8 Active Stretches That Feel Like a Workout (Video Tutorial Included)

July 7, 2023

You don’t have to jog for hours to get your blood pumping. You can spark that “I just worked out” feeling with something much gentler on the body, but just as invigorating: stretching!

While some stretches are more passive, others are designed to feel more like a workout—including the ones listed below. NativePath Co-Founder and Doctor of Physical Therapy, Dr. Chad Walding, recorded a short video leading you through eight of his favorite “active” stretches. Keep scrolling to follow along!

8 Active Stretches That Feel Like a Workout

Before getting started, remember that your comfort level is the most important thing when trying a new stretch—or any workout. If you feel sharp or searing pain, stop what you’re doing. It’s okay to try a more gentle or “halfway” version of a stretch while your body adjusts to a new movement. If you have any concerns about getting hurt, talk to a health pro before getting started.

Here’s how to try each stretch to energize your hamstrings, back, shoulders, and more…

1. Shinbox Rotation

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your hands on the floor behind you. Lean both knees toward the right until they reach the floor in front of you and land at a 90-degree angle. Then slowly lift your knees and guide them toward the left, repeating the same motion. Inhale as your knees are moving upward, and exhale on as they’re on their way down. Keep your chest facing forward. Do 2-3 sets of 10 reps on each side.

2. Shinbox Thoracic Rotation

Sit on the floor with each leg bent at a 90-degree angle, in the same motion you used in the previous stretch. Starting with your right leg in front, extend your right hand flat on the floor behind your hip. From there, gently reach your left hand to touch your right hand while pushing into the ground before reaching your left hand back up toward the ceiling. Do 5 reps on each side.

3. Shinbox Rear External Rotation

Start in a shinbox position, with each leg resting at a 90-degree angle. Place your front hand on the floor behind you and your back hand forward. Then, gently lift the knee of your back leg up toward the ceiling. Then lower your knee back to the ground, allowing your foot to roll slightly to the side. Do 10 reps on each side.

4. Shinbox Heel Touch

Get shinbox-ready by sitting on the floor with one leg in front of you at a 90-degree angle, and the other behind you at a 90-degree angle. Bring the heel of your back leg forward to touch (or gently come close to touching) the heel of your front leg. Then, bring your back leg behind you again until your knee is touching the floor. Do 10 reps on each side.

5. Plank to Downdog

Start in a push-up position with your back legs straight and parallel to the floor. Then, guide yourself into a downdog yoga pose by lifting your hips upward until you’re holding an upside-down V pose. Keep your back and legs straight. Both heels should be touching the floor with your feet hip-width apart as you push toward the ground. Your hands should be facing forward on the ground in front of you, shoulder-length apart. Hold and savor the rush before moving back into a plank position. Do 10 reps.

6. Russian Baby Maker

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, reach down to touch your toes and guide your hips backward. Wrap your fingers around your toes before guiding your hips downward to the bottom of the squat, making sure that your elbows are on the inside of your knees and your chest is lifted upward. Then, with your hands still holding your feet, lift your hips back up until your legs are straight again, before lowering back down into the squat. Do 10 reps.

7. Middle Split Hinge

Stand in a gentle middle split, with each leg extended to your side. (Watch out for excess strain or sharp pain—don’t push your stance wider than feels safe for you!) Each foot should be flat on the floor and facing forward. Place your hands on your hips or extend them at your sides. Bending at the hips, lower your chest forward until it is parallel with the floor. Hold, and don’t forget to breathe! Do 10 reps.

8. Long Split Pulse

Start in a standing position and extend one leg forward into a lunge, with your foot flat on the floor in front of you. Extend your other leg backward until it is straight, with your heel facing upward. If you feel comfortable, slowly and gently pulse your hips, bouncing up and down. Engage your core and avoid putting any pressure on your knees. Hold for 20-30 seconds on each side.

Why You Need to Stretch

Stretches play an integral role in a well-rounded fitness routine, and they can wake up parts of your muscles that you’ve never even felt before. Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles and allows them to receive more oxygen, creating a rush of positive and rejuvenating feelings (1, 2). A good, hearty stretch also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes your body and releases endorphins, the “happy hormones (3, 4).”

Because tight muscles can limit your range of motion, excluding stretching from your regular routine can increase your likelihood of back strain and inhibit your ability to move as freely as you’d like to as you age (5). A regular stretching habit is a great way to help prevent back pain and lower your risk of muscle strain.

How Often Should You Stretch?

To improve your posture and flexibility while increasing your freedom to move, make time to stretch every day (6). You can stretch first thing in the morning, before bed, or before exercising. You can even do a few seated moves from the comfort of your bed or couch. The key is to make it a regular part of your routine.

The Bottom Line

When you need an energy boost, try these invigorating exercises that feel like a workout. They offer an endorphin rush and a great way to care for your muscles, back health, and posture. Do these stretches regularly to ease and prevent aches and pains.

Claire Hannum
Article by

Claire Hannum

Claire Hannum is a New York City-based writer, editor, wellness seeker, and reiki practitioner. Her writing has appeared in Self, Health, Prevention, and over a dozen other publications. When she's not writing, she's traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.

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NativePath has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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