The knees-to-chest exercise is a great stretch that has more benefits than you would guess at a first glance. This is an ideal exercise for anyone who is beginning to work out their stomach muscles, although experienced exercisers will also gain benefits from stretching their glutes and lower back.

What to expect from the knees-to-chest exercise

The knees-to-chest exercise doesn’t take any equipment, require any weights, and as long as you have some cleared floor space you can succeed at it. Begin by laying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. One at a time you will lift your bent leg and hold your knee to your chest. You should hold your leg in place there for typical 30 seconds so your muscles will benefit from the stretch. Do this in reps of 2 to 4, and then alternate. To work the abs a bit more, you can also graduate to working both of your legs at once: as you lay back, keep your legs together and bring them to your chest as you inhale. Your arms should stay on the floor, and your lower back should stay touching the floor as well. As you lower your legs straighten them out but prevent them from touching the floor - just lower them enough to feel the strain, and then bring them back for 8-12 more reps. If you keep your abs contracted the whole time, you will notice the change.

How to prepare for the knees-to-chest exercise

If you have any previous lower back or leg pain, consult a physician before attempting the knees-to-chest move. If you begin the exercise and then begin to feel pain in those areas, stop immediately and get the area checked out.

Muscles you'll work with the knees-to-chest exercise

The knees-to-chest exercise is great for your abs, lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. As you lie on your back and move your legs from the floor to your chest, all of these muscles are stretched out in a position they do not usually extend to, which is why this exercise is so important. It can help prevent injury to those muscles, as well as sooth their tension or pain. This exercise is recommended to patients by physical therapists as a way to help them recover from lower back injuries. It also helps seniors who have arthritis in their hips and lower back, as it releases tension in the spine and can even reduce your risk of vertebral fractures that result from osteoporosis. The knees-to-chest stretch is better for your hamstrings than the typical leg stretch, as long as you are smart and do not force the stretch further than your body can manage.

Tips for success in the knees-to-chest exercise

To get more from your stretch, keep the leg you aren’t working on absolutely flat on the floor instead of bent at the knee (but stop if it bothers your lower back). This exercise should not be used as a warm-up, but instead at the end of your warm-up or even after you work out.

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