A butterfly stretch is a type of stretch inspired by yoga used to increase flexibility in several areas of the lower body, primarily the inner thighs. The name butterfly stretch reflects the shape created by the legs when performing this move. It can be very useful in preparing the muscles for a variety of physical activities and for keeping them flexible after working out.
To perform the butterfly stretch, one should start in a seated position on the floor. Keeping the back straight, bring the soles of the feet together in front of the body so that the knees are bent and pointed outward, away from each other. Gently pull the feet toward the body as far as is comfortable, then press the knees toward the floor and lean forward slightly. Hold the position for a count of ten and release, then repeat if necessary. One should feel the muscles stretching but it should not be painful; if it is, the extent of the stretch should be reduced until the pain stops.
In addition to stretching the inner thighs, the butterfly stretch is useful for stretching several other areas as well. Both the groin and hips also stretch during this exercise, so it can help with increasing flexibility in those locations. The lower back muscles can also be affected; those suffering from lower back pain should be careful to use good form and keep a straight back during this exercise.
Runners and other athletes who rely heavily on their lower bodies can benefit from incorporating the butterfly stretch into their routine. It can be used before exercise to limber up the muscles and help to avoid damaging them. After one's workout is complete, the muscles should be stretched again while they are still warm, to keep them flexible and long.
Certain types of physical activities such as ballet, gymnastics, and cheerleading may require athletes to get into a splits position. A butterfly stretch may be useful in helping them reach that goal. Getting into either a front or side splits position requires extreme flexibility in the hips, thighs, and groin. Since the butterfly stretch addresses all of those areas, it can be a good starting point. Practitioners should be careful, though, as they will likely need to push the stretch much further than average, and may risk injury as a result.