The Top 10 Stretching Exercises for Overall Flexibility

Flexibility training remains the most-neglected aspect of fitness. This is unfortunate because just a few minutes of stretching can result in a whole slew of benefits, including reduced muscle tension, soreness and risk of injury. Topping off a workout with some flexibility exercises also readies your body for your next workout.

The following exercises-provided courtesy of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and Club Industry magazine-can be done anytime. It's always a good idea to warm up your muscles and stretch before doing aerobic exercise. Stretches are especially effective immediately following an aerobic workout when your muscles are warm and therefore more receptive to stretching. Begin each stretch slowly, exhaling as you gently elongate the muscle. Try to hold each stretch for at least 15 to 30 seconds, but don't bounce, strain or try to push a muscle too far. If it hurts, ease up.

1. Neck/cervical spine stretch: With your left arm at your side and your shoulder down, place your right hand on your head and slowly bend the chin to your chest and turn toward your right shoulder. Using only the weight of the hand, stretch away from the left shoulder. Repeat on the left side.

2. Anterior shoulder stretch: Stand and place your right palm against a wall and rotate the torso away from the hand until a stretch is felt across the chest and shoulder. Repeat on the left side. (To stretch the posterior shoulder, bring your arm across the chest, parallel to floor, and use your other arm to gently apply pressure toward the body.)

3. Tricep stretch: Place your right palm between your shoulder blades with your right elbow pointing upward. Grasp your right elbow with your left hand to bring the bent elbow up and behind the head until a stretch is felt on the back of the upper arm. Repeat on the left side.

4. Low back stretch: On your back with your knees bent, gently pull both knees toward your chest, lifting the feet off the floor; hold and relax. This exercise may also be done using one leg.

5. Outer hip stretch: On your back, flex your right knee across the body and pull toward your left shoulder. Repeat on the left side.

6. Cat stretch: On your hands and knees, sag your back (be careful not to overarch), lifting head up. Then curve your back up toward the ceiling and lower your head down. Repeat.

7. Hip flexor stretch: Assume a lunge position, making sure your front knee is directly over the foot and ankle. Press your hips toward the floor. Repeat to opposite side.

8. Quadriceps stretch: Using a wall or chair as support, bend your right knee and reach back with your right hand and grasp your right ankle, pulling your right heel in toward your rear. Be sure your hips are forward and your knees are adjacent to each other. Repeat on the left side.

9. Hamstring stretch: Stand in front of a low step or bench and place your left heel on it. Place your hands on your right leg for support, and lower and lean forward from the hips until a stretch is felt in the back of the leg. Repeat on the right side.

10. Calf stretch: Using the wall or a chair as support, place one foot behind the other. With your front knee slightly bent, your back knee straight and your heel down, lean your hips forward. Repeat on the opposite side.