The Best Stretches For Relieving The Most Common Types Of Muscle Soreness
We don’t know about you, but our favorite part about going to the gym is stretching after we’re done with a workout. What’s not to like about lying down and opening those muscles after sweating your stress away? Other than being a delightful experience, stretching’s also essential. Stretching before and after a workout keeps your muscles flexible and helps maintain your joints’ range of motion. If you don’t stretch regularly, your muscles shorten and become tight, putting you at risk for injury during your next workout.
Unfortunately, not all stretches are created equal and some could be doing you more harm than good. Instead of winging it on the stretch mat, stick to the effective stretches below for relieving the most common types of muscle soreness. Regardless of whether you’re dealing with a stiff upper back or tight calves, we’ve got you covered.
If your neck feels sore, try:
Lateral Neck Flexion
This stretch is particularly effective at relieving tightness in the upper trapezius (the back of your neck and shoulders). Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms straight by your sides. Engage your core and pull your shoulders down and back. Slowly bring your right ear toward your right shoulder, stopping when you feel a stretch. Hold the stretch for five to 10 seconds before bringing your neck back to its neutral position. Repeat on the left side. Alternate sides two to four times.
Grounded Tipover Tuck
A great stretch for both neck and shoulders, the grounded tipover tuck may also help relieve headaches and drowsiness. Start in child’s pose with your shins and forehead resting on a yoga mat and your hips resting on your heels. Clasp your hands together behind your back, interlacing your fingers and lifting your hands as high as you can. Shift your weight forward and lift your hips off your heels, resting the bulk of your weight on your forehead. Your knees and shins will stay pressed against the mat. With your hands still clasped behind your back, extend your arms overhead, bringing them as parallel to the ground as possible. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds before returning to the starting position.
Seated Clasping Neck Stretch
This is a great deep stretch for both your neck and your upper back. Sitting with a tall spine in a chair or on the floor, place both palms on the back of your head and interlace your fingers. Gently press your hands forward against the back of your head so that your forehead inches closer to your thighs, tucking your chin into your chest. Hold for 30 seconds before slowly returning your head to the starting position and releasing your hands.
If your upper back feels super stiff, try:
This stretch is great for relieving tightness in your mid-upper back. Seated upright in a chair or standing with your feet hip-width apart, place the palms of your hands face down on the tops of your shoulders (the left palm on the left shoulder and the right palm on the right shoulder). Keeping your hands in place, pull your elbows back as if you were trying to touch them together. Do this until you feel a deep stretch in your upper back. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Pull your elbows forward and touch them together in front of your body. Hold for five to 10 seconds before pulling your elbows back again. Repeat both motions four times.
Other than alleviating upper back stiffness, this stretch can also help you improve your posture. Sitting upright in a chair or standing with your feet hip-width apart, raise your hands to shoulder height with your elbows bent and your palms facing forward — essentially forming a W with your arms. Move your arms slightly back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat this stretch five times.
If your lower back is sore, try:
Especially for those who spend most of their days sitting, this stretch is great for preventing lower back pain. Start on your hands and knees. Make sure that your hands are directly underneath your shoulders and that your knees are aligned with your hips. Start with your spine in its neutral position — mostly straight but honoring its natural curvature (like in your lower back). Without moving your hands or knees, curl your spine and tilt your pelvis down so that your head and glutes reach up toward the ceiling and your belly drops down toward the floor. Hold for five seconds, inhaling in through your nose. Then round your spine in the opposite direction, tilting your pelvis forward and tucking your tailbone. Bring your gaze to your bellybutton. Hold for five seconds, exhaling through your mouth. Repeat the entire movement for five to ten breaths.
Lower Back Twist
Here’s a particularly great stretch for both your lower back and your glutes. Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, facing the ceiling. Extend your arms out to your sides, making a “T” shape. Keep your shoulders and upper back glued to the floor as you gently roll both of your knees to one side of your body. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds before returning to the starting position and repeating the same thing on the other side.
If your glutes feel tight, try:
Modified Pigeon Stretch
This yoga pose is great for relieving glute soreness and opening up tight hips. Start by kneeling on a yoga mat, and then fully extend your right leg behind you, angling it slightly to your left. Your left leg can remain in the starting position or you can bring your shin more perpendicular to your body, depending on how tight your hips are. Lean your torso forward, placing your forearms and the palms of your hands on the mat. Bend your elbows even more to deepen the stretch. Hold for one minute and then repeat the exercise with your left leg.
Seated Leg Cradle
This one is great for stretching your glutes and for improving flexibility and mobility in your hips. Start by sitting on the floor with your feet crossed and your spine straight. Lift your left leg by hooking your left arm under your calf and pulling it up toward your torso. Grab on to your raised foot with both of your hands for support. Maintaining this position, slowly lift your left leg higher until you feel a stretch in your glutes and hips. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds before doing the same thing with your right leg.
If your quads are on fire, try:
Kneeling Quad Stretch
Kick the standing version up a notch with this stretch. It’s especially great for releasing excess tightness in the muscles above your knee. Pro Tip: You’ll want to do this one on a mat or a towel so that there’s extra cushioning for your knee. Start in a high lunge position with your right foot forward. Slowly drop your left knee to the ground. Take a few seconds to find your balance. Once you feel stable, reach your left arm behind you to grab the toes of your left foot, pulling them towards you. Hold them for 30 seconds. Slowly release your left foot and return to the starting high lunge position. Repeat the same stretch on the other side, starting with your left foot forward this time.
Supine Quad Stretch
This stretch is great for relieving sore quads and a tight lower back. Lie on your back on a yoga mat with your body straight like a pencil, facing the ceiling. Grab your right knee with clasped hands, pulling your leg towards your chest. Keep your back glued to the floor at all times, making sure that you’re not arching it. Hold for one to two minutes. Bring your right leg back to the starting position and repeat the same stretch with your left leg.
If you have tight hamstrings, try:
Runner’s Hamstring And Calf Stretch
A runner’s favorite, this stretch is great for relieving tight calf and hamstring muscles. Stand facing a wall, approximately one foot away from it. Place your hands on the wall at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart. Take a big step back with your right leg, pushing your hands into the wall and slightly bending your left knee. The farther back you step with your right leg, the deeper the stretch. Keep your back straight and press your heels into the floor. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side, stepping back with your left leg this time.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
This simple hamstring stretch can be done anywhere. Stand with your feet together, crossing your right foot over your left and planting both feet firmly onto the ground. Slowly lower your forehead to your right knee, bending at your waist. Keep both knees as straight as possible the entire time. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side by crossing your left foot over your right.
If your calves are killing you, try:
This well-known yoga pose is great for relieving tight calf muscles. Start in a high plank position, with your palms placed firmly onto the floor and your legs straight behind you. Slowly lift your hips high to the ceiling and attempt to bring the heels of your feet as close to the floor as possible, making an inverted “V” shape with your body. Start pedaling your feet, alternating which foot touches the floor each time. Try to keep your legs and arms as straight as possible the entire time.
Seated Calf Stretch With A Resistance Band
This one is a great stretch for those who aren’t flexible enough to touch their toes. All you need to perform this stretch is a resistance band, a yoga strap or a towel. Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. Loop a resistance band (or whatever item you’ve decided to use) around your right foot, holding both sides of it with your hands. Keeping your back straight and without moving your left leg, use the band to pull the toes and upper part of your right foot towards your right shin until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.