How to Stretch Your Abs for Optimal Core Recovery

Woman doing a cobra stretch

Getty Images / bymuratdeniz

It's common knowledge that stretching your muscles after a workout is a crucial element of recovery. This applies to any kind of workout routine you maintain, whether you're an avid runner or prefer to spend time in the weight room. Yet some muscle groups are more natural to stretch than others—touching your toes may be less obscure than other, new-to-you stretches, but that doesn't mean you should stop there.

While arms and legs may be the most obvious parts of the body to stretch, other muscle groups, like your core, work consistently while you exercise. That means those muscles need to recover, too.

Why You Should Stretch Your Abs

There are many reasons to stretch your abs, from improving your range of motion to decreasing muscle pain. Stretching can result in better athletic performance and a better overall workout—it's worth the five minutes at the end of a workout.

Improve Range of Motion

Stretching your abs can improve your range of motion, which can help to improve athletic performance and decrease the risk of injury when working out. If you have a larger range of motion, you are less likely to pull a muscle. Stretching helps to elongate the muscle, decreasing muscle tension, and improving range of motion.

Decrease Muscle Tension

If you experience muscle tension, you’ll want to increase the length of the muscle, and you can do this by stretching. However, you should consult a professional on the proper way to increase the length of that specific muscle, especially since the tension can cause you to be more susceptible to injury.

Improve Circulation

Stretching can also improve your circulation to those areas being stretched. Improved circulation means that more blood, and therefore more oxygen, reaches your muscles. This can lead to better stamina, meaning you should feel less out-of-breath as you're working out.

Decrease Muscle Pain

It has been proven that stretching your muscles can help lessen pain in those muscles. Studies have shown the effects of exercise and stretching on back pain. Even so, always consult a professional about stretching or working muscles around an injury.

Prevent Injury

There are many reasons that stretching your muscles can prevent injury. Stretching can improve your range of motion and decrease muscle tension, which both help to mitigate injury. Stretching can also improve circulation, which helps your muscular stamina. Ultimately, stretching serves as both a recovery method and preventative tactic for staying safe while achieving fitness goals.

Increase Athletic Performance

Stretching can also increase your athletic performance by increasing circulation to that muscle and improving your range of motion. Both of these things allow your muscles to move more freely. Improved circulation also helps fuel your muscles with the oxygen they need to perform.

When to Stretch Your Abs

According to Ben Walker, a certified personal trainer with Anywhere Fitness, “it's perfectly safe and beneficial to stretch your abs 10-15 mins per day, but it's particularly important after your workout.”

You should stretch your abs immediately after every workout to reduce recovery time between workouts. Walker also recommends appropriate protein consumption and proper sleep to reduce recovery time. 

How to Stretch Your Abs

Walker recommends stretching your abs while in a prone or standing position. A prone position is similar to the one you would be in while doing a plank, with the front of your body facing the floor. It’s good for avoiding back injuries because it removes weight and stress from your back. Here are some stretches to try:

Cat-Cow Stretch

The cat-cow stretch starts from being on your hands and knees. It stretches your abs, spine, and neck. Here is how to do a cat-cow stretch:

  1. Lower yourself to your knees and put your hands on the floor. Your knees should be below your hips and your hands below your shoulders. Start in a neutral spine position. Do not bend your elbows when doing the following cow and cat poses.
  2. Inhale. Bend your back towards the floor (opposite of arching it, so your tailbone is up) and look upwards. This is the cow pose.
  3. Now exhale. Arch your back and look downwards to elongate the back of your neck. This is the cat pose.
  4. Repeat the cow and cat poses for 5 or 10 breaths, then return to a neutral spine position

Cobra Stretch

A cobra stretch starts in a position where you are lying face-down on the floor. It may be uncomfortable if you are on a hard surface—use a mat or carpeted floor to ensure a comfortable stretch. Here is how to do a cobra stretch: 

  1. Lie down on your belly and put your hands below your shoulders. Keep your hands straight and your elbows tucked in close to your body. Your gaze should be towards the floor.
  2. Inhale. Slowly extend your arms while keeping your elbows tucked in. Keep your pelvis touching the floor.
  3. Hold that pose for a few seconds, then exhale and lower yourself back to the floor. 
  4. Do this a few times.

Standing Ab Side Stretch

The standing ab side stretch starts from a standing position, making it an accessible option for those with back injuries or in need of other accommodations. Even so, always consult a professional about the best stretches or workouts for your injury. Here’s how to do a standing ab side stretch.

  1. Stand with your feet below your shoulders and your arms at your sides. Look straight ahead. This is the standing position. 
  2. Slowly raise one arm to the side and up like you’re reaching for the ceiling. Make sure your arm stays to the side and does not sway forwards or backward. 
  3. Lean into your arm that is raised, slightly bending at the waist. Hold that for a few seconds, then bring your arm back to the side and down. 
  4. Repeat this stretch five times on each side. 

Safety Tips

Walker notes that your spine and back muscles are opposite your ab muscles, making it very important to stretch your abs correctly. You don’t want to end up hurting your back while stretching your abs. He suggests the following safety precautions:

  • Focus on the positioning of your body for cat-cow stretches. Do not bend your elbows, and do every movement slowly. Try not to move your hips or shoulders to the sides. It is best to lower yourself to your knees for safety before putting your hands on the floor. 
  • You can modify cobra stretches for more safety. First, avoid the plank position. Instead, start by lying down on your belly. You can also place your forearms on the floor along with your palms for extra support. You do not need to extend your arms fully to do a cobra stretch. Extending your arms only partially is called a baby cobra and can help you work up to a full cobra. 

A Word From Verywell

Stretches are essential for improving your athletic performance and mitigating injury. Even so, if you do stretches incorrectly, they can cause strain or injury.

If you have an injury and cannot follow the proper form of a stretch, consult a professional about which stretches are best for you. A professional can also offer variations of specific stretches, which may be more accessible to you.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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