Still, the move primarily works on lengthening and opening the muscles in your lower body. That’s just fine—the figure four is already putting in work! But there is a way to get your upper body involved, too, turning the figure four into a full-body stretch.
In a new 10-minute stretch video for Well+Good’s Good Stretch series, Chloe de Winter of Go Chlo Pilates will lead you through a routine that targets your whole body. It begins with a figure four series, where she delivers variations on the move that get even deeper into the hips, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as the spine, IT band, chest, and back.
Why you should do a 10-minute stretch every day
Why take precious time out of your day to stretch that bod? Doing so is more important than you might think.
We rely on our muscles to move us about the world, but often we put them to work without giving them the TLC they need to keep us going. However, a little love in the form of stretching can go a long way.
“As you elongate these muscles, you’re also building flexibility and increasing range of motion over time,” Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d in New York City, previously told Well+Good about the benefits of stretching. “A daily practice helps the muscles (and the brain) remember this state. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Muscle memory is real! We say that stretching consistently is best to help build flexibility. Ten minutes a day is better than an hour once a week.”
Stretching can reduce injury, support mobility, help you make the most of your workouts, and even improve your posture.
“When you have a longer muscle, it’s more resistant to things like straining injuries or tears,” Austin Martinez, director of education for StretchLab, previously told Well+Good about the importance of flexibility.
Stretching can be the rejuvenating counterbalance to sore muscles, whether they’re tight, stiff, and short from moving or *not* moving. “Stretching brings blood flow to muscles that are often underused throughout the day, helping them feel less tense and more relaxed,” Brannigan says. “This boost in circulation helps revive muscles—almost like rehydrating them with a fresh supply of nutrients.”
Stretching can also prompt the release of endorphins (especially when paired with movement), and can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is your body’s “rest and digest” state.
What muscles should you stretch?
All the muscles throughout your body deserve to get a stretch in. But our smartphone and computer-focused modern lives hit some parts of the body harder than others.
“Our lifestyles put strain on the low back, hips, neck, and shoulders,” Brannigan previously told Well+Good about the impact sitting for long periods can have on our bodies. “These are the muscles that are likely to be tight or that can lead to injury because they are so tight.”
De Winter’s neck and shoulders often bear the brunt of tension in her life, which is why she incorporates a neck and shoulder section into this 10-minute stretch routine.
“I call these the stress muscles because whenever I’m stressed and I’m doing lots of work, these muscles just get so tight and sore,” De Winter says. “This is what I need to do. Just stretch them out. That and stop working.”
You should also get familiar with how to stretch hamstrings. Your hamstrings can come under stress from too much sitting: Staying stationary on the couch or at your desk can shorten your hamstrings, which can put too much pressure on your low back or knees, and prompt pain and injury. Tight hamstrings can also pull your pelvis out of alignment, leading to poor posture. That in turn stresses the spine and the muscles surrounding it. So incorporating back stretches is also a good idea.
Now, remember that figure four variation that will do just that? It’s time to get into it.
Figure four variations that target the whole body
De Winter’s luxurious figure four series helps you target many of those muscles that are commonly impacted by working at a computer.
Extend the bottom leg
From a traditional figure four pose, you’ll extend the bottom leg straight up, which adds an even deeper hamstring stretch as you continuously bend and extend.
Rock side to side
Return that bottom leg to a bent position, and take some time to rock and roll from side to side. This will deepen the hip and glute stretch by changing where you’re putting pressure on the muscle.
“As you rock from side to side, what we’re doing is getting even deeper into that stretch and you’ll notice that some points of that rock feel a little tighter on the glute than others do,” De Winter says. “Maybe pay a little bit more attention to those tight parts, those tight spots so we’re getting more out of the stretch. Maybe slow down in those spots, really focusing on releasing all those muscles around the hip.”
Add a spinal twist
Now, come back to center, and you’ll actually want to release your arms from under your leg. If your right foot is on top of your left leg, simply roll on over to the left, so that your right foot is on the floor. This will put you in a delicious spinal twist position, that’s also adding a stretch to the IT band on the side of your right thigh. But that’s not all. Place your arms out to the side, so you’re making a “T” shape. Then, bend your elbows, bringing your arms into a cactus position, with the tops of your forearms and hands touching the floor by the sides of your head. Do you feel that chest opening? Finally, gently turn your head away from the top leg, so you’re getting a stretch along the side of your neck.
“Everything’s really stretching out here,” De Winter says. “Feel that whole spinal twist stretching all the muscles in the back across the hip down the side of the leg.”
Neck, shoulders, chest, spine, thighs, hips, glutes, and hamstrings. Did you know a figure four could do all that?
You can watch Chloe De Winter lead you in the 10-minute stretch session in the video above, or follow along on your own with the moves below. Remember, consistency is key to building that muscle memory of long, elastic muscles, ready to move you through the world.
A 10-minute stretch video to target the whole body
Format: Three figure four stretch variations, done on each side, followed by two neck and shoulder-focused stretches.
Equipment needed: None.
Who is this for?: If you sit for long periods of time, are tight from exercise, or just need to spend time with your body, this easy-to-follow stretch series is for you.
1. Figure four stretch with hamstring extensions (30 seconds)
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Lift your right leg and rest your right ankle on your left thigh.
- Thread your hands under your left thigh, pulling the leg towards you.
- Straighten the left leg, then return to a bent position.
- Continue bending and extending.
2. Rocking figure four stretch (30 seconds)
- From figure four position, pull your legs in slightly closer to your body.
- Rock side to side.
3. Twisting cactus stretch (1 minute)
- From a figure four position, release your arms, and then tilt your lower body towards your left side, so that your right foot lands on the floor.
- Open your arms out to either side, and place them in a cactus position, with each arm bent up on the floor 90 degrees at the elbow.
- Look over your right shoulder and hold.
Repeat moves 1-3 on the other side
4. Seated side stretch (1 minute per side)
- Sit in a cross-legged position.
- Crawl your left fingers out to the side away from you.
- Lift your right arm overhead, lean over to the left side, and hold.
- Repeat on the other side.
5. Neck stretch (30 seconds per side)
- Sitting in a cross legged position, tilt your head to the left, lengthening the right side of the neck.
- Place your left hand on your head and gently pull the head downward.
- Repeat on the other side.