Ever watched a cat when it wakes up? There's nothing like a good stretch to make your body feel alive. Stretching's a valuable part of your essential warm up routine, particularly if you're tight from inactivity or due to the exertions of a previous fitness session. But some of the biggest mobility benefits to be had from stretching are as part of your warm down. Remobilise your muscles, and you could see a gain in flexibility straight away.
Don't be afraid of using a stretch to work on an area of body at any time - especially if you feel a muscle group tightening. The most common, simple movements are known as static stretches: hold each move for around 30 seconds and repeat it twice. As with all exercise, you should work up to these stretches over a period of time.
Chest and upper arms
- While standing, raise your arms to your sides so they're parallel to the ground, palms down.
- Remain standing tall and reach your arms as far back as is comfortable. You'll feel the stretching across your chest and in your arms.
Chest, triceps and biceps
- Stand up straight with your hands behind your back, palms facing upwards and fingers locked.
- Keep standing tall and raise your arms upwards (parallel with the ground), reaching away from yourself. You'll feel a stretch across your chest and in the your upper arms.
- Stand up straight with your arms straight out in front of you, palms facing upwards and fingers locked.
- Keep standing tall and reach you hands away from your chest to feel a stretch across your upper back.
- Stand up straight and reach your right arm across your chest so that it's parallel to the ground.
- Take hold of your right elbow with your left hand and pull it into your chest to feel the stretch in your right shoulder. Swap arms and repeat.
- Stand up straight, with your right hand behind your head and reach down between your shoulder blades.
- Put your left hand on your right elbow and gently use it to help you reach slightly further. You'll feel the stretch in the back of your right arm. Swap arms and repeat.
- Stand up straight with your hands palm to palm, in front of your chest. Fingers pointing upwards and elbows pointing out to the sides.
- Keep your elbows in the same place and push your palms together. Slowly move your hands down towards your waist until you feel the stretch in your forearms.
- Repeat with the backs of your hands pressed together.
- Sit with your right leg straight in front of you and your foot pointing upwards. Bend your left leg to place the sole of your left foot against the inside of your right knee.
- Keep your back straight and put your hands on the ground for support if needed. Lean forwards towards your right toe to feel the stretch in your right hamstring.
- Keep your foot pointing upwards or pull your toes back towards you. Swap legs and repeat.
- Stand with your left leg in front of you and your right leg behind. Keep your toes pointing forward. Place your hands against a wall or another support.
- Keep your right leg straight. Press your right heel to the ground and, keeping your back straight, push your hips forward to feel the stretch in the top of your right calf (gastrocnemius).
- Slide your right foot further back to achieve the stretch if you need to. Swap legs and repeat.
- To stretch the lower calf (soleus) slightly bend the back leg.
- Stand up straight with a chair, wall or other item to use for balance.
- Lift your right foot off the ground and pull your right heel towards your buttock. Feel the stretch in the front of your thighs.
- Push your right hip forwards to stretch the hip flexor. Swap legs and repeat.
- Sit up straight. Bend your legs and draw your feet towards your body, placing the soles of your feet together.
- Hold your lower legs/ankles and ease your knees towards the ground until you feel the stretch in your inner thighs and groin. You can also get more of a stretch by drawing your feet closer to you.
- Stand up straight. Cross your right foot over your left and keep your legs slightly bent.
- Lean your upper body to the right to feel the stretch down the outside of your right hip and along your thigh. Swap legs and repeat.
- Take a large step forwards with your right foot. Keep your feet pointing forwards.
- Bend your right knee and, keeping your back straight, lower yourself down towards the ground. Allow your left leg to bend slightly and keep your right knee above your right foot.
- Shift your weight forwards to feel the stretch in the hip and quadriceps of your left leg. Swap legs and repeat.