Most exercisers have heard the expression “use it or lose it” many times. These five little words describe how your fitness and strength quickly decrease if you discontinue training. While your body will barely register a break of a week or two, skip the gym for three weeks or more, and your muscles will shrink, and you’ll lose strength and conditioning.
Take a long enough break, and your body will eventually end up back where you started – weak and out of shape. Sadly, you cannot store fitness.
The concept of use it or lose also applies to flexibility, which describes the range of movement at a joint or joints. In the same way that your muscles weaken from lack of use, they can also get shorter and tighter. This is especially true for sedentary people who spend long periods sitting.
Tight muscles can have an adverse effect on your performance and appearance. They’re less contractile, pull you into poor posture, and are more prone to injury.
Poor flexibility can even hurt your muscle-building gains. For example, tight pecs will stop you from using such a big range of movement during your chest workout, making your training less effective. Tight quads and hammies will prevent you from squatting to parallel and beyond, robbing you of the leg gains you crave.
The good news is that flexibility is very trainable, and you can restore lost muscle elasticity in less than 15 minutes a day.
In this article, we reveal the best stretches for men, presented to you in an easy-to-follow morning routine.
- The Nine Best Morning Stretches for Men
- Stretching Guidelines and Tips for Men
- Morning Stretches FAQs
- Wrapping Up
The Nine Best Morning Stretches for Men
These are the most important stretches for men. Do each one for 30-60 seconds to create a morning stretching routine that takes about 15 minutes to complete. If any of these exercises feel particularly difficult, find time to repeat them elsewhere during your day, as those are the muscles probably that need your attention.
1. Standing arms overhead stretch
Muscles targeted: Latissimus dorsi, deltoids, pectoralis major.
Every good workout starts with a warm-up, and this stretching routine is no different. This simple stretch is designed to gently wake up your muscles and loosen up your upper body. Use this time to get your head in the game, practice your breathing, and prepare yourself for the stretches that follow.
- Stand with your feet together, arms by your sides. Your legs should be straight but not locked.
- Interlace your fingers. Gently pull your shoulders down and back and engage your core.
- Raise your arms above your head so your biceps are next to your ears. Press the palms of your hands up toward the ceiling.
- Hold this position for 30-60 seconds, and then slowly lower your arms and relax.
- Sway gently from side to side to increase the stretch.
- Plant your feet firmly, and imagine you are pushing the floor away with your legs.
- Take care not to overextend your lower back.
Muscles targeted: Upper and lower back.
Cat/cow is a classic yoga exercise that’s great for mobilizing your entire spine. Having just woken up, your back may feel stiff, a problem made worse by prolonged sitting. This exercise gets your lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine moving, leaving your back feeling flexible and mobile.
- Kneel on all fours with your arms straight, shoulders over your hands, and hips over your knees. Pull your shoulders down and back and engage your core.
- Lift the middle of your back up toward the ceiling as you lower your head down toward the floor. Imagine you are an angry cat.
- Next, lift your head and tailbone while lowering your abdomen down toward the floor, like a milk-laden cow.
- Slowly and smoothly alternate between these two positions for 30-60 seconds or 6-12 reps.
- Kneel on a folded exercise mat for comfort.
- Exhale as your flex your spine, and inhale as you lift your chest.
- Make sure your fingers are pointing forward and your elbows are rotated backward and into your sides for best results.
3. Low lunge
Muscles targeted: Hip flexors, rectus abdominis.
The low lunge is designed to stretch the front of your hips and abs. These muscles are often tight because of prolonged sitting. Also known as a runner’s lunge, this exercise is good for everyone, especially athletes, and will help make your hips feel looser and more mobile.
- Kneel on the floor and take a step forward so your front shin is vertical. Pull your shoulders back and down and engage your core.
- Ease your weight forward to extend your hip. Move your rear knee further back to achieve a deeper stretch.
- Keep your torso upright and even lean back slightly to lengthen your abs more.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then switch sides.
- Place your rear knee on a folded exercise mat or foam pad for comfort.
- Link your hands behind your hips to open your chest and increase the stretch.
- Do not twist your pelvis, as doing so makes this stretch less effective.
4. Seated adductor stretch
Muscles targeted: Adductor longus, brevis, and magnus.
The adductors are your inner thigh and groin muscles. Adductor/groin strains are very common, especially among athletes. Prolonged sitting puts these critical muscles into a chronically shortened position, which is why most men have tight adductors and hips.
- Sit on the floor in good posture. Bend your legs and place the soles of your feet together. Lightly grip your ankles and rest your elbows on your knees.
- Using your elbows for assistance, gently press your knees out and down toward the floor.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds and then release.
- Sit on a raised platform, e.g., a yoga block, if you cannot keep your lower back straight.
- Hinge forward from your hips to increase the stretch.
- Keep your chest up and open throughout; do not slouch.
5. Supine figure-four stretch
Muscles targeted: Gluteus maximus, piriformis, hip adductors.
The stretch hits your glutes and outer hips and thighs. These areas are notoriously hard to stretch, and tightness in this region can cause hip and knee dysfunction. This is a common site of tightness for runners and active people, as these muscles often have to act as stabilizers.
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Cross your left ankle over your right knee.
- Hold on behind your right knee and gently pull it toward you.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then relax.
- Switch sides and repeat.
- Keep your head and shoulders on the floor throughout.
- Push your knee outward to open your hips and intensify the stretch.
- Don’t worry if this exercise is hard – that’s perfectly normal!
6. Assisted hamstring stretch
Muscles targeted: Hamstrings.
If there is one muscle you can almost guarantee will be tight in most men, it’s the hamstrings. This long, powerful muscle group is often kept in a flexed, shortened position, invariable leading to tightness. Spend extra time on your hamstrings if you cannot get your leg vertical during the following exercise.
- Lie on your back with your legs bent. Loop a belt, yoga strap, or resistance band over one foot and straighten your leg.
- Use your arms to gently pull your leg up until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings at the back of your thigh.
- Relax and hold for 30-60 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat.
- Rest your head on a pillow for comfort.
- No strap? Clasp your hands around the back of your knee instead.
- Bend your knee slightly to make this exercise a little easier.
7. Prone quadriceps stretch
Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, hip flexors.
Most quadriceps stretches involve standing on one leg. While can be effective, your balance may determine how well you are able to stretch your quads. This exercise requires no such balance and ensures your hips and thighs remain in optimal alignment.
- Lie on your front with your legs straight and your head resting on your folded arms.
- Bend one leg and reach back to grip your ankle.
- Gently pull your foot into your butt and hold for 30-60 seconds.
- Relax, release, and swap legs.
- Wrap a belt or yoga strap around your ankle if you cannot reach it comfortably.
- Place a folded mat under your hips for comfort.
- Do not hold into your toes or foot, as this puts unnecessary strain on your ankle joint.
8. Standing calf stretch
Muscles targeted: Gastrocnemius, soleus.
Tight calves can have a profound effect on how you walk and run and can even contribute to knee, hip, and lower back pain. The good news is that the calves are also one of the easiest muscles to stretch, and all you need is a step to do it!
- Stand with the balls of your feet on the edge of a stable step. Use your arms for balance as required.
- Keeping your legs straight, lower your heels down below the edge of the step to get a good stretch in your calves.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then relax.
- Shift your weight onto one leg to stretch one calf at a time.
- Bend your knees slightly to emphasize your soleus or lower calf.
- Turn your foot in or out to hit the different heads of your calf muscles.
9. Doorway chest stretch
Muscles targeted: Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids.
Like the hamstrings, most people have tight pecs – especially men. All that bench pressing and sitting at a desk means the pecs or often short, which can wreak havoc on your shoulder health and posture. So, if you’ve only got a few minutes to stretch, you should spend that time on your hammies and pecs. This will fix two of the most common flexibility problem areas.
- Stand in an open doorway. Place your forearms and elbows on the vertical frames, upper arms parallel to the floor.
- Adopt a staggered stance.
- Pulling your shoulders down and back, push your chest between your arms to stretch your chest.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then relax.
- You can also do this exercise in the corner of a room if no doorway is available.
- Raise and lower your arms to hit different parts of your chest.
- Stretch one side at a time to detect and fix left-to-right flexibility imbalances.
Stretching Guidelines and Tips for Men
Stretching is good for everybody’s body, but it’s especially critical for men. Women tend to be more flexible than men because a) their bodies produce more of the hormone relaxin, which enhances muscle elasticity, and b) they’re more likely to have done dance, gymnastics, or yoga, all of which promote flexibility.
With less elastin and an athletic history focused more on strength than suppleness, men tend to suffer from muscle tightness more than women. Poor flexibility is then made worse by prolonged sitting and other sedentary activities.
Because they’ve got poor flexibility, men are often reticent to stretch. That’s why you won’t see many guys stretching at your local gym. No man wants to be seen struggling to touch his toes!
And that’s where the morning stretches in this article come in; you can do them at home, working on your flexibility in private and comfort.
But you must stretch correctly to get the most from your new morning routine. Like lifting weights, there is a right way and a wrong way to perform any stretching exercise. Invariably, the right way produces rapid results, while the wrong way is a waste of time and energy.
Follow these guidelines to get the most from every stretch you do.
1. Ease into each stretch
Because of sensory organs called muscle spindles, when you stretch a muscle too quickly, its initial response is to contract and shorten. This is a self-preservation mechanism designed to prevent overstretching and injury.
However, if you stretch slowly, those same spindles tell your muscles to relax and lengthen.
To avoid triggering the so-called stretch-shortening reflex, you must ease into each stretch and then wait for the muscle to relax. After 10-20 seconds, you’ll feel the tension leave your muscles so you can stretch a little further.
Repeat this stretch/wait/relax/stretch sequence several times for optimal results.
2. Breathe slow, quiet, and deep
While you probably don’t need to be told to breathe, how you inhale and exhale can determine how effective your stretches are. To maximize flexibility, you need to work with your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for energy conservation and relaxation.
Rapid, shallow breathing sends stress signals to your muscles, readying them for activity. It fires up your sympathetic nervous system, which is linked to energy expenditure. As a result, your muscles tighten up and are less receptive to stretching.
In contrast, slow, quiet, deep breaths tell your muscles that it’s okay to relax, making your stretches more effective. Breathe in for 4-6 seconds and out for the same. Focus on breathing into your abdomen and not your chest. Nasal and not mouth breathing may also help promote relaxation.
3. Don’t bounce or jerk
While you might have seen athletes warming up with bouncy, jerky ballistic stretches, these have no place in your morning flexibility routine. Ballistic stretches are somewhat dangerous and won’t do much for muscle relaxation or long-term flexibility. Instead, they trigger the stretch-shortening reflex discussed in point number one.
So, no bouncing or jerking while you stretch. Instead, make your movements slow, smooth, and deliberate.
4. Ease off if your muscles shake or burn
Bodybuilders like to say, “no pain, no gain,” but the opposite is true when it comes to stretching. Forcing your muscles to stretch further than comfortable will make them contract and tighten up.
Shaking or burning suggests you have extended your muscles beyond their current limit and should ease off to avoid injury.
5. Don’t forget about your posture
It’s all too easy to put all your focus on the muscles you are stretching and completely forget about all your other muscles and joints. For example, you can slouch while stretching your hamstrings or push your head forward while working on your pecs.
While most of your attention SHOULD be on the muscle you’re stretching, don’t forget about the rest of your body. Make sure your posture is as good as it can be. In most cases, this will make your stretches even more effective.
6. Visualize your muscles lengthening
Exercisers often talk about the importance of the mind-muscle connection. This is the term used to describe the ability to feel what muscles you are exercising. Visualizing your muscles working can help strengthen the mind-muscle connection, often resulting in better workouts and faster progress.
You can use the same technique to enhance your flexibility. Imagine you’re your muscles relaxing and lengthening like warmed clay. Picture your relaxed breaths traveling into the muscle you’re stretching. See the tension leaving your muscles so you can ease into a deeper stretch.
While these techniques will take practice to master, combined with your controlled breathing, they’ll make stretching much more effective.
7. Be consistent
Your muscles will soon shorten if you don’t stretch them regularly. Your body is incredibly adaptive, and spending long periods sitting will make your muscles tighten up. Sit in a chair for four hours straight, and you’ll feel these muscle-shortening effects for yourself.
So, if you want to improve your flexibility and stop being so tight, you need to commit to regular stretching. Not a couple of times a week, but every day.
Adopting a morning stretching routine is one of the best ways to do this, as it will soon become a habit and something you do automatically, like brushing your teeth or having breakfast. So, stretch every day to fix your flexibility.
Morning Stretches FAQs
Do you have a question about morning stretches for men or flexibility training in general? No problem, because we’ve got the answers!
1. Do I need to warm up before my morning stretching routine?
Providing you don’t stretch too far too fast, you probably don’t need to warm up before doing this morning mobility routine. Just start off gently and only increase the stretch as your muscles begin to relax.
Also, the order of the stretches is such that each one prepares you for what comes next. Finally, ease off if any of the stretches feel uncomfortable or painful.
That said, if you’ve got time to do a few minutes of light cardio before stretching, it certainly won’t do you any harm, as warm muscles usually stretch more readily.
2. Do I need to do all nine stretches in my morning routine?
Between them, these nine stretches target all your major muscle groups. However, it’s common for some muscles to be tighter than others, while some muscle groups may already be sufficiently flexible.
If you can’t feel a stretch, this suggests that the target muscle is as flexible as it needs to be, so you can probably skip it for now. However, do all the stretches occasionally to determine if anything has tightened up.
3. Do I have to do all these stretches in one go?
While this morning stretching routine should take no more than 15 minutes to complete, we understand that may be too long for some people, especially if you are rushing to get ready for work or school.
If you cannot find a spare 15 minutes to complete this routine, consider breaking it into thirds and doing it throughout your day. For example, do the first three exercises on rising, the next three when you get home from work, and the final three before bed.
Alternatively, you could do one stretch every hour or so to break up your working day.
While these approaches may not be quite as effective as a morning stretching routine, any stretching is better than none.
4. Can I do this routine more than once a day?
Providing you don’t go too aggressively, you can stretch several times a day without ill effects. In fact, the more often you stretch, the quicker your flexibility will improve. So, if you’ve got the time, feel free to stretch two or three times per day.
Alternatively, you could run through the routine once and then pepper your day with short bouts of stretching to keep on top of your flexibility training. This is a good option for desk warriors who tighten up as their workday progresses.
5. Can I stretch for longer than 30-60 seconds?
By all means, hold your stretches for longer, e.g., 2-3 minutes. However, you may find it more comfortable if you work in sets and reps, e.g., stretch for 30 seconds, relax for a breath or two, and repeat 4-6 times. This is usually more enjoyable than staying in the same position for a long time. However, you should endeavor to stretch a little deeper each time as your muscles lengthen and relax.
Some fitness experts believe that stretching is a waste of time. They’re quick to suggest it has no measurable effect on performance or risk of injury.
However, decades of anecdotal evidence suggests that regular stretching can be incredibly beneficial, especially for people who spend a lot of time locked into a fixed position, e.g., office workers. Not only that, it feels good!
Tight muscles often feel tender and painful, and the obvious antidote is to stretch more.
So, don’t worry about the naysayers; stretching will invariably do more good than harm, and it’s definitely not a waste of time. In fact, in terms of posture, mobility, and joint health, it’s probably one of the best things you can do.