10 Morning Stretches Physical Therapists Want You To Do Every Day

Learn why morning stretches are important for all-day flexibility, and which moves are recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: Jun 21, 2024
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There’s a reason so many of us reflexively stretch out our arms first thing in the morning: It just feels good. After hours of being mostly immobile, your body naturally wants to give all your internal structures, from your muscles to your tendons and ligaments, a little tug. And working targeted morning stretches into your A.M. routine can help combat feeling stiff and achy as you start your day, especially if you struggle with musculoskeletal pain. 

“When you’re sedentary — including while you’re asleep — your joints aren’t getting much movement, and movement is what helps lubricate them,” says Kristin Vinci, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. What’s more, most of your muscles are in a fixed position during REM sleep, so blood flow to them is limited for a good part of the night. This can also contribute to muscle stiffness when you first pop out of bed in the morning. 

A morning stretching routine is a great way to restore the movement your body has been missing and prepare yourself for the day ahead. “The main purpose of stretching is to increase muscle length and improve flexibility so you can comfortably do things like bend over to tie your shoes,” says Dr. Vinci.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of stretching in the morning, including moves recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Kristin Vinci, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Vinci is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in orthopedics, persistent pain, and mindfulness based stress reduction.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

Incorporating stretching into your morning routine can be pretty simple. One easy option: Do moves 1-5 below before you even get out of bed, then head to the kitchen and do the standing stretches (6-10) while you’re waiting for your morning cup of coffee or tea to warm up.

1. Alternating Pelvic Tilts

1. Alternating Pelvic Tilts

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If you’re familiar with the yoga pose cat-cow, you can think of this as a variation that focuses on the low back. It provides gentle movement that’s great for combating stiffness. 

How to Do It: 

  • On a yoga mat, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. 

  • Now, relax your abdominal muscles to arch your lower back away from the floor. 

  • Then, return to the starting position. 

  • Next, tighten your abdominal and butt muscles to flatten your lower back toward the floor. 

  • Then, relax and return to the starting position.

2. Knee Rocking

2. Knee Rocking

Imagine your knees are like windshield wipers as they move side to side. Start with your feet close together (as shown), or try moving them apart a little, which will add more movement for your hips. As you do each rep, you may feel a stretch in your back and hip muscles. 

How to Do It: 

  • On a yoga mat, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. 

  • Next, keep your knees together as you allow your knees to rock to one side, reaching toward the floor. 

  • Then, return your knees to the center before rocking your knees to the opposite side.

3. Side Lying Quad Stretch

3. Side Lying Quad Stretch

Many people sleep curled inward in the fetal position. This move helps you stretch in the opposite direction.

How to Do It: 

  • On a yoga mat, lie on your side, using your bottom arm or a cushion for head support. Your legs should be straight with your feet stacked on top of one another. 

  • Now, bend your top knee as you bring your heel toward your butt, and grab onto your foot or ankle with your top hand. 

  • Next, gently pull your heel further toward your butt to stretch the front of your thigh. 

  • Release your foot back to the starting position.

4. Bridge

4. Bridge

This move focuses on the hips, and it also helps stretch you in the opposite direction of how you may have been sleeping. It’s fine to do it in bed, but if you prefer more stability, you can move to the floor instead.

How to Do It: 

  • On a yoga mat, lie comfortably on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.

  • Push through your feet to raise your hips off the floor. Focus on squeezing your butt muscles as you hold this position. 

  • Relax your hips back to the floor.

5. Back Rotation Stretch

5. Back Rotation Stretch

An expansion of the knee rocking move, this stretch provides deeper rotation and gives you more of a hip stretch.

How to Do It: 

  • Start by lying comfortably on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. 

  • Now, use your hand to pull one knee across your body and toward the floor, twisting through your back. 

  • Let your other arm reach out to your side, keeping your upper back on the floor as you straighten your other leg. 

  • Return to the starting position.

6. Standing Child’s Pose

6. Standing Child’s Pose

Time to get on your feet! This is a supported move — you can put your hands on a wall or the edge of your bed — and it will stretch the back of your legs and your low back as well as your upper arms.

How to Do It: 

  • Stand with your hands resting on a sturdy surface, like a countertop or table.

  • Now, take a few steps back as you lower your chest towards the floor, hinging at your hips.

  • Keep your arms straight and your head will come between your arms. Hold this stretch as you focus on relaxing your back and core muscles. 

  • Then walk your feet forward and come back into a standing position.

7. Cross Arm Stretch

7. Cross Arm Stretch

By giving each elbow a squeeze, you’ll stretch the back of your shoulders and your shoulder blades.

How to Do It: 

  • Start by folding your arms across your stomach, with one hand holding your opposite elbow from the bottom. 

  • Now push that elbow with your hand up and across your body, toward your opposite shoulder. 

  • Relax your arms back to the starting position.

8. Shoulder Gators

8. Shoulder Gators

Squeezing your elbows together provides movement across the shoulder blades and upper back. When you pull them apart, you’ll introduce movement across the front of your chest.

How to Do It: 

  • Stand tall, and bend your elbows to rest each hand gently on the back of your head.

  • Begin with your elbow close together in front of your nose. 

  • Now open your elbows out to the sides, feeling your shoulder blades gliding down and back toward each other.

9. Standing Side Bend with Arm Reach

9. Standing Side Bend with Arm Reach

This classic move stretches the side of your low back and hips, giving a good stretch all the way down the side of your body.

How to Do It: 

  • Start by standing with your feet a comfortable distance apart and your hands at your sides. 

  • Now, slide one hand down your leg toward your knee so that your shoulder leans to the side and down toward the floor. 

  • At the same time, reach your opposite arm straight up toward the ceiling, and then over your head in the direction you’re leaning. 

  • Return to the starting position. Repeat on your other side.

10. Standing Calf Stretch

10. Standing Calf Stretch

When you’re sleeping, your toes are usually pointed, which shortens the calf muscles over the course of the night. This move counteracts that shortening and also wakes up your ankle joints.

How to Do It: 

  • Start by standing, facing a wall with the palms of your hands flat on the wall.

  • Now, take a good step back with your targeted leg. 

  • Pressing your back heel down towards the floor, move your hips and front knee towards the wall. Your back leg should remain mostly straight during this stretch. 

  • Make sure that your feet are facing straight forward as you hold this stretch.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

The Benefits of Stretching in the Morning

Stretching any time of day can be beneficial, and research has shown that it helps alleviate musculoskeletal pain. Here are some benefits you may experience if you do morning stretches consistently:

  • Reduced risk of injury during exercise. Regular stretching also may improve your athletic performance.

  • Better balance, which may help prevent dangerous falls, says Dr. Vinci. “Stretching improves muscle strength and power, as well as flexibility. And if you’re more flexible, you’ll be better able to ‘catch’ yourself if you start to lose your footing.”

  • Alleviate morning stiffness. While there’s nothing wrong with stretching before hitting the gym or before bed, doing it first thing can help you shake off morning stiffness, get your heart rate up after a night’s rest, and increase blood flow throughout your body. Morning stretching is especially beneficial for those with arthritis as well as people who have irritation from a herniated disc in the low back. “The intervertebral discs that cushion the spine rehydrate overnight, which is mostly a good thing,” Dr. Vinci explains. The catch is that if you have a disc that’s misaligned, it has the potential to put more pressure on nearby nerves when the disc is fully plumped up.

Stretching in the morning can be beneficial even if you don’t have a specific musculoskeletal problem. “Some people sleep in a curled, fetal position, which elongates muscles in the back but shortens those in the front of the hips, chest, and shoulder,” says Dr. Vinci. Stretching can help counteract your sleep position, so you feel more comfortable as you go about your day.

PT Tip: Take It Easy When It’s Early

Stretching first thing in the morning is a good practice, but keep it gentle, advises Dr. Vinci. “You shouldn’t aim for maximum movement, like you might during a hot yoga class at the end of the day when your muscles are already warmed up,” she says. “You should be able to relax your face and breathe through the movements. If you’re straining to get into a deeper stretch, you might be creating tension elsewhere in your body.”

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  2. Suni, E., & Callender, E. (2020, October 30). What Happens When You Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep 

  3. Kim, E., Jo, E.-D., & Han, G.-S. (2023). Effects of stretching intervention on musculoskeletal pain in dental professionals. Journal of Occupational Health, 65(1). doi:10.1002/1348-9585.12413

  4. Kaminski, J. (n.d.). The Benefits of Stretching: Learn the Advantages of Flexibility. NASM. https://blog.nasm.org/the-benefits-of-stretching 

  5. Vittala, G., Sundari, L. R., Basuki, N., Kuswardhani, R. T., Purnawati, S., & Muliarta, Im. (2021). The addition of active stretching to balance strategy exercise is the most effective as a home-based exercise program in improving the balance of the elderly. Journal of Mid-Life Health, 12(4), 294. doi:10.4103/jmh.jmh_184_21