Exercise: Exercises to Try

Flexibility Exercises

To get all of the benefits of physical activity, try all four types of exercise -- endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. This page addresses flexibility exercises.

More Freedom of Movement

Stretching, or flexibility, exercises are an important part of your physical activity program. They give you more freedom of movement for your physical activities and for everyday activities such as getting dressed and reaching objects on a shelf. Stretching exercises can improve your flexibility but will not improve your endurance or strength.

Flexibility Exercises to Try

The 12 flexibility exercises shown below are:

  1. neck stretch
  2. shoulder stretch
  3. shoulder and upper arm raise
  4. upper body stretch
  5. chest stretch
  6. back stretch
  7. ankle stretch
  8. back of leg stretch
  9. thigh stretch
  10. hip stretch
  11. lower back stretch
  12. calf stretch

How Much Stretching Should I Do?

Do each stretching exercise 3 to 5 times at each session. Slowly stretch into the desired position, as far as possible without pain, and hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Relax, breathe, then repeat, trying to stretch farther.

You can progress in your stretching exercises. For example, as you become more flexible, try reaching farther, but not so far that it hurts.

Safety Tips

Flexibility Exercise - Neck Stretch

  1. You can do this stretch while standing or sitting in a sturdy chair.
  2. Keep your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  3. Slowly turn your head to the right until you feel a slight stretch. Be careful not to tip or tilt your head forward or backward, but hold it in a comfortable position.
  4. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  5. Turn your head to the left and hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times.

Flexibility Exercise - Shoulder Stretch

  1. Stand back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart and arms at shoulder height.
  2. Bend your elbows so your fingertips point toward the ceiling and touch the wall behind you. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort, and stop immediately if you feel sharp pain.
  3. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  4. Let your arms slowly roll forward, remaining bent at the elbows, to point toward the floor and touch the wall again, if possible. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort.
  5. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  6. Alternate pointing above head, then toward hips.
  7. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times.

Flexibility Exercise - Shoulder and Upper Arm Stretch

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold one end of a towel in your right hand.
  3. Raise and bend your right arm to drape the towel down your back. Keep your right arm in this position and continue holding on to the towel.
  4. Reach behind your lower back and grasp the towel with your left hand.
  5. To stretch your right shoulder, pull the towel down with your left hand. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort in your right shoulder.
  6. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times.
  7. Reverse positions, and repeat at least 3 to 5 times.

Watch a video showing how a shoulder and upper arm stretch is done. (After watching it, click on the back button to return to this page.)

Flexibility Exercise - Upper Body Stretch

  1. Stand facing a wall slightly farther than arm's length from the wall, feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lean your body forward and put your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keeping your back straight, slowly walk your hands up the wall until your arms are above your head.
  4. Hold your arms overhead for about 10 to 30 seconds.
  5. Slowly walk your hands back down.
  6. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times.

Flexibility Exercise - Chest Stretch

  1. You can do this stretch while standing or sitting in a sturdy, armless chair.
  2. Keep your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hold arms to your sides at shoulder height, with palms facing forward.
  4. Slowly move your arms back, while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort.
  5. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times.

Flexibility Exercise - Back Stretch

  1. Sit up toward the front of a sturdy chair with armrests. Stay as straight as possible. Keep your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  2. Slowly twist to the left from your waist without moving your hips. Turn your head to the left. Lift your left hand and hold on to the left arm of the chair. Place your right hand on the outside of your left thigh. Twist farther, if possible.
  3. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  4. Slowly return to face forward.
  5. Repeat on the right side.
  6. Repeat at least 3 to 5 more times.

Watch a video showing how a back stretch is done. (After watching it, click on the back button to return to this page.)

Flexibility Exercise - Ankle Stretch

  1. Sit securely toward the edge of a sturdy, armless chair.
  2. Stretch your legs out in front of you.
  3. With your heels on the floor, bend your ankles to point toes toward you.
  4. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  5. Bend ankles to point toes away from you and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times.

Watch a video showing how an ankle stretch is done. (After watching it, click on the back button to return to this page.)

How to Get Down on the Floor

The following stretching exercises are done on the floor. To get down on the floor:

  1. Stand facing the seat of a sturdy chair.
  2. Put your hands on the seat, and lower yourself down on one knee.
  3. Bring the other knee down.
  4. Put your left hand on the floor. Leaning on your hand, slowly bring your left hip to the floor. Put your right hand on the floor next to your left hand to steady yourself, if needed.
  5. You should now be sitting with your weight on your left hip.
  6. Straighten your legs.
  7. Bend your left elbow until your weight is resting on it. Using your right hand as needed for support, straighten your left arm. You should now be lying on your left side.
  8. Roll onto your back.

If you've had hip or back surgery, talk with your doctor before using this method.

How to Get Up From the Floor

To get up from the floor:

  1. Roll onto your left side.
  2. Place your right hand on the floor at about the level of your ribs and use it to push your shoulders off the floor. Use your left hand to help lift you up, as needed.
  3. You should now be sitting with your weight on your left hip.
  4. Roll forward, onto your knees, leaning on your hands for support.
  5. Reach up and lean your hands on the seat of a sturdy chair.
  6. Lift one of your knees so that one leg is bent, foot flat on the floor.
  7. Leaning your hands on the seat of the chair for support, rise from this position.

If you've had hip or back surgery, talk with your doctor before using this method.

Flexibility Exercise - Back of Leg Stretch

  1. Lie on your back with left knee bent and left foot flat on the floor.
  2. Raise right leg, keeping knee slightly bent.
  3. Reach up and grasp right leg with both hands. Keep head and shoulders flat on the floor.
  4. Gently pull right leg toward your body until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg.
  5. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times.
  7. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times with left leg.

Watch a video showing how a back of leg stretch is done. (After watching it, click on the back button to return to this page.)

Flexibility Exercise - Thigh Stretch

  1. Lie on your side with legs straight and knees together.
  2. Rest your head on your arm.
  3. Bend top knee and reach back and grab the top of your foot. If you can't reach your foot, loop a resistance band, belt, or towel over your foot and hold both ends.
  4. Gently pull your leg until you feel a stretch in your thigh.
  5. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times.
  7. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times with your other leg.

Flexibility Exercise - Hip Stretch

  1. Lie on your back with your legs together, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Try to keep both shoulders on the floor throughout the stretch.
  2. Slowly lower one knee as far as you comfortably can. Keep your feet close together and try not to move the other leg.
  3. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  4. Bring knee back up slowly.
  5. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times.
  6. Repeat at least 3 to 5 times with your other leg.

Flexibility Exercise - Lower Back Stretch

  1. Lie on your back with your legs together, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Try to keep both arms and shoulders flat on the floor throughout the stretch.
  2. Keeping knees bent and together, slowly lower both legs to one side as far as you comfortably can.
  3. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  4. Bring legs back up slowly and repeat toward other side.
  5. Continue alternating sides for at least 3 to 5 times on each side.

Flexibility Exercise - Calf Stretch

  1. Stand facing a wall slightly farther than arm's length from the wall, feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Put your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart.
  3. Step forward with right leg and bend right knee. Keeping both feet flat on the floor, bend left knee slightly until you feel a stretch in your left calf muscle. It shouldn't feel uncomfortable. If you don't feel a stretch, bend your right knee until you do.
  4. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds, and then return to starting position.
  5. Repeat with left leg.
  6. Continue alternating legs for at least 3 to 5 times on each leg.

See more flexibility exercises at Go4LifeĀ®.