Children's Hospital Colorado

11 Stretches for Athletes

A teenage boy stands in a field doing an overhead tricep stretch.

Stretching boosts muscle flexibility and range of motion, which not only amps your performance, it minimizes the chance of sports injury. Good stretching habits are key to getting the most from your game.

Doing a complete stretch session just after a warm-up gets your muscles into peak condition for intense practice or play. For maximum results, do a stretch session once a day.

How to stretch

Get warmed up

Always stretch a warm, loose muscle — not a cold, tight muscle. Before stretching, start with a low-intensity warm-up activity like a jog, a brisk walk, a light swim or a few minutes on an elliptical machine, until you work up a light sweat.

Get dynamic

Dynamic stretching prepares you for an activity with exaggerated movement that mimics the activity itself. For example, if you’re getting ready to play soccer, you might swing your leg back and forth as high as it’ll go in both directions. Dynamic stretches improve high-impact flexibility and bump up muscle temperature. Just like static stretches, always do them after warming up.

Hold and repeat

The stretches that increase flexibility are called static stretches, and they work to lengthen muscles and loosen connective tissue and should be performed separate to activities or as a cool down. For maximum benefit, hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.

Upper body stretches

Triceps

  • Reach straight toward the ceiling and bend your elbow, placing your hand on the back of your neck.
  • With your other hand, gently push your elbow behind your head.
  • Alternate arms and repeat.An illustration of a girl with one arm up and bent, touching her back, with the other arm holding the elbow.

Wrist and forearm

  • Stick your arm straight out.
  • With your other arm, pull your fingers back toward you, palm facing out.
  • Then pull your fingers back toward you, palm facing in.
  • Alternate arms and repeat.

Trapezius

  • Grab your wrist and pull it behind your back.
  • Looking straight ahead, lean toward the arm that’s doing the pulling.
  • Alternate arms and repeat.

Neck muscles

  • Look straight ahead.
  • Without shrugging, lean your ear toward your shoulder, then alternate to the other side.
  • Drop your chin toward your chest.
  • Look up toward the ceiling.
  • Look over your shoulder, then alternate to the other shoulder.

An illustration of a girl stretching her neck by looking up then looking down.

Pectoralis

  • Find a corner of the room.
  • Facing the corner, brace your forearms on the wall at shoulder level.
  • Lean forward into the corner with your hips squared.

Lower body stretches

Quadriceps

  • Grab your ankle behind you with your hand.
  • Standing straight while keeping your knees together, pull your ankle as close to your butt as you can.
  • Alternate legs and repeat.

An illustration of a boy standing on one leg and holding the other leg stretched behind him.

Calf muscles

  • Brace your hands on a wall with one knee bent, foot below your shoulders, and the other leg extended straight behind you.
  • With your extended foot flat and knee straight, push the shin of the extended leg toward the floor.
  • Alternate legs and repeat.
  • Repeat once more on both legs, this time with the extended leg’s knee slightly bent.

Piriformis

  • Lie flat on your back with knees bent.
  • Cross one leg’s ankle over the other leg’s knee.
  • Reach past the ankle, grab the back of the other leg’s knee and pull it toward your chest.
  • Alternate legs and repeat.

Hamstrings

  • Extend one leg in front of you, knee straight.
  • Lean forward, chest first, back straight, toward your toes and grab your ankle.
  • Alternate legs and repeat.
  • Repeat once more on both legs, this time with the extended leg’s knee slightly bent.

An illustration of a girl sitting with one leg outstretched and leaning over it to grab her toes.

Piriformis

  • Lie flat on your back with knees bent.
  • Cross one leg’s ankle over the other leg’s knee.
  • Reach past the ankle, grab the back of the other leg’s knee and pull it toward your chest.
  • Alternate legs and repeat.

Hip flexors

  • In a lunge posture, square one knee in front of you and extend the other leg behind you, making sure your knee doesn’t go over your toes.
  • Keep your hips square and lower the extended leg’s knee to the ground.
  • With your back straight, press forward into the lunge.
  • Alternate legs and repeat.

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