When it comes to fitness training, stretching and mobility work are integral for long-term injury prevention and success.
Unfortunately, it’s also the first thing to get put on the back burner in a busy athlete’s life. If it comes down to getting in all your sets or doing a bit of stretching on your lunch break, what are you going to sacrifice?
Neglecting the importance of stretching will eventually catch up with you. However, you can build a sustainable habit by incorporating full body stretches into your warm-up and cool-down fitness routine.
Here are some of the best full-body stretches and how you can use them to improve your performance.
Benefits of a Full Body Stretch Routine
It’s no secret that stretching is good for you, but what does a stretching routine actually do for your body? Here are the most compelling benefits of a full body stretch routine.
Injury and pain prevention
One of the most notable benefits for athletes is that stretching can help prevent injuries and the development of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). In other words, it will help you prevent serious damage during a workout by ensuring your muscles are adequately warmed up and will also help reduce the discomfort from inflammation and tissue repair after an intense training session.
Studies show that stretching helps increase blood flow and circulation during and after exercise. As a result, you’ll get more oxygen-rich blood to your muscles, which promotes better recovery while giving you that oh-so-desirable swole effect.
There are several studies that outline improved mobility as a result of dedicated stretching in everyone from aging women to stroke patients. Athletes who use resistance training can increase their mobility further by incorporating Controlled Articular Rotations (CARS) into their stretching routine. These movements help you push through your entire range of motion, increasing flexibility and strength for better functional movement.
Improved athletic performance
Better circulation and mobility also contribute to better athletic performance. Stretching can help you maintain proper form and improve your endurance during difficult workouts. Preventing injury and soreness also plays an integral role in athletic performance.
As you engage in exercise, your muscles contract and shorten, becoming tighter. This side-effect leads to tight muscles, which subsequently causes discomfort and injury. Stretching can help offset these effects.
Many athletes experience localized numbness in certain parts of their bodies due to intense, repetitive training. Numbness or tingling typically indicates pressure on a nerve. Many weightlifters and runners experience this issue.
Recent studies have shown that stretching and self-myofascial release can significantly reduce numbness in people who suffer from nerve issues, like carpal tunnel syndrome. Stretching exercises are often prescribed to those experiencing peripheral neuropathy, a nerve damage disorder, for the same reason.
Finally, stretching is a low-impact exercise that has proven effects on stress levels. Stopping to stretch interrupts the fight or flight response through a combination of muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and focus. While this effect benefits everyone, it’s also ideal for competitive athletes getting ready to approach that big lift.
Best Full Body Stretches
While it’s possible to use a combination of targeted upper and lower body stretching to accomplish your mobility goals, using compound stretching exercises can help you do more in less time.
Here are some of the best full body stretches.
1. World’s Greatest Stretch
The world’s greatest stretch comes by its name honestly. This powerful dynamic full-body stretch targets all the major muscle groups, making it an integral aspect of a stretch routine for runners, weightlifters, and those who spend all day at a desk. Use the WGS to stretch your hips, low back, quads, hamstrings, chest muscles, and shoulders.
How to do the world’s greatest stretch
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Step your right foot forward into a lunge position, letting your left knee drop to slightly above the floor as your right knee bends into a full lunge.
- Place your left hand on the floor for support and bend your right elbow, touching it to the ground (or the end of your range of motion) along the inside of your foot. Hold for five seconds.
- Extend your right hand away from the floor and toward the sky, twisting your torso as you go. Look toward your extended right arm and hold for five seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
Go slow with this dynamic stretch, and don’t forget to breathe!
2. Sun Salutations
One of the best full-body yoga stretches is the sun salutation. This flowing movement takes you through a series of postures that stretch your chest, shoulders, back, and hamstrings. This yoga stretch makes a great part of a warm-up routine before lifting weights or starting your day.
How to do sun salutations
- Start with your feet hip-width apart with your palms touching at chest level. You should be standing tall with your pelvis tucked.
- Lower your hands and release as you extend them to the side and toward the ceiling with your palms facing each other overhead.
- Reverse the motion, bringing your hands down to your shins as you hinge at the hips. Maintain a flat back.
- Slowly slide your hands down to the end of your range of motion or the floor, if possible, while keeping your back flat.
- Place your hands on the floor (bending if needed) and step back into a high plank position. Your hands should be stacked under your shoulders with your legs extended behind you.
- Slowly lower your chest to the floor, as you would with a push-up.
- As your legs touch the floor, press firmly with your hands and extend your chest upward, stretching your upper body while your lower body rests like a cobra.
- Lower your chest back to the ground and lift your hips skyward, stepping in as needed. At the top of the movement, your body should be creating an inverted V, ideally with your feet flat on the floor.
- Shift your weight and step forward, returning to the Step 3 position.
- Slowly bring your arms sweeping out and upward, returning to the starting position.
This is an elaborate full body stretch that takes time to become fluid. Take your time; as the yogis say, “it’s your practice.”
3. Squat and Reach
The squat and reach is a dynamic full body stretch that’s the perfect warm-up for a barbell squat session. This powerful stretch opens the hips and chest while also stretching the shoulders, ankles, and back muscles. Additionally, hanging out in a toddler squat (i.e., the bottom of a squat) can help improve your squat mobility.
How to do squat and reach
- Stand with your feet just outside of hip width. You may need to adjust your starting position based on your mobility.
- Hinge your hips and squat down, holding at the bottom of the squat.
- Place both hands on the ground in front of you. Then, using your left hand for support, extend your right hand outward and upward until fully extended overhead. Try not to shift your hips.
- Turn your head to look up at your extended hand. Hold for five seconds.
- Bring your arm back down and place your right hand on the ground. Then repeat on the left side. That’s one rep.
Ideally, your hip crease will be well below your knees. Work on the basic toddler squat before adding the stretch if you struggle to maintain your balance with this move.
4. Supine Twist
The supine twist is a simple yet effective full body stretch for beginners. A relaxing pose, the supine twist targets the glutes, back, obliques, and chest muscles. This stretch is great for after an intense full body workout.
How to do the supine twist
- Lay on the floor on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
- Shift your hips slightly to the right and pull your right knee toward your chest while stretching your left leg to full extension on the floor.
- Use your left hand to pull your right knee over your body toward the floor while stretching your right arm perpendicular to your body.
- Look toward your right arm and hold for ten seconds.
- Release and return to starting position, then repeat on the other side.
This calming cool down stretch often results in a few pops and cracks in the spine. These sounds are normal.
5. Fluid Cat-Cow
The cat-cow stretch is another full body yoga stretch that’s often utilized in physiotherapy and rehabilitation after a back injury or whiplash. The fluid cat-cow (AKA cat-cow-child or Bitilasana Marjaryasana Balasana Vinyasa) helps with spinal mobility while stretching the lower back, shoulders, and hips.
How to do the fluid cat-cow
- Get on your hands and knees with hands stacked under the shoulders and knees hip width apart. Your back should be flat.
- Take a deep breath. As you exhale, pull your shoulders upward as though you’re shrugging, tuck your chin to your chest, and arch your back like a cat with its hackles raised. Hold for three seconds.
- Inhale and release your shoulders, letting your belly sink toward the ground as your chest and hips come up. You should be looking straight ahead. Hold for three seconds.
- Exhale and pull your hips back and down until your bottom is resting on the back of your legs. Keep your hands planted, letting your arms extend until you feel a stretch. Let your head drop between your arms. Hold for three seconds.
- Inhale and pull yourself back to an all-fours position, transitioning immediately into step two once more.
Repeat this sequence a few times as a cool down stretch, focusing on your breathing throughout the movement.
Full Body Stretch Routine (FAQs)
Have questions before you start your stretch routine? Here’s everything you need to know.
Why Does a Full Body Morning Stretch Feel so Good?
There’s no set time of day that’s best to stretch. However, there’s something about a full body morning stretch that feels amazing. If you’re wondering why a full body morning stretch feels so good, the answer is rooted in science.
When you sleep, your muscles relax, and your breathing and circulation slow. Depending on how you sleep, your muscles might settle into an otherwise uncomfortable position, creating tension in the morning. Stretching when you wake up gets your blood circulation and your muscles back in action.
Full Body Stretch for Flexibility vs. Mobility
While people often use the terms flexibility and mobility interchangeably, they refer to two different things. Flexibility refers to your range of motion, while mobility refers to your strength throughout your range of motion. In summary, mobility is your flexibility plus strength.
For example, flexibility will help you get to the bottom of a squat. Mobility will ensure you hit depth and have the ability to get back up.
It’s important to think beyond flexibility and consider your overall mobility when seeking the best full body stretches.
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching: What’s the Difference?
There are two primary types of stretching to incorporate into your routine: static and dynamic. Static stretching refers to isometric holds, like a standing quad stretch after running. You get into position and hold the stretch.
Dynamic stretching incorporates movement as a part of the exercise, like the sun salutations and squat and reach. The general recommendation from kinesiology experts is to use dynamic stretching as a part of your warm-up and static stretching after the exercise.
Is Stretching Better Than Massage?
Stretching and massage are two different things. Instead of considering one as a substitute for the other, think of how they can benefit your body when used together in a routine.
Stretching is imperative for supporting your body during training, but it has limits. A massage therapist can release knots and tension points that you can’t with stretching and self-myofascial release. Massage therapists specializing in Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST) can help you stretch in ways you can’t on your own; releasing muscle tension and alleviating back pain.
Choosing the Best Full Body Stretch Routine for You
Remember that stretching isn’t always comfortable, but it should never hurt.
If you feel pain while stretching, stop immediately.
Put together a few of these stretches to create a five, ten, or fifteen-minute daily stretching routine. This simple habit implemented in your workout schedule will help improve your athletic performance, prevent injuries, and enhance your quality of life.