10 Full-Body Stretch to Start Doing Every Day for Better Mobility and Fewer Aches and Pains

For most of us, myself included, stretching—let alone a full-body stretch—is one of those things we know we’re supposed to do more often. But when you have limited time to squeeze in a workout at all, it tends to get deprioritized.

Assuming that stretching should only happen before or after a workout was the first mistake, says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, and the founder of the Movement Vault, a stretching and mobility app aimed at helping people prevent and fix pain and injury. “Think of it like brushing your teeth,” Wickham says. “Everyone gets that it needs to be done every day. Stretching is the same—but for body and joint maintenance.”

It turns out that whether you want to improve your athletic performance or just release tension after sitting at a computer all day, a full-body stretching routine is as key as finding the right yoga pants for you. So I tapped trainers and physical therapists for the active stretches they recommend to improve mobility, flexibility, and reduce pain and injury.

What happens if I stretch every day?

When I started thinking about adding full-body stretches to my daily routine, my first question became: Is Wickham right? Do I really need to stretch every day? “Daily stretching allows the body to maintain proper ranges of motion and keeps the brain primed to be comfortable in different ranges of motion, which is one of the main benefits especially as we age,” says Joe Holder, a Nike master trainer and the creator of Exercise Snacks, which provides easy bodyweight exercises focused on strength, mobility, and endurance. Adding even just a few night or morning stretches to a daily routine can have a profound impact.

What happens if you never stretch? And what does a total body stretch do?

I learned from the experts that if your muscles are tight and your joints can’t move through a range of motion the way they’re supposed to, it causes other muscles and joints in the body to compensate. This causes wear and tear that eventually leads to pain and injury, Wickham says. That’s why, to take one example, tight quads and hip flexors in runners can cause knee pain.

The best way to prevent this ripple effect is a good full-body stretch—but not everyone is doing it as effectively as they could, Wickham says. When you think of stretching, what often comes to mind is pulling your leg behind you, bending down to touch your toes, or pulling your arm across your chest. These are all known as static stretches, and they’ve actually been shown to decrease performance and increase injury in recreational and elite athletes, Wickham says. Instead, to improve performance before any activity, especially before you start downloading any free workout apps, it’s important to focus on active movements, he explains.

“We need to work on mobility to ensure a joint can move actively through a range of motion—increasing blood flow and circulation, which in turn, improves performance,” says trainer Kira Stokes, NASM-CPT, CES, and the founder of Stoked Method, who offers fully guided stretching and mobility sequences in her Kira Stokes Fit App alongside physical therapist Dan Giordano, DPT, CSCS.

Even if you aren’t focused on setting any performance records, active stretching—which is when you’re lengthening your muscle and connective tissues, and then actively contracting the muscle while it’s stretched out—is a great way to improve flexibility and mobility so you feel better on a daily basis, Wickham says. (Many of the poses found in various forms of yoga are active stretches.)

Static stretching can have its place in your routine too—just save it for your post-workout cool down or for when you need to generally release tension. “I love to start my day with a few dynamic stretches to wake up the muscles after a night of sleep and wind down my day with static stretches in the evening to relax after a long day,” says Winnie Yu, DPT, CSCS, a sports and orthopedic physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.

How long should a full-body stretch last?

Okay, so now you know the benefits of stretching and why it’s important—but how long should one last? Well, luckily, spending 10 to 15 minutes per day a few times a week on active stretching is all you really need to start seeing the positive effects, Wickham says.

What are some examples of full-body stretches?

We tapped physical therapists and trainers for some of the best stretches that you can put together for a full-body stretching routine from head to toe. You can also do them on their own if you have specific areas that need more TLC.

1. Ear-to-Shoulder Neck Stretch

If your neck is sore from sleeping funny or you’re dealing with pain from sitting hunched over your laptop all day, this stretch of the upper trapezius muscle will give you instant relief. It’s part of Alo Yoga’s Body Restore, a series of 10 stretch classes created by Alo trainer and former US Navy SEAL Ajay James to reduce soreness and improve mobility and range of motion.

How to:

  • Sitting in a comfortable position, tilt your right ear toward your right shoulder.

  • Use your right hand to apply gentle pressure to deepen the stretch. Be sure to keep your shoulder blades down.

  • Hold for 20 seconds and then repeat on the left side.

  • Repeat 3 times on each side.

2. Active Shoulder/Upper Body Stretch

This roll out/lift off stretch sequence works on shoulder mobility (specifically overhead extension) while also stretching into the lat muscle. “This will relieve tension in the neck and traps to help reinforce healthy strong posture,” Stokes says.

How to:

  • Start kneeling, glutes resting back on your heels, upper body hinged forward to about 45 degrees. With a 90-degree angle forearm to bicep, place one hand on a small inflatable Pilates ball (like the Stoked Ball) pinky down, thumb up. (If you don’t have one, you can also use a foam roller.)

  • As you hinge forward to child’s pose, roll the ball forward to extend the arm, elbow by your ear (the ball will be under your forearm), pause for 2 seconds to feel and relax into the stretch in your lat and extension in your shoulder.

  • Reverse the movement and continue with this roll out sequence for 8 to 10 reps.

  • Hold the child’s pose/shoulder extension position ,and while staying relaxed with the upper body (in other words do not “bob to lift”), gently lift the arm off the ball into deeper overhead extension. Again pause for 2 seconds. (If the ball tries to roll away, simply hold it still with the other hand.)

  • Repeat the lift off for 8 to 10 reps, then switch to the other side.

  • Perform the roll out/lift off sequence 2 to 3 times per side.

3. Active Tricep/Shoulder Stretch

“Being hunched over your desk all day also leads to tight shoulders,” Wickham says. “This active stretch will help you improve your shoulder flexibility, mobility, and stability. It stretches out your triceps, lats, and rotator cuff muscles.”

How to:

  • Start lying by lying on your stomach with your arm placed on the mat and your elbow bent.

  • Once the front and side of your shoulder is maximally stretched, drive your upper arm and elbow into the mat.

  • Hold this contraction for 20 seconds.

  • Next, relax and stay in the stretch and try to lift your arm upward as much as possible and hold this contraction for 20 seconds. (One repetition equals a 20-second hold in both directions.)

  • Perform 3 reps per arm.

4. Wrist Stretches

These are great stretches before yoga poses like arm balances and handstands to properly warm up your wrists and prevent wrist pain, says Riva G, a certified yoga and Pilates instructor. Even if you aren’t a yogi, stretching your wrists can feel good after a long day of typing at your computer.

How to:

Knuckle Presses

Wrist Flexion

  • While still in tabletop position, squeeze the fingers into fists while keeping the backs of the hands on the ground, and fingers facing in toward each other. Perform 10 to 20 reps.

Wrist Extension

5. Segmented Cat-Camel Back Stretch

Wickham suggests the segmented cat-camel as one of the best active stretching exercises for a tight back. Unlike the traditional cat-camel, it involves moving one part of the spine at a time, making a wave of motion up and down your spine.

How to:

  • Start on your hands and knees with your entire spine maximally flexed. Contract your midsection abdominal muscles while in this position.

  • Start arching your hips and low back, one spinal segment at a time.

  • Slowly make your way up to your middle back, upper back, and neck. Contract the muscles on both sides of your spine in this position.

  • Slowly start to flex your neck, then upper back, middle back, low back and hips, until you are in the starting position.

  • Perform 8 slow and controlled reps.

6. Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

“The half-kneeling hip flexor stretch can be done as part of your warm-up routine before exercise or as a stand-alone exercise to help alleviate tightness and improve flexibility,” Giordano says.

How to:

  • Use a couch or a raised surface that is stable enough to support your weight, such as an ottoman, bench, pouf, or even do this against the wall. Begin in a half-kneeling position, with one knee on the floor and the other leg bent at a 90-degree angle in front of you. The shin of the front leg should be perpendicular to the floor, and the foot flat on the ground.

  • Slide your back foot, the one that is on the couch, as far back as possible while maintaining a stable position. The top of your foot should be resting flat on the couch, and your knee should be in line with your hip. Adjust the distance from the couch to your kneeling knee to achieve a comfortable stretch.

  • Tighten the glute on the side of the knee on the ground. Lift your arm on the same side up, slightly rotate, and lean over.

  • Hold this position for about 10 seconds, remembering to breathe deeply and steadily. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, which can help you relax and improve the effectiveness of the stretch.

  • Change your kneeling position, placing the other knee on the ground, and repeat the same steps for the opposite hip flexor.

  • Perform 10 reps of 10-second holds on each side.

7. Active Hamstring Stretch

“Your hamstrings get tight in part due to sitting way too much throughout your day,” Wickham says. “And having tight hamstrings can and usually does contribute to back pain and injury. Consistently perform this stretch, and you will be able to finally touch your toes again.”

How to:

  • Start on your hands and knees with one leg in front of you next to your hand.

  • Push your hips back until you feel a maximal stretch in the back of your upper leg in the hamstring muscles.

  • While in the maximal stretch, contract these stretched-out muscles by driving your heel into the mat.

  • Hold this contraction for 20 seconds.

  • Perform 4 reps per leg.

8. 3-Way Calf Stretch

“This active calf stretch and ankle mobility exercise can be done as part of your warmup routine before running, or before playing tennis, basketball, or another sport,” Yu says. Or, she says, do it on its own to help improve the flexibility of your calf muscles and reduce the tightness from running or even just walking and standing.

How to:

  • Stand in a staggered position with both feet facing forward.

  • While holding onto the wall, line the top of the front foot with the wall.

  • While keeping the heel of the front foot on the ground, slowly shift your front knee forward aiming to lightly tap the knee against the wall. In this position, you may feel a stretch along the calf muscle of the front leg.

  • Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds before returning to the starting position.

  • Next, angle your knee slightly toward the inside of your foot and slowly shift your front knee toward the wall.

  • Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds before returning to the starting position.

  • Last, angle your knee slightly toward the outside of your foot and slowly shift your front knee toward the wall.

  • Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds before returning to the starting position.

  • Repeat for 8 to 10 reps before switching to the other side.

9. Elevated Pigeon Glute Stretch

If you’ve ever found it hard to get into a pigeon pose in yoga class, Stokes and Giordano recommend this easy modification for releasing tension in the backside of your hip and glutes.

How to:

  1. Bring your lower leg up onto an elevated box, bench, or table. Your foot should be parallel with the front of the box.

  2. Lean your weight forward, pausing once you feel a stretch in the glute.

  3. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds before releasing. Repeat 8-10 times.

10. A 10-Minute Recovery Stretch Routine

Want a quick full-body stretch routine you can follow along with from start to finish? Holder’s 10-minute stress-relieving recovery video pairs stretching with specific breathing patterns to help release tension in your muscles and joints and lower cortisol levels before bed. See his YouTube workout video below.

Kylie Gilbert is a writer and editor based in New York City. She is the former associate editorial director at InStyle. Her writing has also appeared online in New York Magazine’s The Cut, Furthermore for Equinox, Health magazine, and Healthline.

Originally Appeared on Glamour