Feeling Tight? This Pilates Stretching Workout Is the Next Best Thing to a Massage

Pilates is one of the best workouts you can turn to in order to recover and stretch things out following a higher intensity workout (or a long day of WFH). But that doesn't mean you have to sweat through a tough, hours-long session in order to get the full-body benefits. As East River Pilates instructor Chloe Gregor is proving, you can turn to a quick Pilates stretching workout to recover and give yourself the next best thing to a massage.

"Everybody needs a bit of stretching and recovery, especially at the end of a long day," says Gregor, who's bringing full-body recovery into the comfort of our own homes in this week's episode of Well+Good's video series, Good Moves"This will focus mostly on our postural muscles, and strengthening and lengthening of our hips, which is what everybody needs a lot more of."

Throughout the 15-minute body-opening workout, you'll hit all of the tight hotspots, including your hip flexors, hamstrings, thoracic spine, glutes, and your shoulders. At the very end, Gregor takes you through what she calls the "anti-sitting-at-a-desk stretch." (Yes, please.) All you'll need is a mat, a foam roller, and a resistance band (or belt, or scarf, or whatever else you can find at home). Prepare to feel really good once you're finished.

Try this 15-minute Pilates stretching workout

Cat-cow: Start on your hands and knees for cat-cow. Make sure your hands are underneath your shoulders and your knees are underneath your hips. Inhale to drop your stomach, arch your spine, and look up to the ceiling. Exhale to drop your chin, round your back, and pull your abs in.

Thread the needle—right: Sweep your right hand straight up, exhale, then thread it underneath your body, coming into a twist. Press into your left hand, inhaling to open, exhaling to thread under. Cycle through this a few times, then come all of the way down and drop your head onto your mat, crawling your fingers forward. Hold for a few breaths, focusing on getting that spiraling of the chest up towards the ceiling.

Repeat on the left side.

Hip flexor opening—right: Come onto your knees and step your left foot forward, with your ankle a little in front of the knee. Take your hands to the front of your thigh, tuck your tailbone under, and find a scoop of the belly. Shift your weight forward until you feel this opening through the front of your right hip. Raise your right hand up and lean over to the left to stretch the side of your body.

Hamstring extension—left: Take your hands down to the mat and extend your left leg out, letting the toes lift. Fold your body forward over that left leg, feeling a stretch through the back of that left hamstring. Breathe through it and shake out any tension.

Low lunge twist—left: Plant your foot down, tuck your back toes under and lift that back knee, coming into a long lunge. Your back leg stays straight—think about your left knee reaching forward and your right heel reaching back. Plant your right hand down, and lift your left hand up to the ceiling, gazing up.

Repeat this sequence on your opposite side. 

Hamstring extension—left: Lie down onto your back and place a resistance band around the back of your left foot. Slide your right leg away from you on the ground. Keep your elbows down in towards the mat and keep your left leg raised. Hold the stretch and try to straighten the left knee if you can.

Repeat this on your right side.

Figure-four stretch—left: Bend your knees in, take your left ankle over your right thigh. Push the right knee away from you, or, if you have the range, thread your hands to the back of your right thigh and interlace your fingers, pulling your knee towards your chest. Push your left knee away from you and keep your tailbone heavy. Draw your shoulders away from your ears.

Repeat this on your right side.

Thoracic roll: Place your foam roller perpendicular underneath your upper back. Your hands come behind the back of your head, fingers interlaced, thumbs down the back of your neck. Lift your hips up into a little bridge and roll down until the foam roller is at the top of your shoulder blades, then roll back until it's at the bottom of your ribcage.

Thoracic extension: Find one spot that feels tight and pause. Sit your hips down and open your elbows wide, then let your body melt and extend over the roller. You should feel an opening in the front of your chest and shoulders.

Side rolling—right: Roll onto your side and bend your knees in. Have the foam roller nestled on the outside of your shoulder blade. Take your hands behind your head, and roll forward and back along this band of muscle. You're rolling the lats, deltoids, and your rotator cuff.

Repeat on the left side. 

Chest opener: Grab your resistance band and reach your arms out wide in front of you. Lift the band and your arms way up, and take the arms behind you so that you feel an opening in the front of your chest and shoulders. Then reach your arms up and take them back forward. Inhale to lift them up, exhale to bring them back. Pause at the back as far as you can reach and hold the stretch.

For more exercises to try, here's a Pilates workout for tight hip flexors, and this is a Pilates core workout that only takes 15 minutes. 

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