professional sprinters sometimes spend an hour warming up for a race that lasts about 10 seconds. In fact, it’s common for many athletes to perform dynamic stretches in their warmup and static stretches in their cooldown to help keep their muscles healthy.

Share on Pinterest
BonninStudio/Stocksy United

Even if you’re not an athlete, including stretches in your daily routine has many benefits. Not only can stretching help you avoid injuries, it may also help slow down age-related mobility loss and improve circulation.

Let’s take a closer look at the numerous benefits of full-body stretching and how to build a stretching routine that targets all your major muscle groups.

Stretching regularly can have benefits for both your mental and physical health. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Decreased injury risk. Regular stretching may help reduce your risk of joint and muscle injuries.
  • Improved athletic performance. Focusing on dynamic stretches before exercising may improve your athletic performance by reducing joint restrictions, according to a 2018 scientific review.
  • Improved circulation. A 2015 study of 16 men found that a 4-week static stretching program improved their blood vessel function.
  • Increased range of motion. A 2019 study of 24 young adults found that both static and dynamic stretching can improve your range of motion.
  • Less pain. A 2015 study on 88 university students found that an 8-week stretching and strengthening routine was able to significantly reduce pain caused by poor posture.
  • Relaxation. Many people find that stretching with deep and slow breathing helps promote feelings of relaxation.

There are many ways to stretch, and some types of stretches are better at certain times. Two common types of stretches include:

  • Dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretching involves actively moving a joint or muscle through its full range of motion. This helps get your muscles warmed up and ready for exercise. Examples of dynamic stretches include arm circles and leg swings.
  • Static stretches. Static stretching involves stretches that you hold in place for at least 15 seconds or longer without moving. This helps your muscles loosen up, especially after exercise.

Before exercise

Warm muscles tend to perform better than cold muscles. It’s important to include stretching in your warmup routine so you can get your muscles ready for the upcoming activity.

Although it’s still a topic of debate, there’s some evidence that static stretching before exercise can reduce power and strength output in athletes.

If you’re training for a power or speed-based sport, you may want to avoid static stretching in your warmup and opt for dynamic stretching instead.

After exercise

Including static stretching after your workout may help reduce muscle soreness caused by strenuous exercise.

It’s a good idea to stretch all parts of your body, with an emphasis on the muscles you used during your workout.

After sitting and before bed

Static stretching activates your parasympathetic nervous system, according to a 2014 study of 20 young adult males.

Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for your body’s rest and digestive functions. This may be why many people find stretching before bed helps them relax and de-stress at the end of the day.

Stretching after a period of prolonged inactivity can help increase blood flow to your muscles and reduce stiffness. This is why it feels good — and is beneficial — to stretch after waking up or after sitting for a long period of time.

When putting together a full-body stretching routine, aim to include at least one stretch for each major muscle group in your body.

You may find that certain muscles feel particularly stiff and need extra attention. For example, people who sit a lot often have tight muscles in their neck, hips, legs, and upper back.

To target particularly stiff areas, you can:

  • perform multiple stretches for that muscle group
  • hold the stretch longer
  • perform the stretch more than once
  • Muscles stretched: calves
  • When to perform: after running or any time you have tight calves
  • Safety tip: Stop immediately if you feel pain in your Achilles tendon, where your calf attaches to your ankle.

How to do this stretch:

  1. Stand with your hands against the back of a chair or on a wall.
  2. Stagger your feet, one in front of the other. Keep your back leg straight, your front knee slightly bent, and both feet flat on the ground.
  3. Keeping your back knee straight and back your foot flat on the ground, bend your front knee to lean toward the chair or wall. Do this until you feel a gentle stretch in the calf of your back leg.
  4. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.
  • Muscles stretched: hips, inner thigh, glutes
  • When to perform: before a workout
  • Safety tip: Start with smaller swings and make each swing bigger as your muscles loosen.

How to do this stretch:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Balancing on your left leg, swing your right leg back and forth in front of your body, only going as far as is comfortable.
  3. Perform 20 reps.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  • Muscles stretched: hamstring, lower back
  • When to perform: after your workout, before bed, or when your hamstrings are tight
  • Safety tip: If you can’t touch your toes, try resting your hands on the ground or on your leg instead.

How to do this stretch:

  1. Sit on a soft surface, with one leg straight out in front of you. Place your opposite foot against the inner thigh of your straight leg.
  2. While keeping your back straight, lean forward and reach for your toes.
  3. When you feel a stretch in the back of your extended leg, hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  • Muscles stretched: quadriceps
  • When to perform: after running or whenever your thighs feel tight
  • Safety tip: Aim for a gentle stretch; overstretching can cause your muscles to become tighter.

How to do this stretch:

  1. Stand upright and pull your right foot to your butt, holding it there with your right hand.
  2. Keep your knee pointing downward and your pelvis tucked under your hips throughout the stretch.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  • Muscles stretched: glutes, hips
  • When to perform: after running or before bed
  • Safety tip: Stop if you feel pain in your knees, hips, or anywhere else.

How to do this stretch:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs up and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Cross your left ankle over your right knee.
  3. Grab your right leg (either over or behind your knee) and pull it toward your face until you feel a stretch in your opposite hip.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.
  • Muscles stretched: back, shoulders, neck
  • When to perform: after prolonged sitting or whenever your back is stiff
  • Safety tip: Try to stretch both sides equally. Don’t force the stretch beyond what’s comfortable.

How to do this stretch:

  1. Sit in a chair with your back straight, core engaged, and ankles in line with your knees.
  2. Twist your body to the right by pushing against the right side of the chair with your left hand.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  • Muscles stretched: chest, biceps, shoulders
  • When to perform: after long periods of sitting
  • Safety tip: Stop immediately if you feel discomfort in your shoulder.

How to do this stretch:

  1. Stand in an open doorway and place your forearms vertically on the doorframe.
  2. Lean forward until you feel a stretch through your chest.
  3. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  • Muscles stretched: neck
  • When to perform: after sitting or whenever your neck feels tight
  • Safety tip: It’s normal to have one side that feels tighter than the other. Try holding the stretch longer on the side that feels tighter.

How to do this stretch:

  1. Drop your chin toward your chest.
  2. Tilt your head to the left until you feel a stretch along the right side of your neck.
  3. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Stretching regularly can:

  • improve your range of motion
  • reduce your risk of injury
  • improve circulation
  • boost athletic performance

If you’re looking to create a full-body stretching routine, try to choose at least one stretch that targets each major muscle group.

The stretches covered in this article are a good start, but there are many other stretches you can add to your routine.

If you have an injury or want to know what kinds of stretches may work best for you, be sure to talk with a certified personal trainer or physical therapist.