Practicing abdominal stretches before or after your workout could help prevent or reduce tightness or soreness around your abs. Your abs and core may feel strained, tight, or sore after a hard workout. You’d likely do anything to ensure you can continue your ab-toning and core strengthening workouts without worries.
Fortunately, our abdominal stretches will help maximize intense workouts while also helping reduce injury. You’ll also discover abdominal stretches to use in a variety of positions, why stretching matters, and its impact on your overall workout routine.
What Is an Abdominal Stretch?
An abdominal stretch is a stretch performed when the abdominal area is held in an elongated or extended position with mild to moderate tension on the area.
The lying abdominal stretch is one of many abdominal stretches. More abdominal stretches include:
- Cobra Pose (12)
- Locust Pose (13)
- Cat Cow (7)
- Standing Ab Stretch (1)
- Wall Lean Stretch (1)
- Leaning Tree Pose (1)
- Seated Side Bend (15)
- Seated Twists (1)
- Seated Bow Pose (11)
- Elevated Torso Stretch (12)
- Traditional Bow Pose (11)
- Rotating Ab Stretch (1)
- Upper Back/Torso Stretch (2, 14)
But first, discover why abdominal stretching matters.
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Why Should You Do Abdominal Stretches?
There are many abdominal muscles working to perform different functions of our core. When those muscles are tight due to being weak or overworked, we can start to see postural issues, movement issues, referred pain, among others.
Abdominal Muscles to Stretch
Your ab muscles are more than the famous 6-pack. The Cleveland Clinic says you have four main abdominal muscles (1):
- Rectus Abdominis: These are the front muscles between the pelvis and ribs. They keep your body stable in motion.
- Obliques: The external and internal obliques run on the sides of your 6-pack and are responsible for twisting and rotation movements.
- Transversus Abdominis: It’s the deepest primary abs muscle, wrapping around your bottom abdomen to stabilize your trunk.
- Pyramidalis: This tiny, vertical muscle close to your pelvis helps other muscles maintain abdominal pressure.
The abdominal muscles are just one group of muscles in a much larger network of core muscles. As a collective group they act as stabilizers, mobilizers, and balancers to our trunk. Some of the other core muscles include (8):
- Hips flexors, abductors, and adductors
- Lumbar muscles
- Pelvic muscles
What Do Abdominal Stretch Help With?
Abdominal stretches may benefit you in various ways. The Mayo Clinic suggests stretching benefits your muscle flexibility, which may also help with the following (17):
- Improved muscle performance or endurance
- A lower risk of muscle injury or overuse
- It enables joints to reach their full range of motion better
- Improved blood circulation
- A stronger core for a better posture
The improvements you may achieve allow you to warm your muscles up before a workout or cool them down. Harvard says the failure to stretch and warm muscles before working out could weaken them as the fibers shorten, causing abdominal tightness (19).
Meanwhile, Louisiana researchers found that stretching may increase muscle length and encourage collagen fibers to help muscle recovery (9).
How Long Should You Hold an Abdominal Stretch?
Harvard suggests holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds without bouncing or adding sudden movements that may hurt the cold muscles (19). Avoid holding the same stretch for longer. Instead, use alternating stretches to warm various muscles.
Lying Abdominal Stretch Tips
The Cleveland Clinic suggests safety tips to warm and cool your muscles properly (17):
- Focus on stretching the muscles equally on both sides.
- Breathe normally, and hold the stretch for up to 60 seconds if it feels comfortable.
- Only stretch as far as you feel comfortable without causing pain.
- Do 5-10 minutes of light stretching before and after workouts.
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
Finally, know the difference between static and dynamic stretches. The Hospital for Special Surgery states that static stretches are while lying down, sitting, or standing still (16). These are good for cooling muscles after a workout.
Meanwhile, dynamic stretches apply some movement to prepare muscles for a workout. A lying crossover stretch with twisting reps is dynamic, whereas holding the same position for a few seconds is static.
What Muscles Do the Lying Crossover Stretch Work?
The lying crossover stretch is the ideal example of how core and ab muscles work together. Sportskeeda suggests the lying crossover stretch targets the lower back, hips, glutes, obliques, and more, acting as a dynamic full-body stretch (20).
Read more: 10 Glute Stretches for Instant Relief
Lying, Standing, Sitting, and Lower Ab Stretches
Completing an abdominal stretch lying down can be the simplest way to stretch those abs and core muscles to help you before and after workouts. You’ll focus on static stretches with a few dynamic variations.
Lying Abdominal Stretch Yoga Poses
First, let’s focus on lying abdominal stretches before standing or sitting.
Cobra Yoga Pose
WebMD says the cobra pose may work that small triangular pyramidalis muscle above the pelvis (12). It also stretches the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, obliques, trapezius, and pectoral muscles.
- Lie face-down on the floor, hands flat on floor at chest level,
- Your heels must be close to each other, and your fingers pointing forward,
- Draw your elbows close to your sides as you inhale and push up,
- Straighten your elbows to lift your body off the ground,
- Your naval and pelvis will remain on the floor,
- Open your chest, drawing your shoulders backward and downward,
- Look up until you feel comfortable, and hold the position for 30-60 seconds,
- Exhale when you reverse yourself back onto the floor.
The locust pose stretches more than your abs and core muscles. It also stretches the glutes, hips, arms, and hamstrings while opening your chest (13). However, avoid crunching your neck or bending your knees during the hold.
- Lie face flat on a yoga mat, with your arms palm-down at your sides,
- Keep your body and legs straight as you raise your head and open your chest,
- Inhale and roll your shoulders back and downward as you rise,
- Go as high as comfortably possible before turning your hands palms down,
- Support your body with your hands while you hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds,
- Reverse your palms upward and exhale as you release.
Cat Cow Pose
The cat-cow yoga pose isn’t a lying stretch, but a stretch in the quadruped position, meaning you will be on your hands and knees. The pose stretches your abdominal muscles as you suck them toward your spine (7). Engaging the abs and core muscles should be a priority in this pose.
- Get on all fours on a yoga mat,
- Line your knees with your hips and your hands under your shoulders,
- Draw your chin toward your chest while raising your middle back to the ceiling like an arched cat,
- Hold position for 5-10 seconds and release moving into the opposite direction.
- Back will arch in the opposite direction like the sway back of a cow, lifting chin and head towards the ceiling.
- Hold 5-10 seconds, going back and forth between both positions for 30-60 seconds.
Standing Abdominal Stretch Options
Let’s leave the lying abdominal stretch variations to show you some standing options.
Standard Standing Ab Stretch
A simple static ab stretch will target the muscles you wish to stretch (1). It feels like a regular stretch but does wonders to relieve tightness after a workout.
- Stand with your feet forward and hands on your hips,
- Slide your thumbs behind your waist as you push your hips forward,
- Inhale as you pull your shoulders backward,
- Hold the position for 30-60 seconds and release.
Wall Lean Stretch
A static wall lean has similar effects to the standing ab stretch, targeting the abdominal and core muscles (1). You’ll also feel some pulling on your upper shoulders and biceps.
- Place your hands high on a wall, facing the wall,
- Keep your feet away from the wall as you push your hips backward,
- Gently tilt your stomach and pelvis forward,
- Press into your arms to stretch the trunk muscles,
- Keep your feet flat as you hold for 30-60 seconds and release.
Leaning Tree Pose
Another static stretch you should consider is the leaning tree pose because it stretches the obliques on your sides (1). You must focus on rotating movements to stretch the obliques.
- Hold your hands in a prayer position with your palms together in front of you,
- Stand upright as you spread your legs shoulder-width apart,
- Raise your arms over your head as far as comfortably possible,
- Lean toward the left side and hold the pose for 30-60 seconds,
- Return to the center before leaning and repeating the hold on the other side.
Sitting Abdominal Stretches
Doing stretches in a chair can also target the right abdominal muscles. Let’s see how.
Seated Side Bend
A side bend stretches your obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, and intercostal muscles between your ribs (15). Ironically, the seated side bend has the same benefits as the standing version, which includes improved posture from sitting too long.
- Sit upright in a chair with your legs slightly spread apart,
- Raise your arms as you interlock your fingers to point to the ceiling,
- Slowly bend sideways without overstretching,
- Avoid leaning your body forward as you bend sideways,
- Hold the bend for 30-60 seconds before repeating it on the other side.
You stretch your rotation-focused obliques in a seated position with this twist (1). It’s good to stretch them because many exercises require the obliques to function properly.
- Sit upright with your legs spread apart and feet flat on the ground,
- Place your hands on your hips, like a mom about to yell at her kids,
- Keep your spine straight as you push your right hip forward to rotate your torso,
- Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Seated Bow Pose
Yoga pose variations are good to try when the original pose has enormous benefits (11). The original bow pose stretches your ab and core muscles, even the glutes, and into your hamstrings. However, this variation is easier for people without much flexibility.
- Sit on a chair and wrap your ankles around the chair’s front legs,
- Lean your arms backward, slowly lifting your chin and lowering your upper back,
- Avoid overstretching or losing your balance as your weight shifts on the chair,
- Focus on lengthening your absas you hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and release.
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Lower Abdominal Stretches
Targeting the lower abdominal muscles means you should aim to stretch the related core muscles. Let’s get you started.
Elevated Torso Stretch
This static stretch moves your body similarly to the cobra pose, letting you target the pyramidalis above the pelvic floor (12). However, it stretches you further, and you should stop if you feel pain. Choose a low enough chair and a smooth floor to practice this stretch.
- Rest your elbows on the chair while on your knees in a prayer position,
- Allow your feet to slowly slide backward as you sink your abs toward the floor,
- Keep your elbows resting on the chair as you arch your back without hurting it,
- Hold the position for 30-60 seconds before slowly returning to the starting point.
Traditional Bow Pose
WebMD suggests the bow yoga pose is another brilliant lower abdominal stretch (11). It strains your lower abdominal muscles, glutes, and hips more.
- Lie face down on a yoga mat, bending your knees to bring your feet to your buttocks,
- Grab both ankles with your hands while gently arching your torso backward,
- Hold the position for 30-60 seconds and release gently.
Rotating Ab Stretch
This static stretch is easier than a supine twist, and it stretches the lower abdominal muscles while targeting the side obliques. Not many stretches target the obliques unless you add twists and rotations, as it’s the primary muscle function (1).
- Lie face down on the floor with your hands under your shoulders,
- Dig your hips into the floor as you enter a cobra pose to raise your upper body,
- Straighten your left arm, pushing your upper body to the right,
- Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds while feeling the obliques burn,
- Return to the start and repeat on the other side.
Read more: 8 Upper Back Stretches for Mild Back Pain
Bonus Abdominal and Torso Stretches
Other muscles work with your abs, too. So, let’s show you three more stretches to enjoy.
The Chest Bicep Stretch
A good chest and bicep stretch should target the chest’s pectoral minor and major muscles (3). They’re responsible for upper limb movements. Meanwhile, the biceps are the thick muscles in the upper front arms (6). A chest opener on a stability ball will stretch these muscles with your abs.
- Lie on your back over an exercise or stability ball,
- Your feet should be flat on the floor with your back extended over it,
- Your shoulders, neck, and head should be on the ball’s top,
- Open your arms upward and sideways to stretch out next to you, hanging off the ball towards the floor,
- Look at the ceiling to ensure you remain in the right position,
- Hold it for 30-60 seconds and release.
The Upper Back and Torso Stretch
The upper back and torso also rely on the rhomboid minor and major muscles (2). These muscles help to stabilize your trunk and shoulders. A rhomboid stretch may not hit the abs but targets the upper back muscles you often miss with other stretches (14).
- Stand upright as you interlock your hands with your arms straight ahead of you,
- Slowly reach your arms further out until you feel the stretch between your shoulders,
- Bend your head slightly forward and hold for 30-60 seconds before the release.
For more ways to improve your workouts:
Why Stretching in Bed Feels So Good?
Stretching before bed feels good because it relaxes you. Japanese scientists found that static stretches could activate the parasympathetic nervous system to help you feel relaxed (18). It also improves blood flow to the muscles to induce further relaxation.
Should I Stretch in the Morning or at Night?
Stretching benefits you at night and in the morning. Doing static stretches before bed relaxes you. On the other hand, stretching could activate beta brain waves, which you experience in alert consciousness (18). It can help you kickstart your day with a clear mind.
Why Do I Feel Sleepy After Stretching?
Colorado State University says stretching aids the body in producing more serotonin, the sleepy hormone (21). Serotonin can also boost your mood. Feeling happier could make you feel sleepy. Stretching also reduces muscle tension and may help to reduce pain.
Is it Good to Stretch on a Full Stomach?
What Does the Lying Twist Stretch Do?
A lying twist stretch is also called a supine twist in yoga, and Very Well Fit suggests it may relieve back pain (5). However, you may also injure your back with improper technique. You should never force yourself into the twist and stop immediately if you feel pain.
The Bottom Line
The abdominal stretch options are plentiful so aim for stretching multiple abdominal muscles after workouts with these static choices. Also, follow the safety tips and instructions carefully to avoid potential injury in some poses. Choosing multiple stretches for 5-10 minutes post-workout will do wonders. Try them today!
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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