A flexibility expert says these are the five 'essential' stretches people should do every day

Open your hips, loosen tight hamstrings and improve your shoulder health with these five moves

Man stretching over to touch his toes in his living room
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Adding more movement to your day is nearly always a good thing. If you’re wondering where to start, why not try these five stretches, which have been hand-picked by a flexibility expert?

"These are five stretches that I deem essential positions," says Tom Merrick, otherwise known as the Bodyweight Warrior by his one million YouTube subscribers.

He’s included moves to open the hips, lengthen the hip flexors and quads, improve ankle flexibility, decompress the spine and soothe tight hamstrings.

If you’re feeling tight and sore after a day at your desk, give them a go. You don't need any equipment to do them, but you might feel more comfortable performing them on a yoga mat (you can get a cheap mat for less than $17 on Amazon).

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1. 90/90 stretch

Smiling woman holds 90-90 stretch

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  • Sit upright with your right thigh directly in front of you and your left thigh lying out to your left side. Both knees should form a right angle, with your right shin running across your body and your left shin extending behind you.
  • Keeping your feet touching the floor, lift both knees up so they’re facing the ceiling. Then, lower them to the ground on the opposite side, allowing your torso to rotate naturally as you do so.
  • Continue to switch between the two positions, holding each one for a few seconds before transitioning. You can also lean over your front shin for a more intense glute stretch.

Why you should do this stretch

"The 90/90 stretch is going to help open the hips," says Merrick. He explains that, by sitting down for large chunks of the day, many people can end up with tight hips and glutes (the muscles in your backside). This, in turn, can lead to lower back pain.

"When your hips don’t move, your lower back is going to be doing a lot of the work [supporting you]," Merrick explains. "There are many other reasons to improve your hip mobility, but if you can get your hips moving better, more open and feeling a bit more relaxed, then it could provide some relief for people who suffer from lower back pain."

2. Couch stretch

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  • Start in a kneeling lunge position with your back to a wall.
  • Lift your back calf up so the top of your foot is resting against the wall, then shift yourself back so your back shin and thigh are almost parallel.
  • Hold this position.

Why you should do this stretch

"The couch stretch is perfect because a lot of people suffer from restriction over their hip flexors," says Merrick. "The couch stretch is probably the best stretch for stretching them out, and it’s pretty scalable too."

If you’re newer to stretching, he recommends starting by leaning over your front knee and placing your hands on the floor for support. This means there is less flexion at your knee and less of a stretch on your quadriceps (the muscles running down the front of your thigh).

As you become more flexible, you can assume a more upright position with your torso.

3. Squat

Woman squatting in living room

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  • Stand with your knees roughly shoulder-width apart then, keeping your chest up and your back flat, bend at the knees to lower your hips as far as you can toward the floor.
  • Hold this position.

Why you should do this stretch

"This is a fundamental human position that’s going to open up the hips, and you’re obviously getting a stretch over the ankles as well," says Merrick. It’s versatile too.

"You can hold it, you can move around in it, and you can do squat rotations as well," he adds. "Or, [if you need help maintaining the position], you can perform it assisted by holding onto something."

4. Hanging

Man stretching out shoulders by hanging on gymastic rings in gym

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Find a pull-up bar or something similar, grasp it roughly shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip, then lift your feet off the floor to support your weight through your grip.
  • If this is not possible, choose a lower pull-up bar and keep your feet on the ground for support. You can then control how much weight your grip is left to support.

Why you should do this stretch

"Gravity is acting on us all day," says Merrick. "It’s nice to flip that around and have it work in our favor, decompressing the spine."

He adds that this move is beneficial for grip strength, flexibility and shoulder health too.

"There’s a book called 'Shoulder Pain? The Solution And Prevention' [written by John M. Kirsch M. D]. The book is about how humans come from apes. The author says because of this, brachiation [or hanging] is a really restorative way to load the shoulder joint."

Shop removable door-mounted pull-up bars

5. Elephant walk

Man bending over to try and grab his toes

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Stand upright then hinge at the hips to grasp your right toes with your right hand and your left toes with your left hand. If you can’t do this, grip somewhere higher up the leg like the shin.
  • Start with a soft bend in both knees.
  • Straighten your right knee, hold this for a second, then soften the joint again.
  • Repeat on the left side.

Why you should do this stretch

"The hamstrings [at the back of the thighs] are probably one of the areas where stretching is going to give people the most benefits, allowing them to move more freely," says Merrick. "Being able to reach down to the ground and pick things up is something that we’re going to need in day-to-day life."

He explains that some people have physical restrictions, like a lack of hip mobility, making it hard to get a good hamstring stretch through moves like the classic forward fold. The elephant walk introduces a twist into the hips that can actually make it easier for people to hit that sweet spot and really feel a stretch in the hamstrings.

Want more routines for your mobility and flexibility? Have a go at these satisfying hip stretches, or try doing these 15-minute yoga routines.

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.