Angela Salvetti, NSCA-certified personal trainer and area fitness manager at New York Sports Clubs for East Manhattan, says that almost everyone that comes into her gym is tight, and claims to be inflexible. “Their hamstrings and hip flexors are super tight from sitting all day,” she says. Others who do a good job of being active don’t take the time to focus on flexibility and mobility.
“People say it hurts or it’s boring or if they go for a run right before work, for example, they’re just trying to get something in and that time crunch is there,” she explains. “But a lot of people don’t know that prioritizing the extra 10 to 15 minutes [to stretch] is going to let you get more out of your workout.” When you’re tight, you have a limited range of motion, so you can only use your muscles so efficiently. “But if you have a full range, you have extra momentum and room to work.”
If you’re really tight, Salvetti suggests doing a handful of these stretches every single day at whatever time of day is easiest for you to remember. “Consistency is really key,” especially if your goal is to touch your toes, she says. After a couple weeks, you should notice improvement.
If you ever feel a pinching sensation or discomfort, come out of the stretch and try going back into it again slowly, Salvetti says. “Sometimes that helps it feel better. Or, change the angle a bit.” If you ever feel a sharp pain, stop whatever you’re doing—that doesn’t mean you’re stretching, it means you might have hurt yourself.
Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds to a minute.
Seated Straddle (inner thighs, calves, hamstrings)
• Sit down on the floor with both legs straightened out in a straddle (or “V”position).
• Inhale and on an exhale, slowly fold forward as far as you can with a flat back.
• Keep your toes and knees pointing straight up. Keep your spine long and avoid hunching over.
• Reach your hands out in front of you. As you’re able to, work on reaching hands out further and lowering your chest to the ground.
Cat/Cow (back and hips)
• Start on your hands and knees with shoulders directly over wrists and hips over knees.
• Take a slow inhale and on the exhale, round your spine and drop your head toward the floor for Cat pose.
• Inhale and lift your head, chest, and tailbone toward the ceiling as you arch your back for Cow pose.
Toe Reach With Band (hamstrings and back)
• Sit in a pike position, with legs out straight in front of you, feet touching if you can.
• Wrap a resistance band around one foot and hold onto it firmly.
• Start sitting straight up tall with band stretched out.
• Slowly, lower your torso over your legs as you reach toward your toes. Keep back flat.
• Sit back straight in a controlled motion while continuing to hold onto, and stretch, the band.
Lying Hamstring Stretch (hamstrings, hips, glutes)
• Lie flat on your back, legs together and straight up in the air.
• Loop a band around one foot.
• Pull the leg in toward your face, feeling the stretch in the back of the leg.
• Bring leg back to start. Stretch the leg out away from your body, opening up the hips.
• Let leg fall as close to the ground as possible while still controlling it with the band.
• Bring leg back to start. Now, stretch the leg across your body to stretch the outer thigh and butt.
• Bring leg back to start and repeat the entire sequence with the other leg.
Pigeon Pose (hips and glutes)
• Sit with your right knee bent and open to the side and left leg extended straight behind body.
• Keep your left hip pointing down toward mat. If it begins to open up toward ceiling, draw right foot back in toward body.
• Walk your hands out in front of your body, allowing your chest to rest over right knee.
Magic Trick (hamstrings and back)
• Put a stack of books on the floor. • Stand with feet completely together. Place your toes on books and heels on the floor.
• Reach down and try to touch your toes. Bend your knees a little if you need to.
• Come back up to start, and then repeat nine more times.
• Then, reverse your stance so your heels are on the books and your toes are on the ground.
• Reach down and try to touch your toes 10 times.
• Step away from the books. Place feet flat on the floor and now bend down and try to touch your toes.