The Ultimate Full-Body Stretching Routine
It doesn’t matter your age, experience level, or training discipline as an athlete. Incorporating a full-body stretching program into your regular routine will help build a strong foundation for improving your biomechanics, reducing risk of injury, and will help maximize your athletic performance and exercise output in training.
This article outlines the ultimate full-body stretching routine. It will include an easy-to-reference graphic you can save to your phone and an index chart to give you the references and resources you need to perform stretches you may be unfamiliar with correctly.
- Why You Should Have a Daily Full-Body Stretching Routine
- Best Time of Day to Stretch
- Best Hold Time and Frequency of Static Stretching
- Building a Full-Body Stretching Routine
- Image Chart: Full-Body Stretching Program
Why You Should Have a Daily Full-Body Stretching Routine
While flexibility and mobility are distinctly different from one another, the flexibility gained from static stretching is a powerful tool that fits into the overall puzzle of maximizing your mobility.
Your body’s biomechanics and muscular systems are a complex network comprised of individual components, each having direct and indirect effects on how your body moves.
As an example to paint a picture. It may seem odd to think that immobility, inflexibility, or improper range of motion in your feet and legs could be the origin point of back and neck pain. But everything in your body’s interconnected network can cause chain reactions affecting biomechanics and tension multiple steps down the chain of human motion.
A well-rounded stretching routine that considers your most used muscle groups (especially those most likely to be out of balance from our modern lifestyles) is a worthwhile investment that minimizes the chances of small imbalances gradually developing into more significant problems.
Getting in-tune with your range of motion and muscle flexibility across your entire body also allows you to better understand how your body reacts to your current training program and lifestyle. Recognizing changes from day to day in how tension develops in your body makes it much easier to identify what changes may have positive or negative impacts on different aspects of your biomechanics.
All of that starts with a simple, consistent full-body stretching program.
Best Time of Day to Stretch
If you want something to be consistent, you need to integrate it into your life in a way that transforms it into habit.
This means selecting when to perform your stretching routine during the day should be based on how likely you will be able to maintain carving out that time each day in your regular schedule.
Some people like to stretch first thing in the morning to loosen up muscle tightness that may develop while you sleep. Others prefer to find a time near the end of the day to wind down and identify tension that may have developed throughout the day.
Whichever is best for you, the most important factor is to find a regular habit on your current daily ritual to link it to. If you’re a morning person, that might mean “I can’t make my morning coffee until I complete my stretching.” Or, if you’re an evening person, that might mean “I can only watch my favorite nightly TV show if I complete my stretching program beforehand.” (Or during!)
Does Stretching Post-Exercise Reduce Muscle Soreness?
There are, however, a few timeframes where you should avoid static stretching.
The first is immediately before training. Static stretching can actually decrease muscle performance make you more susceptible to injury during your training session. Having muscles and tendons lengthened can place them into compromised states under load. Additionally, static stretching’s ability to reduce your pain perception can cause you to push beyond your range of motion where your brain would otherwise have limited for your body’s own safety. Before a workout or competition, active warmups are preferred to get your body ready to train rather than static stretching.
The second misconception about stretching is that it reduces soreness immediately after exercise. However, the research shows that there isn’t any evidence to support this hypothesis statistically.
Rather, for your cool-down to jumpstart recovery and reduce your chances for delayed-onset muscle soreness – practices like self-myofascial release, vibration therapy, and percussive therapy from massage guns, are a much better choice.
Best Hold Time and Frequency of Static Stretching
How long you should hold each stretch and how often you should stretch are two areas studied for decades in exercise science. And have produced guidelines to allow you to be efficient with your time and ensure you’re achieving the desired effects from your stretching routine.
Here are a few of the guidelines on time and frequency recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine:
How long should you hold each stretch?
Each stretch should be held for 15-30 seconds and repeated 2 to 4 times each session.
How often should you stretch each week?
You should stretch at a minimum of 2 to 3 days a week to notice the physiological benefits of your stretching program.
Can I stretch more days a week and perform longer holds?
Just like any other physiological stressor, like weight training or running, you will gradually adapt and advance in your stretching practice.
As you advance and gain more experience, you will become more in-tune with how your body responds to different times and frequencies. At this point, you will be able to gauge extending holds and increasing how many days a week you include your daily stretching regimen.
One trap to avoid is increasing your frequency to multiple sessions a day. The research on stretching suggests that increasing stretching sessions from once to three times a day did not improve muscle flexibility compared to one daily session.
Increasing frequency should be viewed through the lens of increasing “once-daily stretching sessions.” Ramping up your sessions to multiple a day may cause you to be spinning your wheels, wasting time.
Building a Full-Body Stretching Routine
A well-structured full-body stretching routine considers two different factors: Coverage of all major muscle groups. And the order the stretches are completed.
For muscle coverage, you want to ensure each muscle group gets adequate attention. Otherwise, flexibility in one area and not another could create new issues and imbalances.
For the order of the stretching exercises you complete, most stretches engage both primary and supporting muscle groups. This cooperation of different muscle groups is necessary for both proper movement as well as stretching. If your supporting muscle groups are tight, they will be the limiting factor in how well you can stretch the primary muscle you are targeting – making it important to first stretch the supporting muscles before the primary muscles.
For example: If your calves are tight, they will be the limiting factor in how well you can stretch your hamstrings. By stretching your calves first, you will achieve a more effective stretch for your hamstrings later in your session.
The full-body stretching routine below keeps this in mind, ensuring that you first target supporting muscle groups before engaging the primary muscles.
Order of Muscles Stretched:
- Lower Back
- Upper Back
- Obliques and Core
- Anterior Tibialis (Shins)
Image Chart: Full-Body Stretching Program
Text Chart With Index:
|Exercise Name:||Muscles Targeted:||Reps & Hold Time|
|Double Knee to Chest Stretch||Erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, gluteus maximus||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Child’s Pose||Rectus abdominis, iliopsoas, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, serratus anterior, deltoids, gluteus maximus||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Lat Side Stretch||Latissimus dorsi, quadratus lumborum, serratus anterior, obliques, teres major, intercostals||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Upper Trapezius Stretch||Trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, splenius capitis, semispinalis capitis, deltoids||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Upward Facing Dog||Posterior deltoids, external rotators, latissimus dorsi, lower trapezius, rhomboids, mid-trapezius, scapula and sternal pectorals, anterior deltoids, serratus anterior||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Lying Bent-Leg Oblique Stretch||Obliques, transversus abdominis, erector spinae, anterior serratus muscles||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Shoulder Crossbody Stretch||Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Overhead Triceps Stretch||Triceps brachii (long head, lateral head, medial head), deltoids, latissimus dorsi||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Seated Biceps Stretch||Bicep brachii (long head, short head), deltoids, pectorals||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Psoas Glute Bridge Stretch||Iliacus, psoas major, psoas minor, hip flexors, gluteus maximus, hamstrings||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Butterfly Stretch||Hip adductors, erector spinae, gluteus maximus||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|*Bonus: Pso-Rite Psoas Release||Iliacus, psoas major, psoas minor||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Lying Glute Stretch||Gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, hip flexors, hamstrings||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Doorway Squat Stretch||Gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, hip flexors, adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps, rectus abdominis, erector spinae||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Heel Drop Stretch||Calves, gastrocnemius, soleus||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Lying Hamstring Stretch||Hamstrings, hip flexors, calves||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Sitting Hamstring Stretch||Hamstrings, erector spinae, calves||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Kneeling Shin Stretch||Tibialis Anterior, Quadriceps||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Alt: Seated Shin Stretch||Tibialis Anterior, Quadriceps||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Lying Quad Stretch||Rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
|Kneeling Lunge||Rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, hip flexors, psoas||2-4 Reps x 15-30 Seconds|
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