Photo: ammentorp via 123RF

Stretching is one of the easiest ways to improve flexibility and decrease injury risk. The best part? It’s free to do in the comfort of your own home. 

The Basics of Stretching 

Contrary to popular belief, stretching isn’t precisely a warmup. You can hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. The Mayo Clinic recommends light walking, jogging, or biking at a low intensity for five or 10 minutes beforehand to ensure your safety. 

The only way to take advantage of the benefits of stretching is to do it consistently. Potential benefits of stretching include:

  • Decreases muscle stiffness 
  • Relieves post-exercise aches and pains 
  • Reduces/helps manage stress 
  • Improves posture 
  • Promotes circulation 

Moves to Improve Flexibility 

Improving your flexibility and mobility isn’t as hard as you may think. All it takes is time. Here are a few beginner-friendly stretches to help you get started. 

Calf Stretch 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), stretching your calves and leg muscles can help prevent calf strains. Calf cramps can happen at any time but typically appear in the evening and early morning hours. These pains are usually due to an artery, nerve condition, or prior injury. 

To alleviate calf cramps, the ACSM recommends stretching for 10 to 15 minutes before bed and/or physical activity. 

Here’s how to do a calf stretch, according to the Mayo Clinic

  1. Stand facing a wall or chair. 
  2. Place your hands flat against the wall or hold onto the back of the chair.
  3. Keep one leg back with your knee straight and your foot flat on the floor.  
  4. Bend your elbows and front knee and move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your calf. 
  5. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
Photo: Andriy Popov via 123RF

The Cobra Pose 

The cobra pose is a relatively easy stretch taught across all levels and styles of yoga. This pose is a backbend pose in which you arch your spine backward. During the cobra pose, you’ll be stretching your hip flexors, abdominal muscles, pectoralis muscles, biceps and brachialis, cervical flexors, and the tops of your feet. 

Here’s how to do the Cobra Pose, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  1. Lie on the floor on your stomach. 
  2. Keep your legs straight, and your toes pointed. 
  3. Put your hands next to your chest (palms on the floor). 
  4. Inhale while keeping your hands on the floor. 
  5. Lift your head, shoulders, and upper back. 
  6. Squeeze your buttocks and engage your core muscles, pushing your hips into the floor.  
  7. Hold for five breaths or 15 to 30 seconds. 
  8. Exhale, return to your starting position and repeat. 

Butterfly Stretch 

The butterfly stretch relieves tightness in your hips and improves overall flexibility and posture. This stretch is ideal for people who sit all day or stand for long periods. The butterfly stretch can also protect your hips from overuse (e.g., running, cycling, walking). Note: It’s essential to warm up before the butterfly stretch, especially if it’s cold out or you’re just waking up. 

Here’s how to do the butterfly stretch, per verywell

  1. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and out to the sides. Your feet should be touching. 
  2. Hold onto your ankles or feet and engage your abdominal muscles. 
  3. Slowly lean your body toward your feet as far as you can go; your knees should bend with you. 
  4. Push your thighs down with your elbows; you should feel a stretching or pulling along your inner thighs. Though, it shouldn’t hurt or be uncomfortable. 
  5. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. 

If you’re feeling stiff, try one or more of the stretches above. Remember: The more you stretch, the more flexible you’ll get. It just takes a bit of patience and determination.