Active Recovery

The One Stretch Olympic Gymnast Gabby Douglas Does Every Day Is Also One of the Easiest

Zoe Weiner

Photo: Getty Images/ Alex Livesey / Staff
On a normal day of training, Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas spends up to six and a half hours in the gym. And with that much grueling work on her body, you better believe that her muscles are tight by the time she heads home for the evening—which is why she considers stretching to be just as important a part of her routine as the twisting and tumbling she does on a daily basis.

“I can’t even begin to explain how important stretching is—not just as a gymnast, but as a human being,” says Douglas. “It’s about more than just being flexible—it’s really about becoming better at [day-to-day activities] than doing splits and becoming a contortionist.”

Given the amount of lower body work associated with Douglas’s legendary floor, bar, and beam moves, it makes sense that there’s one spot in particular where she tends to experience the most tension after her workouts. “My hips are prone to getting a little bit tighter than everything else,” says Douglas. To combat that, she swears the classic butterfly stretch.

The move—which involves sitting on the floor with the bottoms of your feet together and splaying your knees toward the ground—is a trainer favorite for loosening up tight hip flexors. “This can be a great exercise for people who want to find more flexibility in their hips and inner thighs, and is fantastic to undo the slumping that’s typically done at a computer all day,” says Rebecca Lubart, Pilates instructor and founder of Dynamic Body Pilates, previously told Well+Good. “The pressing of the soles of your feet together combined with the pull of the arms and a long, neutral spine means that you’ll not only get a great stretch sensation in your hips but as you press your thighs down with your hip muscles, it creates a really great anchoring of your thigh bones into your hip sockets.”

The butterfly stretch requires your body’s strength and mobility to work together, which helps to create stability and alignment throughout your body. Even if you aren’t, say, an Olympic gymnast, it can be helpful to stretch out hip flexors that are tight from sitting or hunching over a desk. To get the most out of the move, Douglas suggests taking things slowly. “The thing about stretching is you want to do it very gradually,” she says. “A lot of people think, ‘let me put my leg up,’ or ‘let me touch my toes,’ but if you feel just a little bit of pain and hold it for 30 or 45 seconds, you won’t risk ripping or tearing your muscle and you’ll be good to go.”

Aside from the butterfly stretch, Douglas also relies on neck rolls, side stretches, and yoga poses like Downward-Facing Dog and Bridge Pose to keep her body prepped for performance. In addition to stretching, her recovery routine also includes a collagen, which is why she partnered with Smoothie King to develop a line of “Stretch & Flex” smoothies infused with the ingredient. “With stretching, I’ve noticed huge benefits with incorporating type two collagen into my routine, which plays a huge factor in cutting out muscle soreness, maintaining joint health, and improving flexibility,” she says.

While the rest of us may not be able to land a “Flying Squirrel,” stretching and sipping on smoothies are two far easier ways we can add a little bit of Douglas’s superhuman strength into our own routines.

Speaking of tight hips, try this 15-minute yoga flow to combat any soreness:

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