If you’re anything like me, you don’t have much of a problem getting motivated to work out on a regular basis—but when it comes to recovery, that’s another story.
But when was the last time you spent any time on your flexibility?
Yes, I know it’s time consuming. Yes, I know it’s boring.
But as an athlete, no matter what your level, you need to properly take care of your muscles, or you’re putting yourself at risk for injury.
If you can take 10-15 minutes at least a few times a week to stretch, you’ll reap more benefits than you might expect, and allow your body to get stronger, healthier and fitter than you would be otherwise.
Plus, you’ll help yourself prevent getting injured—meaning you won’t be forced to take extra time off from your regular workouts.
10 Stretches for Athletes
Each of the stretches below will help you remain stronger and injury-free. But don’t push yourself too far—despite what your gym teacher may have told you, stretching should never actually hurt.
Hold each of the stretches for 30-45 seconds and breathe into the stretch.
1. Sitting Hamstring Stretch
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Bend one leg in at the knee.
- Slowly bend forward from hips toward foot of straight leg until you feel slight stretch.
- Hold for 30 to 45 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Note: If you’re fairly flexible, you can also do this one with both legs straight.
Muscles stretched: Hamstrings, lower back
2. Triceps Stretch
- Put one arm overhead, positioning your forearm as close as possible to your upper arm.
- Grasp your elbow overhead with your other hand.
- Pull your elbow back and toward your head.
- Hold this stretch for 30-45 seconds, then repeat with opposite arm.
Note: If you’re fairly flexible, you can deepen this stretch by grabbing your top hand with your bottom hand behind your back (see video for example).
Muscles stretched: Triceps, lats
3. Pigeon Pose
- Cross one knee in front of you while keeping the opposite leg straight behind you.
- Place both hands on the ground in front of you and slowly lower your upper body down as low as possible.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds then switch sides.
Muscles stretched: Hips, glutes, lower back
4. Chest Opener Stretch
- Stand or sit with your back straight and shoulders pulled back.
- Reach behind you and clasp both hands together.
- Bring hands up toward your head as far as possible.
- Hold for 30-45 seconds.
Muscles stretched: Chest, shoulders
5. Runner’s Lunge with Quad Stretch
- Assume a lunge position with your forward knee bent over your foot and your back leg extended behind you.
- Drop your knee to the ground.
- Tighten your core and squeeze your glutes.
- Reach your arm back and grab your foot or ankle and pull forward to stretch.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Muscles stretched: Hip flexors, quads (front of legs)
6. Twisted Arm Stretch
- Bring your hands out in front and cross your arms, one over the other.
- Twist your hands such that the palms face into each other, trying to create contact with your fingers.
- Hold for 4 counts, unwind your arms, and then repeat on the other side.
Muscles stretched: Lats, shoulders, triceps
7. Downward Dog
- Start by kneeling on the ground with your hands shoulder-width apart on front of you.
- Take a deep breath and raise your buttocks into the air, straightening your legs as much as possible.
- Lower your head toward the ground and straighten your spine.
- Lower your heels toward the ground as far as you can go to give your calves a good stretch.
Muscles stretched: Calves; releases tension in back, shoulders
8. Upward Dog
- Lie face down on the ground with your feet hip-width apart and your hands resting next to your lower ribs.
- Keeping your toes and hands on the floor, press your chest up so that your back is straight.
- Squeeze your buttocks (to keep your back from hurting) and pull your shoulders back.
- You may raise slightly above the ground for a deeper yoga stretch.
Muscles stretched: Chest, abs; opens up shoulders, upper back
9. Leg Over or “Iron Cross” Stretch
- Lie on your back with your legs straight in front of you.
- Bring one leg straight into the air then bring across your body so it rests on the ground.
- Hold for 10-20 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Muscles stretched: Side of hips, lower back, middle back
Note: a full bridge like the one above is only for more advanced stretchers. Learn how to work up to a full bridge in this tutorial.
- Lie on your back, bend your knees and pull your heels in toward your buttocks.
- Keep your feet and knees hips-width apart and your toes pointed forward or slightly out.
- Place your arms alongside your torso and roll your shoulders outwards.
- Firm your arms into the ground to support some of your weight.
- Lift your hips off the mat until they are about parallel to the floor.
- Slowly lower yourself down.
Muscles stretched: Back, shoulders, abs