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Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
OxPARC

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Stretching exercises

Stretching is important because it makes your joints and muscles less stiff. It will improve your flexibility (how bendy you are) and improves your blood circulation (which can ease pain and stiffness).

Stretching can also help you get rid of tension and relax.

How should I stretch?

  • Always move smoothly and gently
  • You should feel a definite stretch but it shouldn't be painful
  • Hold the stretch for 10 seconds (or 2 slow breaths)
  • Rest for another 2 breaths
  • Repeat the stretch-relax set 3 times

When should I stretch?

Whenever you need to! You might want to stretch:

  • In the morning to ease stiffness (after you've walked around for a bit)
  • In the evening to relax
  • As part of your warm-up before sport or PE so you can move more easily
  • As part of your cool-down after sport or PE to make sure you don't feel too sore the next day

Always try and stretch after you have moved around a bit, your muscles stretch better if they are warm.

Exercises

For your back

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat
  2. Slowly let your knees fall to one side while keeping your shoulders down until a stretch is felt in your back and hip.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds then gently take your knees to the other side
  4. To increase the stretch, bring the top leg up over the lower leg and when going to the side and slowly pull down on the top leg with opposite hand

For your hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thigh

  1. Lie on your back, with your legs flat
  2. Hold the back of one thigh with both hands (knee bent) and pull that thigh into your chest
  3. Then slowly straighten your knee until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg. If you can't manage this one by yourself, ask someone to:
    1. Place one hand above the knee and your other under your heel
    2. Gently push down on the top hand and up with their hand on your heel.
    3. As they do this, get them to try and gently pull the lower leg away from the thigh (traction force)

For your quadriceps (the muscles at the front of your thigh)

  1. Lie on your tummy
  2. Hold around your ankle (or use a towel wrapped around the ankle if you can't reach)
  3. Pull your foot toward your bottom, making sure you keep your hips flat

For your gastrocs (calf muscles)

  1. Using a wall for support, put the leg you want to stretch behind you with your heel firmly down on the floor
  2. Gradually lean forward until you feel the stretch in your calf
  3. It is important to keep your back foot straight

Further information

Stretching information sheet (pdf; 148 KB)