5 Best Ab Stretches For Before & After Workouts 2024

Whether it’s with a personal trainer or a home gym, you can sculpt your abs with targeted ab exercises and a healthy diet.

If you only want to lose weight, ab exercise alone isn’t the answer. Nutrient-dense foods then, can also help the cause. 

But they can help carve the solid core that carries over into a range of other health and fitness benefits — including the exercises that facilitate weight loss. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a beginner just dipping your toes into the fitness world, abdominal stretches are in everyone’s workout.

Best Abdominal Stretches For Before And After Workouts

  • Cobra Stretch.
  • Cat-Cow Stretch.
  • Standing Side Bend.
  • Seated Spinal Twist.
  • Hip Bridge.

Top Ab Stretches For You To Try

Incorporating ab stretches into your workout routine is essential for maintaining flexibility, reducing muscle tension, and promoting core strength and overall well-being. Below are five of the best lower and upper ab stretches, with instructions on stretching your abs with each. Always consult a fitness professional if you’re unsure about the correct form or have any health concerns.

Cobra Stretch

The cobra stretch is a fantastic ab stretch workout that primarily targets the muscles of the lower back and abdomen. 

Benefits of it include improved flexibility in the spine and lower back, which can help alleviate tension and discomfort in these areas. This yoga pose is also excellent for stretching your abdominal muscles., aiding in posture correction, and reducing the risk of lower back pain. This gentle yet effective stretch is a valuable addition to any ab stretch workout, promoting spinal health and overall flexibility.

Cobra Stretch
Cobra Stretch Guide. Photo: Aliaksandr Makatserchyk

How to do: 

  1. Begin by lying face down on the floor with your hands directly under your shoulders. 
  2. Keeping your lower body and hips in contact with the ground, gradually lift your upper body by straightening your arms. 
  3. Tilt your head back slightly to deepen the stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then return to the starting position.

Tips: 

  • Perform this stretch with an exercise ball for an additional challenge that enhances the stretch along the abdomen and lower back.
  • Gradually increase the stretch by lifting your chest slightly higher as you become more comfortable with the position. 
  • While holding the stretch, focus on deep and relaxed breathing to help release tension in your lower back and engage the abdominal muscles.

Optimal Sets and Reps: Two to three sets of 20-30 seconds each.

Cat-Cow Stretch

The cat-cow stretch primarily targets the muscles along the spine, including the lower back and abdominals. 

This exercise helps increase flexibility in the spine, reduce tension in the lower back, and improve core muscle group engagement. The stretch helps alleviate back pain, enhances posture, and supports overall spinal health. It’s an excellent choice for those looking to improve abdominal and lower back flexibility while promoting relaxation and comfort in the torso.

Cat-Cow Stretch
Cat-Cow Stretch Guide. Photo: Aliaksandr Makatserchyk

How to do:

  1. Start in a tabletop position, on your hands and knees.
  2. For the cat pose, exhale as you round your spine up towards the ceiling, like a cat stretching its back, and let your head drop down.
  3. For the cow pose, inhale as you lift your head and tailbone upwards, dropping your belly towards the floor.
  4. Continue to move slowly between these two poses, holding each for about 5-10 seconds.

Tips: 

  • Flow smoothly between the positions, syncing your breath with the movement for a more effective stretch.
  • Engage your core muscles to enhance the stretch and stability of your spine, improve flexibility, and strengthen the abdominal muscles.
  • Focus on deep and mindful breathing throughout the exercise to promote relaxation and enhance the stretch.

Optimal Sets and Reps: Two to three sets, flowing between the poses for 5 to 10 reps in each set.

Standing Side Bend

The standing side bend is a fantastic ab stretch exercise that primarily targets the muscles along the sides of the torso, including the obliques and intercostal muscles.

The exercise improves flexibility in the waist, enhances posture, and increases lateral mobility. It also helps reduce stiffness in the lower back and ribcage area, promoting overall core stability and comfort. Incorporating this stretch into your routine can contribute to better abdominal and oblique muscle flexibility, aiding in your overall fitness and well-being.

Standing Side Bend
Standing Side Bend Guide. Photo: Aliaksandr Makatserchyk

How to do:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms relaxed at your sides.
  2. Raise one arm overhead while keeping the other arm down by your side.
  3. Inhale deeply and engage your core muscles.
  4. Slowly bend your upper body to the side with the raised arm, keeping your legs straight.
  5. Hold the stretch for a moment, feeling the stretch along your side, then return to an upright position. Repeat on the other side.

Tips: 

  • Avoid arching or rounding your back as you bend to the side to protect your spine.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles engaged while performing the side bend to stabilize your core and enhance the stretch along the sides of your torso.
  • Bend to the side slowly and with control, feeling the stretch along your obliques and the sides of your waist.

Optimal Sets and Reps: Two to three sets of 10-12 reps on each side.

Seated Spinal Twist

The seated spinal twist primarily targets the muscles along the spine and the obliques. 

This yoga pose improves spinal mobility, reduces tension in the lower back, and enhances flexibility in the oblique muscles. It also aids in digestion and can alleviate discomfort in the lower back and hips. Incorporating this stretch into your routine can help enhance core strength and promote a healthier, more flexible torso, making it an excellent addition to any ab stretch workout.

How to do:

  1. Sit upright on the floor, extending your legs straight before you. 
  2. Bend your right knee and cross your right foot over your left leg, placing it on the floor outside your left knee.
  3. Turn your torso gently to the right, placing your right hand behind the floor for support and your left elbow outside your right knee. 
  4. Hold for 15-20 seconds, then switch sides. 

Tips: 

  • Sit up tall, lengthening your spine, and avoid rounding your back for proper alignment which allows for a more effective twist.
  • Engage your core muscles as you twist to stabilize your spine and protect your lower back. 
  • Twist your upper body gently and within your range of motion, and avoid forcing the twist or jerking movements to prevent strain.

Optimal Sets and Reps: Two to three sets, holding each twist for 15-20 seconds on each side

Hip Bridge

The hip bridge will stretch your abs and strengthen the lower back, hip flexors, and glutes.

Besides improved flexibility in the lower back and enhanced strength in the glutes and core muscles, this stretch helps alleviate tension and discomfort in the lower back area and can contribute to better posture and reduced risk of lower back pain. Adding the hip bridge to your ab stretch workout routine supports both core stability and spinal health while providing a gentle stretch to the abdominal region.

Hip Bridge
Hip Bridge Guide. Photo: Aliaksandr Makatserchyk

How to do:

  1. Lie in a prone position on your back, your feet flat on the ground, and your knees bent. Your feet should be hip-width apart.
  2. Pushing through your heels, lift your hips off the ground while keeping your back straight.
  3. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds before slowly lowering your hips back to the ground. 

Tips: 

  • Lift your hips by squeezing your glutes and engaging your core muscles.
  • Maintain a neutral spine position to protect your back and maximize the engagement of your glutes and core.
  • Avoid letting your knees fall outward as you lift your hips; instead, keep them in line with your feet and hip-width apart to maintain proper alignment.

Optimal Sets and Reps: Two to three sets of 12-15 reps.

Benefits Of Stretching Your Abs

Abdominal stretches[1] bring a host of advantages to the table, extending far beyond simple muscle toning. 

Increased Flexibility 

Flexibility is an often overlooked aspect of fitness, but it’s essential for maintaining a full range of motion in your muscles and joints. This helps you easily perform daily activities and reduces the risk of injuries.

Builds A Strong Core

A strong core — the result of regular abdominal stretches and exercises — supports almost every movement your body makes. That includes everything from picking up a grocery bag to swinging a tennis racket. Your balance and stability will improve, which can make it easier to develop other muscles. 

Improved Posture

Ab Stretches: Improved Posture
Ab stretches improve your posture as well as prevent back pain and injury. Photo: Freepik

Incorporating good ab stretches into your routine can significantly improve your posture and prevent back pain and injury. Poor posture, often due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, can lead to many health problems, from headaches and tense shoulders to digestive issues.

Enhanced Athletic Efficiency 

Stretches enhance your entire athletic efficiency. Strong abdominal muscles are crucial for runners, cyclists, swimmers, and athletes. They facilitate efficient oxygen flow to the muscles, boosting overall endurance and performance levels.

Mental Health Benefits

Lastly, an unexpected but welcome benefit of abdominal stretches is the positive impact on your mental health. Regular exercise, including stretching, has been shown to alleviate stress[2] and anxiety.[3] Stretching can promote a sense of mindfulness, helping you to tune into your body and providing a mental respite from the day’s worries. 

When Should You Do Abdominal Stretches?

Deciding when to perform ab stretches can depend on several factors. This includes your fitness goals, overall workout plan, and individual body responses. However, here are a few general guidelines you can follow:

Post-Workout Cool-Down 

For many fitness enthusiasts, the best time to do abdominal stretches is after a workout as part of the cool-down phase. This is because your muscles are already warm from exercise, making them more pliable and receptive to stretching. Stretching post-workout can help prevent muscle stiffness, increase flexibility, and promote faster recovery. 

In general, make sure to do all your muscle stretches when your body is already warmed up to avoid any injury or muscle pain the next day.

In Their Own Dedicated Sessions

Ab Stretches: In Their Own Dedicated Sessions
You should incorporate separate stretching sessions into your routine. Photo: Freepik

It’s also possible to dedicate separate sessions entirely to stretching. This is especially helpful if you want to improve your flexibility or recover from a muscle strain. These sessions can be done anytime during the day — if you warm up your body first to avoid injury.

In Your Morning Routine

Incorporating a few stretches into your morning routine can also be beneficial. Morning stretching can help wake up your body, increase circulation, and set a positive tone for the day. Being gentle during these sessions is important, as your muscles might be stiffer first thing in the morning.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

While abdominal stretches have many benefits, performing them incorrectly can lead to injury or discomfort. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when you stretch your abs or perform your routines:

Skipping The Warm-Up

Jumping straight into intense ab stretches without properly warming up your muscles can lead to strains and injuries. Always start with a light warm-up, such as a prone abdominal stretch or a kneeling backward abdominal stretch, to increase blood flow and prepare your ab muscles for stretching.

Overstretching

Your ab stretch should feel comfortable — it’s not about how far you can push your body. Overstretching can damage your muscles and lead to decreased muscle function. You want to strive for dynamic stretches that feel good, not painful.

Holding Your Breath

Proper breathing helps oxygenate your muscles and increases the effectiveness of your stretches. Inhale as you prepare for a stretch, and exhale as you move into it.

Rushing Through The Stretch

Take your time with each abdominal stretch. Holding a stretch for at least 15-30 seconds allows your muscles to fully relax and benefit from the stretch. Rushing can cause unnecessary strain and diminish the effectiveness of the exercise.

Ignoring Pain

Some discomfort is normal when stretching, but pain is a sign something isn’t right. If you feel pain, ease off the stretch. Continuing to push through pain can lead to injuries.

Poor Form

Incorrect technique not only reduces the effectiveness of your stretch, but it can also lead to injuries. Make sure you’re performing each stretch as intended. If you’re uncertain about the proper form, seek advice from a fitness professional.

Not Stretching Regularly

For optimal results, stretching should be a regular part of your fitness routine. Sporadic stretching won’t offer as many benefits compared to doing it consistently.

Remember, everybody is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Always listen to your body and modify stretches to suit your fitness level and goals.

Finally, don’t forget the importance of eating whole foods to help your ab muscles recover. Nutrition and eating a healthy amount for your body type is going to get you long-lasting results — unlike fat burners.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, no belly exercise will reduce stomach fat. You’ll still need a calorie deficit, and a healthy diet full of vitamins, nutrients, and supplements if you have any deficiencies.

However, ab stretches offer much more than a toned physique.  They invest in your overall well-being, offering benefits far beyond the physical. You can improve your core, and overall muscular strength, and reduce back pain. So, choose your favorite ones from above, embrace them enthusiastically, and here’s to a healthier, fitter, and more flexible you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it good to stretch sore abs?

Gentle stretching can help alleviate muscle soreness and reduce injury risk by increasing blood flow and promoting recovery.

Should I do ab workouts every day?

While it’s possible to do ab workouts daily, it’s often more beneficial to allow your muscles time to rest and recover while working out only two to three times weekly.

How often should I do ab stretches?

Two to three times per week is optimal. They can be done after your workout as part of your cool down to improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension.

Can I overstretch my abs?

It’s possible to overstretch any muscle, including your abs. Overstretching can lead to muscle strains or other injuries.

Resources

  1. Eun Young Kim and Lee, H. (2013). The Effects of Deep Abdominal Muscle Strengthening Exercises on Respiratory Function and Lumbar Stability. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, [online] 25(6), pp.663–665. doi:https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.25.663.
  2. Childs, E. and Harriet de Wit (2014). Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in Physiology, [online] 5. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2014.00161.
  3. Aylett, E., Small, N. and Bower, P. (2018). Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Health Services Research, [online] 18(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-018-3313-5.