30+ Muscle Diagrams That’ll Teach You How To Stretch Every Body Part

Stretching technique muscle diagrams
16 Shares

Learn the correct stretching techniques and the specific muscles you’re working with these 30+ common stretches and yoga poses.

While there are some minor exceptions, most of us are extremely inflexible. As a result, most people experience pain and other issues related to said stiffness. 

In order to counteract muscle stiffness, one of the simplest solutions is to perform some daily stretches. However, few people know exactly which muscles they are targeting when they perform specific stretches.

In this article, I will outline some common stretches and indicate which muscles are primarily being stretched during the movement in question.

You may also like:

The Ultimate Morning Stretch Routine for Men

You’ve Been Stretching All Wrong According to Experts—And Here’s How to Get It Right

33 stretching muscle techniques

1. Kneeling Back Extension

Kneeling Back Extension

This is a popular yoga exercise that aims to stretch the hip flexors and the rectus abdominis.

How to Perform

  • Kneel on a soft, comfortable surface.
  • Bend backward as far as you can, aiming to reach your ankles.
  • Once you’ve gone as far as you can, hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, one session per day.

2. Pancake Stretch

Pancake Stretch

The pancake stretch primarily targets the hip adductor muscles. However, it also stretches out the hamstrings and various muscles throughout the posterior chain.

How to Perform

  • Start in a seated position.
  • Spread your legs as far as you can.
  • Lean forward, hinging at your hips.
  • Once you’ve gone as far as you can, hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, one session per day.

3. Frog Stretch

Frog Stretch

Picture a frog sitting on a lilypad. When you do, you’ll notice that the frog’s legs splay out to the sides. 

This is the idea behind the frog stretch: let your knees push outward so that you can stretch out your inner thighs. Much like the pancake stretch, the frog stretch primarily focuses on the adductors of the hip.

How to Perform

  • Start on your hands and knees.
  • Slowly, spread your knees out wide, little by little.
  • As you do so, try to lower your trunk toward the ground as well.
  • Once you’ve gone as far as you can, hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, one session per day.

4. Cossack Squats

Cossack Squats Stretch

If you’re trying to work up towards completing the splits, you need to incorporate the Cossack squat. This movement simultaneously strengthens the quads and glutes while stretching out the hip adductors.

How to Perform

  • Start in standing.
  • Spread your legs a little bit wider than hip-width.
  • Squat down onto your right leg, keeping your left leg extended and out to the side.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat for 4 reps, once per day.

5. Butterfly Pose

Butterfly Pose

This stretch is a favorite of gym teachers all across America. The butterfly pose stretches out the inner thigh muscles, also known as the hip adductors.

How to Perform

  • Sit on the floor with your back straight.
  • Place the soles of your feet in contact with one another as you bend your knees and bring your heels in toward your buttocks..
  • Use your arms and hands to stabilize your legs, aiming to push your knees into the ground.
  • Once you’ve gone as far as you can, hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, one session per day.

6. Wrist Flexion Stretch

Wrist Flexion Stretch

The wrists often get worn down in those who type a lot. Two of the main wrist muscle groups are the flexors and extensors. This stretch forces the wrist into the position of flexion, which serves to stretch out the wrist extensors.

How to Perform

  • Start in standing or sitting.
  • Reach your right arm out in front of you with your palm facing downward.
  • Use your left hand to bend your right wrist downward.
  • Once you’ve gone as far as you can, hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, one session per day.

7. Neck Sidebend Stretch

Neck Sidebend Stretch

Throughout the neck, there are various muscles that run in all different directions. 

Some of the muscles that cause the biggest problems for people are the ones on the sides of the neck such as the scalenes and the SCM. This stretch targets those muscles.

How to Perform

  • Start in standing or sitting.
  • Slowly, bring your left ear down toward your left shoulder.
  • Repeat on the right side.
  • Hold this stretch for 4 times on each side, 30 seconds each time. Repeat this series once per day.

8. Cervical Rotation Stretch

Cervical Rotation Stretch

There are a few different muscles that rotate the head and neck. Some of the major ones are the upper traps and the SCM. This stretch loosens up these muscles.

How to Perform

  • Start in standing or sitting.
  • Keeping your head from tilting to either side, rotate your head to the right as far as you can.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat it 4 times in each direction.
  • Complete one session, as described, per day.

9. Head Extension Stretch

Head Extension Stretch

In the front of the neck, there is a group of muscles known as the deep cervical flexors. This stretch serves, primarily, to target these muscles.

How to Perform

  • In standing or sitting, keep your back and neck as straight as possible.
  • Tilt your head backward as far as you can comfortably.
  • Be careful in this position, as some people can become dizzy with cervical extension.
  • Hold this stretch for 10 seconds and repeat it 10 times per session, one session per day.

10. Neck Sidebend Stretch with Overpressure

Neck Sidebend Stretch with Overpressure

Earlier, we described a stretch for the muscles on the side of the neck. This is the same stretch, targeting the same muscles, but it is a deeper pull due to the extra pressure provided by the exerciser’s hand.

How to Perform

  • Start in standing or sitting with a straight back and neck.
  • Tilt your right ear toward your right shoulder.
  • Then use your right hand to pull your head slightly further than you can take it on your own.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times on each side per session, one session per day.

11. Kneeling Quad Stretch

Kneeling Quad Stretch

The quads are some of the most powerful muscles in our bodies. They are also often very tight.

Therefore, this stretch is key for athletes and those who need to keep their quads flexible. 

How to Perform

  • Start with your right knee on the ground and your left foot on the ground a foot or two in front of your right knee.
  • Bend your right knee and grasp your right ankle with your right hand.
  • Pull upward in order to feel a stretch in your right quad.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat for 4 reps per session, one session per day.

12. Wrist Extension Stretch

Wrist Extension Stretch

Much like the wrist flexion stretch, this stretch loosens up some of the major wrist and forearm muscles. However, this move is exactly the opposite of the wrist flexion stretch, as it stretches out the wrist flexor muscles, not the extensors.

How to Perform

  • In standing or sitting, reach your right arm out in front of you with your palm facing down.
  • Bend your right wrist upward and use your left hand to push your right hand further in this direction.
  • You should feel a deep stretch in the front of your forearm.
  • Hold for 30 seconds per stretch, 4 stretches per session, and one session per day.

13. Shoulder Crossover Stretch

Shoulder Crossover Stretch

This stretch targets the rear deltoid and a few other stabilizers of the shoulder joint.

How to Perform

  • In standing or sitting, reach your right arm across your body, toward the left side.
  • Use your left arm to pull your right arm further.
  • You should feel a stretch in the back of your right shoulder.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per side, per session, and one session per day.

14. Neck Extensor Stretch

Neck Extensor Stretch

The traps are the target of this stretch. They lie on the back of the neck and run all the way down the back.

How to Perform

  • In standing or sitting, place both hands on the back of your head.
  • Gently pull your head forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, one session per day.

15. Hanging Lat Stretch

Hanging Lat Stretch

The lats are big, powerful muscles located on the sides of the trunk. This stretch is key for people experiencing back pain.

How to Perform

  • Grasp a secure bar in both hands with a wide, forward-facing grip.
  • Allow your body to hang.
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times per session, once per day.

16. Trunk Sidebend Stretch

Trunk Sidebend Stretch

In the last stretch, both lats are targeted at once. This stretch focuses on one lat muscle at a time. 

How to Perform

  • In standing, reach overhead, sidebend to your left, and grasp a firm doorway (or similar structure) with both hands.
  • Push your hips toward the right side, until you feel a stretch in your right lat muscles.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times, once per day.

17. Child’s Pose

Child’s Pose Stretching Muscle Diagrams

Child’s Pose emphasizes the lats and many different muscles throughout the hips and back.

How to Perform

  • Start on hands and knees.
  • Lean backward, attempting to rest your buttocks on your ankles.
  • At the same time, reach your hands as far forward as possible.
  • Hold this pose for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times per session, one session per day.

18. Standing Gastroc Stretch

Standing Gastroc Stretch

The gastrocnemius muscle is one of the major muscles of the calf group. This muscle is tight on many people, limiting the range of motion and causing numerous functional problems.

How to Perform

  • In standing, place both hands on a firm, stable wall or other similar surfaces.
  • Place your left foot behind you with your left knee straight. At the same time, keep your right foot in front with your right knee bent.
  • Once you’ve gone as far as you can, hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, per side, one session per day.

19. Front Splits

Front Splits Stretch Muscle Diagrams

Splits are an incredible exercise for improving the flexibility of the hamstrings, hip flexors, and tons of other muscles.

How to Perform

  • Start on the floor with your left knee on the ground and your right foot on the ground, a few feet in front of your left knee.
  • Slowly, slide your right foot as far forward as you can, while simultaneously sliding your left knee backward.
  • Once you’ve gone as far as you can, hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, per side, one session per day.

20. Seated Double Hamstring Stretch

Seated Double Hamstring Stretch

As you might expect, this stretch emphasizes the hamstrings as well as the calf muscles.

How to Perform

  • Start in sitting, with your legs extended out in front of you.
  • Bend your toes backward and fold forward at your hips.
  • You should feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings and calves.
  • Once you’ve gone as far as you can, hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, one session per day.

21. Standing Single Leg Posterior Chain Stretch

Standing Single Leg Posterior Chain Stretch

Soccer players and other athletes love this stretch. This move functionally stretches out the hamstrings, calves, and other portions of the posterior chain.

How to Perform

  • In standing, place your right foot out in front of you, while bending your left knee.
  • Bend your right toes backward as you simultaneously bend forward at your trunk.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per side, per session, and one session per day.

22. Low Squat

Low Squat Muscle Diagram Stretch

Squatting is one of the most functional movements humans can do. This stretch emphasizes the calves, glutes, quads, and many other muscles.

How to Perform

  • In standing, place your feet about hip-width apart, with your toes either forward or pointed outward slightly.
  • Squat down as deeply as you can.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, one session per day.

23. Seated Piriformis Stretch

Seated Piriformis Stretch

This stretch is a great alternative to some of the more intense piriformis stretches. It tends to be more gentle on the knee and is a less intense stretch overall when compared to some others on this list.

How to Perform

  • In a firm chair, or on the ground, start in a seated position.
  • Bend your right knee and rotate your right ankle toward your left side.
  • Grasp your right leg with both hands and pull it toward your chest.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per side, per session, one session per day.

24. Standing Soleus Stretch

Standing Soleus Stretch

This stretch will seem very similar to the gastroc stretch, found above. However, this stretch has a subtle difference that enables you to stretch out the deeper soleus muscle of the calf group.

How to Perform

  • In standing, place both of your hands on a wall or firm surface.
  • Bring your right foot forward, keeping your knee bent.
  • At the same time, bring your left leg behind you, keeping your left knee bent.
  • Lean forward until you feel a deep stretch in your left calf and ankle.
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, 4 times per side, per session, and one session per day.

25. Supine Piriformis Stretch

Supine Piriformis Stretch

There are other piriformis stretches on this list, but this tends to be the most comfortable one for many people.

How to Perform

  • Lying on your back, place your right hand on the outside of your left knee.
  • Pull your left knee toward your right armpit
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times on both sides, per session, one session per day.

26. Trunk Sidebend Stretch with Wand

Trunk Sidebend Stretch with Wand

This move stretches out the obliques and lats.

How to Perform

  • Hold a strong bar or rod in both hands.
  • Raise the rod above your head.
  • Keeping your arms in line with your body, tilt toward your left side.
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, then repeat 4 times per side, per session, once per day.

27. Triangle Stretch

Triangle Stretch - stretching muscle diagram

The triangle stretch is another yoga pose. This move stretches the lats, obliques, hamstrings, adductors, and many other muscles.

How to Perform

  • Spread your legs wide, about double hip-width.
  • Reach your right hand toward your right ankle.
  • At the same time, twist to your left, opening up your chest.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times per side, per session, once per day.

28. Pec Stretch on Wall

Pec Stretch on Wall

Our pectoralis major muscles are the main muscles of our chest region. Keeping these muscles loose is key for good shoulder health.

How to Perform

  • Place your right hand on a wall or doorway in front of you.
  • Next, rotate your whole body to the left, until you feel a stretch in your right pecs.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per side, per session, once per day.

29. Partner Shoulder Stretch

Partner Shoulder Stretch - stretching muscles

Any time you are stretching with a partner, be careful to go as slowly as possible so that no one is injured. This stretch emphasizes the pecs and other muscles of the shoulder.

How to Perform

  • Lie flat on your back.
  • Reach both hands up overhead.
  • Instruct your partner to grasp your hands or wrists. 
  • Then, your partner should gently push your arms into the ground.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times per session, once per day.

30. Pigeon Pose: Modification I

Pigeon Pose: Modification I

This is a much more comfortable variation on the pigeon pose, designed to loosen up the piriformis and glute muscles.

How to Perform

  • In a steady position, cross your right ankle over your left thigh.
  • Grasp your right leg with both hands and pull upward.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times per session, and complete one session per day.

31. Supine “W” Stretch

Supine “W” Stretch - stretching muscles

The shoulders and rotator cuff are tight on many people. This stretch targets the pecs and the subscapularis muscle.

How to Perform

  • Lying on your back, bring your arms up to about 90 degrees, keeping your elbows bent.
  • At this point, your arms should roughly be making the shape of a “W”.
  • Keeping this position, push your elbows toward the ground.
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, repeating 4 times per session, one session per day.

32. Modified Child’s Pose in Standing

Modified Child’s Pose in Standing

Child’s pose is a great stretch for the lats and many other muscles. However, some people can’t comfortably get into a kneeling position. This pose helps those with orthopedic restrictions achieve the same stretch.

How to Perform

  • Grasp a firm, secure bar with both hands.
  • Hinge forward at your hips, while also leaning your buttocks backward.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session, once per day.

33. Partner Pec Stretch: Variation II

Partner Pec Stretch: Variation II - stretching

This is one of the best stretches out there for the pecs.

How to Perform

  • Lie flat on your stomach.
  • Have your partner grasp your wrists or hands.
  • Gently allow him or her to pull upward on your arms.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times per session, once per day.

Photo credit: Lifehack.org

(Visited 17,825 times, 3 visits today)
Bennett Richardson, DPT, PT, CSCS

Bennett Richardson is a physical therapist and writer out of Pittsburgh, PA. He has maintained certification as a strength and conditioning coach (CSCS) since 2014. He then went on to earn a BS in exercise science and a doctorate degree in physical therapy, both from Slippery Rock University. In his free time, Bennett likes to read and exercise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.