Butterfly Stretches Are the Ache-Combating Move You Need to Try

Butterfly Stretches

Getty/Design by Cristina Cianci

After a year of being cooped up at home, your body is probably starting to feel it. Maybe your low back is throbbing by the end of the day, or your hips feel stiff and creaky from sitting at your desk for hours on end. Enter butterfly stretches, which can combat your work-from-home aches and pains, plus so much more.

Butterfly stretches are helpful for anything from loosening up touchy hip joints to winding down after a tough workout, says Katy Neville, a fitness instructor and head of fitness and programming at Onyx. The best part? They're simple: Sit up tall, place the soles of your feet together, and let your knees fall out to either side. Boom, there's your butterfly.

Below, fitness experts explain the benefits of butterfly stretches, whether you should try them, and how you can build them into your routine.

Meet the Expert

How to Do a Butterfly Stretch

To perform a butterfly stretch, sit on the floor with your legs stretched in front of you. Bring your feet in towards your inner thighs, pressing the soles of your feet together. Let your knees fall to either side, pressing down towards the floor. Hold your feet with your hands, keeping your spine as elongated as possible.

Benefits of Butterfly Stretches

Butterfly stretches are a versatile and customizable staple in any stretch session, says Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTP, a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy. Neville recommends butterfly stretching before or after your workout, or as a break in between Zoom meetings to open up stiff hips, lengthen leg and back muscles, and even improve your posture, to name a few benefits.

  • They relieve tight hips: Your hip muscles are especially prone to tightness these days because too much sitting can cause your hip muscles to shorten and, well, stay short, says Neville. Butterfly stretches counteract short, stiff muscles by forcing them to do the opposite: Lengthen and open. "We sit, work, walk, and run in the same plane of motion. When you press your knees wide, you are moving your body laterally and literally opening up," she says.
  • They help you function: Stretching out tight hips doesn't just make you more comfortable in the moment—it can make everyday activities a little bit easier. "Hips are the motor of the body: They help us walk, run, jump, and sit," says Neville. So the better your hips are functioning, the better your entire body will move.
  • They stretch multiple muscles: You're not just stretching your hip muscles during butterfly stretches. You're also giving your inner thigh adductor muscles, groin, hip rotators, and low back muscles some TLC, according to Hackney. Opening your knees wide taps into those leg muscles, and keeping a long spine while leaning forward can gently stretch out your back, she says.
  • They increase flexibility: Stretching trains your muscles to stay long, lean, and limber, which boosts your all-around flexibility, says Neville. Even better? Research shows stretching can help boost range of motion in your joints so you can stay mobile.
  • They improve your posture: Muscle imbalances like having tight hips with an over-rounded back can contribute to poor posture. Butterfly stretches can help correct those imbalances so your body is better able to hold itself upright, according to Neville.
  • They protect against injury: When your muscles are used to being sedentary, too much movement or lengthening can cause injury. Butterfly stretches are great for keeping tight hips limber to help you avoid those accidental muscle tears.

Who Should Try Them

Short answer? Everybody, according to Neville. If you're new to the stretch, she recommends easing into your butterfly slowly. Your body may be used to sitting in a specific position for hours a day, so your hips might be resistant to the stretch at first, she points out. That said, try butterfly stretches throughout the day to help you loosen up tight muscles and take a welcome break from screen time. It only takes a minute or two to start reaping the benefits of butterflies.

Butterfly stretches are also great for athletes thanks to their ability to promote flexibility, adds Hackney. She suggests working butterflies into your usual stretching routine to open up your hips and give those muscles a little extra love as you wind down from your workout, especially cardio activities that warm up and prime your muscles for deeper stretching. If you prefer to stretch before getting your sweat on, Neville recommends making the butterflies dynamic stretches to help prep your muscles for the workout to come, like fluttering your knees to help lubricate your hip joints.

If you have a history of groin injuries, Hackney also recommends using butterflies as a gentle stretch to keep muscles in the area limber, which could help you avoid future pain or discomfort.

Variations

If your hips or low back are tight or you're simply new to the stretch, no problem: There are ways to modify it to make it accessible to wherever your body is at, says Hackney. If the basic butterfly stretch feels uncomfortable to you, make props your best friend, says Neville. First, take stock of what part of your body is most challenged by the stretch. Is it your back? If so, do the stretch with your back against a wall, she recommends. This will help you keep a long spine. If your hips are having trouble sinking into the stretch, place pillows, rolled-up blankets, or yoga blocks beneath your outer thighs to support your legs. You could also opt for trying the stretch one leg at a time, says Hackney. Extend one leg out, and keep the other in butterfly position.

If you're looking to deepen your butterfly, start by adjusting the position of your feet, suggests Hackney. The closer your feet are to your body, the deeper the stretch (and vice versa). You can also lean forward to deepen your butterfly, she adds. Just make sure your back stays straight the entire time. If it starts to round over, ease off. Pro tip? Lean forward with your chest instead of your head to keep your back long and straight as you dive forward, she says.

The Takeaway

Whether you're a diehard athlete or are stiff from working from home, butterflies are the accessible and customizable stretch for you. Stick to a basic butterfly to open up your hips and lengthen your spine, or deepen the hip opener by leaning into it. Either way, you'll soak up benefits like increased flexibility, open hips, and better posture with butterflies as a regular part of your routine.