Flexibility exercises

Friday 1 April, 2016

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On this page: How much? | Shoulder stretch | Triceps stretch | Pectoral and biceps stretch | Quadriceps stretch | Calf stretch | Hamstrings stretch | Lower back stretch


Flexibility exercises, also known as stretches or range-of-motion (ROM) exercises, lengthen muscles and tendons. They improve or maintain the flexibility of joints and muscles. We naturally lose joint and muscle flexibility as we get older, but cancer treatments can also have an impact. Regular stretching helps to overcome stiffness and can delay any loss of flexibility.

Some simple flexibility exercises that can be done at home are described below. You could also join an exercise class that focuses on stretching, such as a yoga class. Remember to check with your health care team before beginning any exercise program. Although we have included flexibility exercises to suit most people, some may not be right for you.

How much?

Try to do flexibility exercises three to four times a week. Include stretches for arm, leg and torso (core) flexibility. In each session, you might do 1–3 sets of 4–6 different stretches.

Tips for stretching
  • Warm up your muscles first. An ideal time to stretch is during the cool-down phase.
  • Maintain good posture, and stretch slowly and steadily. Do not bounce.
  • Keep breathing normally. Do not hold your breath.
  • Know your limitations – you should feel a stretch and possibly mild discomfort, but you should not feel pain.

Shoulder stretch

Muscle group: Shoulders

  1. Stand with your feet about hip width apart.
  2. Pull one arm across your chest. Keep your elbow just below your shoulder-line. Hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds.
  3. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
Shoulder stretch

Triceps stretch

Muscle group: Triceps (back of arm)

  1. Lift one arm and bend your elbow with your forearm down your back.
  2. Using the elbow as a lever, use your other arm to gently push the arm down your back. Hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds.
  3. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
Triceps stretch

Pectoral and biceps stretch

Muscle group: Pectoral (chest) and biceps (upper arm)

  1. Stand near a wall or a pole. Raise one arm out to the side so it is parallel to the floor, and hold the wall or pole with your hand.
  2. Without moving your feet, partially turn your body away from the arm that is holding the wall/ pole. Hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds.
  3. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
Pectoral and biceps stretch

Quadriceps stretch

Muscle group: Quadriceps (front of thigh)

  1. Stand on one leg, with a wall or chair for support if necessary.
  2. Hold your foot with your hand and pull the leg towards your buttocks by the ankle. Make sure you keep your torso straight. Hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds.
  3. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

You can use a towel to help bring your foot up towards your buttock. Another option is to do this stretch lying down on your stomach.

Quadriceps stretch

Calf stretch

Muscle group: Calves (back of lower leg)

  1. Stand facing a wall with your arms straight and hands flat against the wall. Step one of your feet straight back, placing the heel flat on the floor.
  2. Lean forward against the wall and partially bend your front leg. Keep your back leg (stretching leg) completely extended and your foot flat on the floor – move the foot backwards until you feel the stretch. Hold for 15–30 seconds.
  3. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
Calf stretch

Hamstrings stretch

Muscle group: Hamstrings (back of thigh)

Equipment: Step or box (about 30 cm high)

  1. Stand on one leg with the other foot on the step. At first, you may want to do this near a wall in case you need to steady yourself.
  2. Lean forward from the hips, pushing your chest towards your knee. Keep your back straight. Hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds.
  3. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

For more of a stretch, place the foot of the leg being stretched flat on the step.

Hamstrings stretch

Lower back stretch

Muscle group: Lower back

  1. Sit on a chair or bench. Keep your feet on the ground and your knees partly bent.
  2. Curl your torso forward and hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds.
  3. Slowly sit back up and pause, then repeat the stretch.
Lower back stretch

Reviewed by: Prof Sandi Hayes, Senior Research Fellow, ihop Research Group, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, QLD; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA, SA; Chris Pidd, Consumer; Steve Pratt, Nutrition and Physical Activity Manager, Cancer Council WA, WA; Kellie Toohey, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, University of Canberra, ACT.