10 Essential Stretches for Athletes

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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 spent any time on your flexibility?

Yes, I know it’s time consuming. Yes, I know it’s not as exciting as working towards a strength or skill goal.

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 a Bonus Stretch!)

Each of the stretches below will help your body remain mobile, flexible, 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. 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.
  • Tuck your hips by pulling your belly up and in.
  • Bring your opposite arm over your head and slowly lean into the stretch as you continue to breathe.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Note: If you want an even deeper stretch, drop your back knee to the ground.

Muscles stretched: Hip flexors, quads, obliques

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.
  • Pull your abs in, then slowly bend forward from your hips towards the foot of your straight leg until you feel a slight stretch.
  • Hold for 30 to 45 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Note: To increase the difficulty of this stretch, do this one with both legs straight.

Muscles stretched: Hamstrings, lower back

3. Overhead 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 this stretch for 30-45 seconds, then repeat with opposite arm.

Note: You can deepen this stretch by grabbing your top hand with your bottom hand behind your back.

Muscles stretched: Triceps, lats

4. Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose

Directions:

  • Cross one knee in front of you while keeping the opposite leg extended behind you.
  • Place both hands on the ground in front of you and slowly lower your upper body down as low as possible while keeping your core pulled in.
  • Work both 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 your hands up toward your head as far as possible.

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 as you pull your belly up and in.
  • 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

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, 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 glutes into the air while keeping your legs straight and your abs pulled in.
  • 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.
  • Squeeze your glutes and pull your shoulders back.

Muscles stretched: Chest, core, lower/upper back

10. 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, 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. Learn how to work up to a full bridge in this tutorial.

Directions:

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees and pull your heels in toward your glutes.
  • 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, core

6 thoughts on “10 Essential Stretches for Athletes”

  1. Fantastic stretches!!! I just signed up for the three month training!! Can’t wait to start. THANKS for being soooo inspiring

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