12 Flexibility Exercises and Stretches You Can Do at Any Age, According to Experts

Becoming flexible isn’t as big of a stretch as you think.
flexibility exercises examples
Design by Channing Smith

There’s a good chance you’re reading this while sitting down at your desk. Or lounging on your couch. Or withering away on a bus, a train, or a plane. (Hey, we’ve been there.) Flexibility exercises are barely a priority for most—but seeing as American adults spend at least six and a half hours per day (outside of sleep!) in a sedentary state, reclaiming our right to move and learning how to become more flexible is especially vital.

“Our muscles move our joints, so if they are stuck in a state of contraction or weakness over a period of time, those joints will become more stiff, painful, and degenerate,” says Ashley Cruz, a chiropractor and founder of Cruz Chiropractic Wellness in New York City. Unsurprisingly, this can have a negative effect on our overall health.

Adding stretches for flexibility to your regimen is also important when it comes to optimizing your fitness routine, whether that happens at the gym, through free workout apps, or via YouTube workouts. “If you're going hard in the gym and not stretching and notice things feeling tight or aggravated regarding your joints, try adding in a little stretching to see if it helps alleviate some of this discomfort,” says Jake Boly, a strength coach and founder of That Fit Friend. “A lot of this is contextual and individual, so don't be afraid to play with different stretching styles and protocols to see what helps you feel your best.” 

If numbness, tingling, or pain arises during this warm-up, you’ve likely done too much. So as always, consult a professional about how to get flexible first because the best regimen for you may not be recommended for someone else and could lead to a risk of injury. Factors such as age, fitness level, or exercise during pregnancy can also come in to play. 

Why are flexibility exercises important? And can you become flexible at any age?

The health benefits of having increased flexibility are directly linked to improved mobility and fitness performance, which helps us complete everyday necessary tasks and achieve personal records. “Flexibility helps a person do things like run or bend down to pick up their child instead of relying heavily on specific muscles, thus helping to prevent overuse,” says physical therapist Neil Guintu, DPT, at Ascent Physical Therapy in New York City. Without healing or retraining the area, he adds, “chronic tightness may occur.”

Says Dr. Cruz, “Movement of our joints through daily mobility and exercise allows nutrient-rich synovial fluid [found in between your joints] to bathe them, optimizing their function.” Taking a more active approach with stretching exercises, she says, “helps to essentially ‘floss your joints’ and rid them of the tension that develops throughout the stagnancy of the workday.”

And in case you were wondering, yes, you can become flexible at any age. “Younger individuals may have a bigger bandwidth of improvement with flexibility, but soft-tissue structures [i.e., muscles] can improve at any age with movement,” says Guintu.

What not to do when stretching

As previously mentioned, staying consistent with your stretching routine is the best thing you can do for your flexibility training. So is building muscle. “Creating strong muscles surrounding our joints is the best way to increase our flexibility and keep it for years to come,” says Cruz.

When starting out, remember that slow is always the best way to go. “Keep it simple by starting incrementally, go slow, and control movements to smaller ranges or a single body part,” says Guintu, who adds that a custom stretching routine should always follow a proper assessment by a movement professional. “Then increase the movements more dynamically, increase the speed, ranges, and maybe even target multiple areas of the body.”

Another rule of thumb to keep in mind when learning how to improve flexibility: Perform dynamic stretches, which require repetitive movements, before working out, and static stretches, which require holds, after your workout and before you cool down. The reason? “Static holds are best after physical exercise while the muscles are warm enough to hold certain stretches without pain or stress,” says April Sutton, a personal trainer and stuntwoman known for her work in Divergent, Empire, and more.

In short, anyone at any fitness level can stretch and get flexible. It’s just a matter of taking your time and welcoming modifications wherever needed. You know your body and its capabilities best.

“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a certain level of mobility before you can train with an exercise or movement,” says Boly. “There's typically always a way to work around a mobility limitation and in many cases simply training the exercise you feel limited with can be a useful tool for improving mobility.”

How long should I stretch a day?

Ideally, full-body stretch sessions should happen every day. “Assuming that doing one good stretch a week will help is not going to improve your flexibility by a lot,” says Sutton. As is the case with many things in life, becoming more flexible is rooted in consistency. The more you stretch and the more moves you implement daily, the more flexible and less prone to injury you’ll be in the long run.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends stretching for up to 60 seconds each day. This can be done at once or, if preferred, the minute-long stretch session can be completed in 10- to 30-second increments. Committing to 60 seconds at least two or three days per week is key.

“The best way to become flexible is to practice it often and think of it like any other athletic trait,” says Boly. “Think of flexibility as strength training.”

Ready to get started? Slip on your best yoga pants and try out these flexibility exercises, including fan-favorite hip flexor stretches), hand-picked by respected experts in the health and fitness field.

What are the best flexibility exercises for better mobility?

In addition to incorporating these flexibility workouts to your daily routine, a common thread among our experts’ recommendations lies in the art of connecting to your body and listening to your body next time you feel “off.” As Sutton says, “Learn to connect to mind and body awareness. If a certain area in your body feels tight, stretch it out. Don’t ignore it.”

Stretch by April Sutton / Photo by Randy Sutton
1. Standing Calf and Achilles’ Tendon Stretch

“Our calves and Achilles’ are so tight from day-to-day use,” says Sutton of this flexibility exercise and calf stretch. “Stretching these muscles will help decrease the likelihood of sprained or torn ankles.”

How to:

  • In a staggered stance, place hands against a wall.
  • Place one foot on a flat surface while bending the same knee toward the flat surface. Foot should be glued to the surface while applying weight on the heel or feeling a slight stretch in your Achilles’ and calf muscle.
  • The heel and the bottom of the foot should be glued to the flat surface.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by April Sutton / Photo by Randy Sutton
2. Staggered Hamstring Stretch

“This helps stretch the isolated hamstring and helps with stretching out the lower back,” says Sutton. “Tight hamstrings can have a big effect on hips and the lower back.”

How to:

  • In a staggered stance, extend one leg with the ankle flexed (toes pointing up) while the other leg is slightly bent. Both knees should be aligned while maintaining a flat back.
  • Reach hands toward flexed foot with palms facing up until you feel a slight pull of the hamstring.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by April Sutton / Photo by Randy Sutton
3. Figure-Four Stretch

“This stretch helps to increase flexibility in the glutes, hips, and lower back,” says Sutton. “For a deeper stretch, place your hands on your knees.”

How to:

  • Lying flat on your back, bend both legs at a 90-degree angle. Place one ankle on the opposite knee.
  • Fold your hands and place them on your hamstring or knee.
  • Slightly tug your knee toward your chest until you feel tension in your glutes and hip.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by April Sutton / Photo by Randy Sutton
4. Seated Quad Stretch

“Not only does this stretch focus on quads, but also biceps and even the anterior tibialis [muscle on top of foot],” says Sutton.

How to:

  • Start by sitting on top of your heels.
  • Place your hands on a flat surface behind your shoulders. Hands should be facing away from you, and arms should be fully extended with biceps facing forward.
  • Lean back while opening up your chest and pulling shoulders back. The farther you lean back, the deeper the stretch of your quads and biceps.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by Keith Ilagan / Photo by Dr. Neil Guintu
5. Child’s Pose

Anyone familiar with yoga poses will recognize this one. “Child’s Pose allows for gentle decompression of the spine that can be done anywhere,” says Cruz. “For a little spice, alternate elongating your reach for a deeper stretch.”

How to:

  • Start with kneeling on the floor. Sit back on your heels and lean forward.
  • Rest your head on the floor and extend your arms.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by Keith Ilagan / Photo by Dr. Neil Guintu
6. Wall Slide

“This move is great for chest mobility,” says Guintu, who also cites strength training as another avenue to increase flexibility. Someone with limited shoulder mobility will have increased benefits using their shoulder against resistance to build more tolerance and capacity.”

How to:

  • Stand against a wall, ensuring your upper back, arms, and head touch the wall.
  • Raise your arms over your head.
  • Bend your arms so they’re close to your sides.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by Keith Ilagan / Photo by Dr. Neil Guintu
7. Sleeper Stretch Shoulder Rotation

“When we have adequate thoracic rotation, less stress is put on the joints of the neck and lower back, ultimately leading to less frequent injury and pain,” says Cruz.

How to:

  • Lie on your side and create a 90-degree angle with the arm closest to the floor.
  • With your other hand, grasp your wrist and slowly bring your forearm down.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by April Sutton / Photo by Randy Sutton
8. 90/90 Hip Stretch

“This move challenges your hips to enter their full range of motion while providing a great stretch to the muscles controlling them, usually a key component in those with lower back pain,” says Cruz.

How to:

  • In a seated position, bend your legs at a 90-degree angle.
  • Place hands just outside your shoulders with an open chest.
  • Tilt knees toward the flat surface while maintaining a 90-degree angle in both legs until a tension builds in hips.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
9. Cat-Cow

“This movement works the spine into maximum flexion and extension, which then allows for full movement in other ranges of motion, such as rotation,” says Cruz.

How to:

  • Get on all fours with your shoulders right over your wrists and your knees right below your hips.
  • Exhale to scoop and round your back. Tuck your pelvis back.
  • Inhale and reach the tailbone up. Scoop and round your back.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by April Sutton / Photo by Randy Sutton
10. Lunged Lower Back and Glutes Stretch

Looking for back stretches for flexibility? This lower-body exercise can be incorporated into any workout routine. “The less tight the glutes, the less susceptible you are to hip flexor tightness,” says Sutton. “I recommend this stretch after running or cycling.”

How to:

  • Take one big lunge forward and place your palms on the flat surface.
  • Hands should be directly underneath your chest in between hips to start.
  • Bend one leg with one foot placed outside your hand while the other leg is fully extended.
  • Twist torso, bringing both arms alongside the bent knee like a helicopter. Torso should be fully rotated while the chest remains open, facing the bent knee.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by April Sutton / Photo by Randy Sutton
11. Deep Squat Stretch

“I love doing this stretch before I squat a barbell,” says Sutton, adding that this type of stretching can help prevent groin muscle injuries. “Squatting with better range of motion will prevent any discomfort in the lower back and knees.”

How to:

  • Start in a standing position with legs shoulder-width apart. Drive glutes downward past hips as if you’re squatting.
  • Keep feet flat.
  • Place both elbows inside legs along both knees.
  • Put your palms together and pull your shoulders back.
  • Utilize arms to open hips for a deeper stretch.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.
Stretch by April Sutton / Photo by Randy Sutton
12. Standing Straddle Stretch

“This stretch helps increase blood flow in the inner thighs and hamstrings as well,” says Sutton. “It’s an intense inner leg stretch that can do wonders for your hips, core, and spine.”

How to:

  • While standing, adjust legs into a wide, split-like stance so legs are fully extended.
  • Keep feet flat and neutral.
  • Place both palms flat and directly underneath the chest while tucking the chin.
  • Hold for 10–30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed.