If you’re looking for stretches you can do anywhere at any time; it doesn’t get much better than the forward fold. Yes, we all know we should be following a regular stretching routine before and after a workout and even on rest days if we truly want to improve flexibility. But sometimes, you need that one stretch you can turn to when you want to loosen up and relieve tension during a busy day. The forward fold can be that for you.
The forward fold—also called a forward bend or fold-over stretch—is one of the best and easiest stretches to improve flexibility. It targets the back of the body and relieves tension in your back and neck. And you can do it right next to your desk (no sitting on the floor required). Doesn’t get much easier than that.
What is the forward fold?
The forward fold is a stretch where you essentially fold your upper body over your legs. It’s a standard yoga pose (or asana)—“forward fold” in Sanskrit is Uttanasana—that’s included in a well-known series of poses called sun salutation. You’ve likely done plenty of forwarding folds if you’ve ever taken a vinyasa-style yoga class.
The benefits of the forward fold
In yoga, forward folds help you ground down and get a solid foundation in your feet and legs, Lyons says. “They soothe the nervous system, encourage some inward-looking (introspection and inquiry), and can be used as a warm-up and as a cool down from more vigorous asanas.”
“On the physical front, this pose stretches the hamstrings, hips, and calves,” Lyons says. You’ll also feel a gentle release in your neck and back. “A standing forward fold improves flexibility on the posterior [back] side of the body, which is so important for the amount of time we all tend to sit.”
It can also help improve your balance and proprioception, or your body’s ability to recognize and position itself in space. “The changing of visual cues and being upside down, along with changing your weight distribution, will improve the proprioception of the muscles around the joints of the lower extremities,” Lyons says.
Who shouldn’t do the forward fold?
Lyons says that a forward fold is generally a safe and gentle stretch, but folding can exacerbate a back injury or spinal disc issue. Modifications that are gentler on the spine include bending the knees or switching to the seated version.
Also, putting your head below your heart, which happens in the forwarding fold, may not be safe for people with high blood pressure. If you have any concerns about the safety of this pose for you, talk with your doctor or physical therapist before trying it.
How to add the forward fold to your routine
Lyons recommends doing forward fold any time during the weekday when you need a quick reset. In general, it’s a good idea to take standing and walking breaks throughout the day. When you do, add in a forward fold. “Start with bent knees and gradually start to straighten the legs to the degree they allow. Your hands can be on the floor for support or clasped behind your back,” Lyons says.
It’s also a good post-workout stretch. “After a rigorous workout or cardio-focused class, take your feet hip-width distance apart and take a standing forward fold,” Lyons recommends. “Clasp hand to opposite elbow over your head or hands behind your back, and allow your spine to lengthen, your head to drop, and your hamstrings to get that sweet release.”
She also recommends a seated forward fold before bed to clear the day away and get in one final gentle, relaxing stretch.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and arms by your sides.
- Exhale as you fold forward from the hips and bring your head towards the floor. Tuck your chin under, relax your shoulders and think about extending the crown of your head toward the floor to create a long spine.
- Keep your knees straight but with a gentle bend to not lockout. This will help protect your back.
- Touch the floor with your fingertips. You can also wrap your arms around your legs if that feels comfortable.
- Hold for 30–60 seconds. Don’t forget to breathe.
- Bend knees and roll up slowly, starting with the low back and stacking one vertebra at a time to return to standing.
If you can’t reach your hands to the floor or your hamstrings are extremely tight, bend your knees more or try placing your hands on an elevated surface, like a yoga block.