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18 flexibility exercises to stretch your muscles and reduce pain

Improving flexibility by stretching helps improve circulation, reduce pain and leads to better mobility during day-to-day activities.

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It's time for a body check: Are you hunched over a computer? Curled up on the couch? Looking down at your phone?

We're all guilty of less-than-stellar posture. And as we get older, our bodies fall into habitual patterns. Think about your default positions during everyday activities: Many of us sleep, sit in the car, and work in front of the computer in the same position — we even carry bags on one shoulder or arm instead of the other. Over time, the wear and tear of these repetitive movements can cause our muscles to hold tension and shorten.

Exercise, while great for our body, can also have this effect. If you exercise and don’t stretch, your body gets used to contracting and moving in specific ways. For example, if you always walk forward, you’re using your quads and hips. What about walking backward? Many of us don’t. Therefore, the muscles that we use get tight and the muscles that we don’t use lose mobility.

That's why it’s important to improve flexibility and stretch our muscles, loosen up our joints and become mobile in a variety of planes of motion. Over time, this will improve range of motion and reduce your risk of injury.

What is flexibility?

Flexibility refers to the ability of your joints and muscles to move through a full range of motion. It involves the lengthening and stretching of your muscles, tendons and ligaments, allowing them to be more pliable and elastic. When you have good flexibility, you can perform exercises with proper form, which enhances your overall performance and reduces the risk of injury.

Flexibility plays a crucial role in preventing injuries. When your muscles and joints are flexible, they can better absorb impact and handle sudden movements without placing excessive stress on the body. It also helps to alleviate muscle imbalances and reduce the risk of strains, sprains and other muscular injuries.

Flexibility exercises

Here are some great stretches to improve flexbility. You can do all of them together as a circuit or sprinkle them in throughout the day to combat tight muscles and improve flexibility over time.

Thread the needle

Start in tabletop position with hands directly below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Lift your right hand up off the ground. Following your right arm with your gaze, thread it behind your left arm toward the left side of the room, until your shoulder is resting on the mat. Gently rest your head on the ground, looking toward your hand. Hold for 3 breaths and then switch sides.

Pigeon pose

Start in downward facing dog. Bring the right leg forward toward your right hand. Rest your foot and ankle on the mat behind your left hand (resting it on the mat as close to your hand as is comfortable for you) and rwst your knee on the mat by the right hand. Ideally, your right shin will be parallel to the front of the mat. Lower your hips toward the floor, resting on top of your right leg. Straighten your left leg out behind you. Keep your hips square, balancing your weight by pressing your hands down onto the mat in front of you. If this is enough of a stretch, stay here and breathe. If you want a deeper stretch, bend at the hips, bringing your torso down toward the mat and reaching over your bent front leg. Flex your right foot. Maintain this position for 60 seconds, breathing slowly, then switch sides.

Kneeling hip flexor stretch

Start kneeling on the ground. Step your right foot out in front of you, with your right knee bent at 90 degrees. Keep your left knee on the ground and stretch the left leg behind you, resting the top of the left foot on the ground. Keeping your back straight, push forward into your right hip, being sure to keep the right knee over the right ankle. Hold this position for 10 breaths, then switch sides.

Child’s pose flexibility

Child’s pose

Kneel on the floor so that your shins and tops of your feet are on the ground. Bend at your hips, moving your hands forward and sitting your butt back. Inch your hands out in front of you until your stomach is resting on your thighs and your arms are stretched straight out in front of you, palms on the floor. Focus on your breathing. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Wide leg seated forward fold flexibility

Wide leg seated forward fold

Sit up straight with your legs open wide. Flex your feet and engage your quads. Slowly fold forward as far as you can reaching your arms in front of you. Relax your shoulders and feel a stretch in your inner thighs. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Seated forward fold flexibility

Seated forward fold

Sit on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you. Reach your arms up above your head and then slowly fold forward as far as you can, resting your hands on your knees, shins or toes depending on your flexibility. Flex your feet and engage your quads. Relax your shoulders and soften forward into the stretch for your hamstrings. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Seated butterfly flexibility

Seated butterfly

Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your back straight. Bend your knees, bringing your feet in toward your body until the soles of your feet touch. Grab both feet with your hands for extra support. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the hips. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Low lunge exercise

Low lunge

Start in a plank position. Lower the knees to the ground and bring your right foot forward between your hands. Stay low and place your hands on the floor on either side of your right foot. You will feel the stretch in your hips and your left quad. Hold for 10 seconds and then switch sides. From plank position, lower the right knee to the mat and step your left foot between the hands. Hold the position for 10 seconds. 

Low lunge into hamstring stretch

Low lunge into hamstring stretch

From the low-lunge position, gently shift back on to the left knee with the right leg still extended. Straighten the right leg so that you feel a stretch behind the right leg and knee. Hold for 10 seconds, and then switch sides. 

Cat and cow stretch

Cat cow

Start on all fours. Your hands should be directly below the shoulders and knees directly under the hips. As you breathe in, arch the back and look up, pressing your tailbone to the ceiling. As you breathe out, press the spine and lower back to the ceiling to round the back and lower your neck, looking down toward the ground. Repeat for 10 “cats” and 10 “cows.”

Lizard pose flexibility


Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the ground. Step your right foot forward in between your hands, and then bring both hands to the inside of the right foot. Wiggle your right foot out to the right, and open the right hip, letting the right knee fall to the side so that you rest on the outer edge of your right foot. Keep the left knee on the mat, and rest the left foot on the mat. Push forward gently into your hips and hold. Switch so that your left foot is forward and repeat. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Downward facing dog

Downward facing dog

Start in a plank position with your shoulders over your wrists. Pull your naval in toward your spine and reach your butt up toward the ceiling. Form a “V” with your body with your heels reaching down toward the ground. (It’s OK if they are off of the ground.) Press down through your toes and your fingers to stretch the legs and the underarms. Bend one knee and then the other knee. Hold the stretch for five breaths.

Lying spinal twist stretch

Lying spinal twist

Lie down on your back with your arms extended at your sides in a “T” position and your legs bent in table-top position. Twist your legs over to the right, allowing the legs to fall toward the ground or rest on the ground. Look to the left and hold for three breaths. Switch sides.

Figure four stretch

Figure four

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Rotate your left leg outward, placing your left ankle on top of your right thigh. Bring your right knee in toward your upper body. Gently pull your right thigh closer to your chest for a deeper stretch and hold for 30 seconds before switching to the other side.

Standing side stretch

Standing side stretch

Standing with your feet together, lift your right arm straight up into the air. Keep your left arm at your side or on your hip. Bend at the waist toward your left so that you feel a stretch in the right side of your waist. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Standing quad stretch flexibility

Standing quad stretch

Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Shift the weight to your right foot, grab your left foot with both hands and pull it behind you so that it touches your butt. Hold the stretch for about 20-30 seconds, then alternate legs. If you’re feeling unsteady, hold on to a stable surface with one hand. 

Standing knee hug flexibility

Standing knee hug

Stand tall with feet hips-width apart. Lift the right leg and hug your right knee to your chest with both of your arms for 10 seconds. Leaning back will offer a more intense stretch if needed. Repeat on the left leg.

Cross body shoulder stretch flexibility

Cross body shoulder stretch

Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Extend your left arm across your chest toward the right side of the room. Use your right arm to draw your left arm closer to your body for a deeper stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, and then repeat on the other arm.