krista-stretch

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.

Maybe you do a good job at taking a rest day at least once a week. Maybe you even do some foam rolling here and there or book a massage as a reward after an extra tough workout.

But when was the last time you just stretched?

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 (plus one bonus stretch!)

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 10-20 seconds. And never, ever bounce!

1. Runner’s lunge with side stretch

Runners lunge w/ side stretch

Directions:

  • Assume a lunge position with your forward knee bent over your foot and your back leg extended behind you.
  • Bring your opposite arm over your head and lean into the stretch.
  • Drop your knee to the ground for a deeper stretch.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Muscles stretched: Hip flexors, obliques (side abs)

2. Sitting hamstring stretch

Sitting hamstring stretch

Directions:

  • 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 10 to 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Muscles stretched: Hamstrings (back of leg), lower back

3. Triceps stretch

Triceps stretch

Directions:

  • 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 stretch for 10-20 seconds, then repeat with opposite arm.

Muscles stretched: Triceps, lats

4. Pigeon pose

Pigeon pose

Directions:

  • 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 10-20 seconds then switch sides.

Muscles stretched: Hips, glutes, lower back

5. Chest opener stretch

Chest opener stretch

Directions:

  • 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 10-20 seconds.

Muscles stretched: Chest, shoulders

6. Runner’s lunge with quad stretch

Runners lunge with quad stretch

Directions:

  • 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.
  • 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)

7. Twisted arm stretch

Twisted arm stretch

Directions:

  • 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

8. Downward dog

Downward dog stretch

Directions:

  • 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

9. Upward dog

Upward dog stretch

Directions:

  • 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

10. Leg over or “Iron Cross” stretch

Leg over Iron Cross stretch

Directions:

  • 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

Bonus stretch: Bridge

Bridge stretch

Note: a full bridge like the one above is only for more advanced stretchers. If this is too difficult for you, you can get a similar effect by keeping your head and shoulders on the floor while still raising your hips in the air.

Directions:

  • 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

Happy stretching!