Muscle stretching is an essential component of exercise and health, helping to maintain flexibility and range of motion in the joints. It’s easy to forget to stretch before a workout, perhaps because we don’t know exactly why stretching is so important. Stretching improves muscle development, increases range of motion, reduces the chances of injury, and provides warm-up for the muscles. When the muscles are more flexible, the body can carry out activities and exercise them in the correct way; therefore, stretching also helps improve posture.

34 pictures showing muscle stretching

So muscle stretching is important. But which stretches work for which muscle group? A yoga expert and author created 34 beautiful illustrations that show you which muscles are affected by different stretches.

Camel pose

Reserved for those with good flexibility, the muscles that stand out in this stretch are the rectus abdominis and the external obliques. Sit on your heels and place your hands on your feet as you push your hips up and forward. Avoid putting too much pressure on the neck or spine.

Open and flex

This is a great exercise to open your hips, while stretching your adductors and hamstrings. Start this stretch with your knees bent. As your muscles begin to release, slowly straighten your legs, hunch your back, and reach for your feet

Frog pose

It is a deep groin stretch that works the adductor muscles. Begin by resting on your hands and knees and gradually extend your knees until you feel the stretch in your groin muscles. Rock your hips back and forth for slight variations.

Side lunge posture

This is another posture of the adductors. Start with both feet forward in a wide stance, and gradually bring your hands to your right foot as you bend your right knee and lift your left toes toward the ceiling.

Butterfly muscle stretches

This section highlights the adductors. Start in a sitting position and bring the soles of your feet together and sit upright. Put pressure on the knees with your hands. Bring your feet away from your hips and slowly bend your body to release your back muscles.

Stretches of the extensor muscle of the forearm

To stretch the forearm extensors, you start by pushing your shoulder down and back, then turning your shoulder externally. Once in position, apply pressure to the opposite hand and begin to stretch.

Lateral neck flexion

This section highlights the sternocleidomastoid or SMC. Keep your neck straight as long as possible, while slowly bringing your ear closer to your shoulder. You can progress this stretch by sitting in a chair and grasping the bottom of the seat.

Stretch by twisting the neck

To stretch the sternocleidomastoid, slowly rotate your neck, keeping your chin elevated. For a deeper stretch, apply pressure with the hand opposite the direction you are turning.

Neck Extension Stretch

To work the sternocleidomastoid, place your hands on your hips, keeping your spine elongated, and tilt your head back.

Lateral flexion of the neck with the assistance of the hands

Extend the sternocleidomastoid and upper trapezius, keeping your neck long and gradually dropping your ear to your shoulder.

Kneeling quad / hip flexor stretch

This stretch works the psoas and quadriceps. Begin in a medium kneeling position. Gradually bring your right hip forward, take your foot back and squeeze your glute back.

Stretches of the forearm extensors

Stretch the forearm extensor, pushing your shoulder down and back, and externally rotating the shoulder. Apply pressure with the opposite hand as the final point.

Lateral shoulder stretch

To stretch the side of the deltoid, bring your arm across the front of your body and lightly apply pressure to increase the stretch at the shoulder.

Assisted neck flexor stretch

This stretch will work the trapezius muscle. Begin by standing with your feet together. Keeping your spine long, slowly bring your hips back and hunch your upper back, while tucking your chin toward your chest.

Dorsal muscle stretch with spinal traction

To stretch your latissimus dorsi, take a firm grip on a barbell while slowly lifting your feet off the ground. Avoid this stretch if you’ve recently injured your shoulder.

Dorsal muscle stretch on the wall

Also for the latissimus dorsi, place both hands on the corner of a wall or pole. Keep your spine long as you slowly push your hips to the side. Avoid this stretch if you have lower back problems.

Child pose

This is another way to stretch the latissimus dorsi. Start on your hands and knees, then slowly bring your hips back until your forehead is on the floor. Arch your upper back and roll your shoulders to stretch your lats and chest muscles.

Calf stretch

To work the soleus and gastrocnemius, perform this stretch at the edge of a stair step. Slightly lift the balls of your feet to actively stretch your calf muscles.

Front split

This is an advanced stretch to work the hamstring and psoas muscles. Begin in a kneeling lunge position, and proceed with caution if you have any hip problems.

Sitting touching the toe

To stretch your hamstrings and calves, sit down and bend your knees if necessary.

Leg curvature

To work your hamstrings, you start this position with one foot in front of the other. Bring your hands to your hips, keeping your back straight, and begin bending from the hips.

Deep squat

To work your gluteal muscles, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly lower yourself into a deep squat. Once in position, bring your arms inside your legs and lightly apply pressure to the inside of your knees.

Sitting mid-pigeon pose

To work your glutes, start in a seated position and slowly pull your leg towards your chest, while turning your hips while keeping your spine straight.

Wall calf stretch

This stretch works the soleus and gastrocnemius. Start in a lunge position with your foot slightly back. Bring your heel back on the floor to stretch your calf muscles.

Lateral flexion on the wall

To stretch your external obliques, keep your spine straight and slowly push your hips to the side.

Supine twist

This will stretch your glutes and external obliques. Lie on your back and pass one leg over your body. Slowly rotate your upper body in the opposite direction.

Lateral flexion with cane

To stretch the external obliques and latissimus dorsi, keep your spine straight and push your hips to the side while keeping your shoulder rotated.

Triangle pose

These muscle stretches will work the external obliques. Start with a wide stance, one foot forward and one foot back at 90 degrees. Place your hand on the front foot as you bring your hips forward, keeping your back straight

Chest stretch on the wall

Work your pecs facing the wall. Twist slowly away from the wall to stretch your chest muscle.

Assisted chest lift

To stretch your chest and latissimus dorsi, get on the floor with your palms facing up. Your partner will sit in a deep squat while helping to stretch.

Sitting half pigeon pose with variation

To work the tibialis anteriors. Sit with your feet forward and bring one hand behind you as you rotate your hips and put one foot above your knee.

Stretch and external twist of the shoulder in the supine position

This will stretch the subscapularis muscle. Lie on your back and your arm straight to the side with your elbow at a 90 degree angle. Gradually bring the back of your hand to the ground.

Back and chest muscle stretches

To stretch the pectorals and latissimus dorsi, position yourself far enough to be parallel to the ground. Support your hips keeping your spine straight. Push your chest forward creating a slight arch in your upper back; stretch your lats and chest muscles.

Assisted chest lift

To work your pecs.


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