I have been practicing yoga on and off for many years. Finally, this year, I decided to become a certified yoga teacher.
While working on my 200HR Yoga Teacher Training Course, I had to do a lot of yoga class observations in the first part of the course to learn about different teaching styles and approaches from experienced yoga instructors.
Although I went to lots of different styles of yoga and saw yoga classes expand the gamut in terms of the demographics of the attendees, there was one stretch or yoga pose that seemed universally beloved by everyone: the butterfly stretch.
The butterfly stretch, or butterfly pose in yoga, is used not just in yoga, but in almost all sports and fitness programs as a way to stretch the groin and hips.1Tyler, T. F., Silvers, H. J., Gerhardt, M. B., & Nicholas, S. J. (2010). Groin Injuries in Sports Medicine. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 2(3), 231–236. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738110366820
But, you may wonder when planning your workouts, how many butterfly stretches should I do in my workouts? How long should I hold the butterfly stretch for? What are the best alternatives to the butterfly stretch?
In this exercise guide, we will discuss how to do the butterfly stretch, the benefits of the butterfly stretch, how often and how long you should do the butterfly stretch, and alternatives and modifications to the butterfly stretch.
Let’s dive in!
What Is the Butterfly Stretch?
Before we look at how many butterfly stretches to do, let’s cover how to do the butterfly stretch.
Although you’ve likely encountered the butterfly stretch or seen other people doing it, it’s helpful to revisit how to perform the butterfly stretch or butterfly yoga pose properly.
Here are the steps for how to do the butterfly stretch:
How To Do The Butterfly Stretch
- Sit on the floor with good posture.
- Place the soles of your feet together in front of your body by bending your knees and allowing them to fall out to the sides like a criss-cross applesauce position, only the bottoms of your feet should be pressed together rather than your ankles crossed on top of one another.
- You can hold your feet together with your hands.
- Use your elbows to gently press down on the inside of your knees to deepen the stretch, but keep your back straight rather than rounding your back. Only hinge your torso forward from your hips to lean deeper into the stretch.
When performing butterfly stretches, make sure not to bounce. Ballistic stretching can increase the risk of injuries.You want to hold a sustained stretch and only go deep enough so that you feel a moderate stretch without pain.
The primary purpose of the butterfly stretch and variations of butterfly stretch exercises is to stretch the groin muscles, which are primarily the adductors.
These are the muscles that run along the inside of your thigh, attaching at the pubic bone and then extending down towards the medial (inner) side of the femur or knee.
The adductor muscle group helps bring your leg in towards the center after it is brought out to the side and helps you cross one leg over to the opposite side of your body.
The butterfly stretch also stretches the glutes and hip muscles.
It is considered a “hip opener“ stretch because it causes external rotation of the hips and can help alleviate tight hips and glutes from long bouts of cycling, running, sitting, or walking where your legs are not spread apart in the frontal plane.
Additionally, if you hinge forward at your hips with your trunk, you can stretch your lower back muscles with butterfly stretches.
How to Modify the Butterfly Stretch
There aren’t many variations of the butterfly stretch, but there are a few different ways that you can make the stretch easier or deeper, depending on your level of flexibility in the muscles worked by butterfly stretches.
Beginner Butterfly Stretch Modifications
For beginners, the easiest way to make the butterfly stretch more gentle is to keep your feet and heels further away from your groin.
The farther out your feet are, the less intense the stretch will be along the adductors and hips.
You can also use bolsters under your knees, such as rolled-up towels, blankets, pillows, yoga blocks, or other cushions.
When your knees are not pressed down firmly into the floor and are allowed to be angled up towards the ceiling, the stretch on your groin and hip rotators will be significantly gentler.
Finally, you can do a single-leg butterfly stretch by keeping one leg out extended and bending the other towards your groin as normal.
This butterfly stretch modification will target the hamstrings more than the regular butterfly stretch, though you will also get a stretch along the adductors and hips as you would with regular butterfly stretches.
Advanced Butterfly Stretches
If you aren’t getting a deep enough stretch with the regular butterfly stretch, bring your heels closer to your groin.
The less distance between your feet and crotch when you are holding the butterfly stretch, the greater the range of motion and stretch you will feel in the butterfly stretch muscles.
You can also elevate your feet up onto a yoga block or pillow so that your knees can drop down deeper than they would otherwise when they are level with your feet on the floor. This will deepen the stretch in the glutes and hips.
A butterfly stretch/strengthening exercise is the frog bridge.
This is a strengthening exercise sort of like glute bridges but performed in the Butterfly pose position.
Frog bridges will give you a deeper stretch in the groin than regular butterfly stretches because you are lying on your back. Plus, you will strengthen your gluteus medius muscle and glutes as a whole as you perform this bodyweight glute exercise.2Sayer, A. (2023, July 31). The 11 Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises, According to a Personal Trainer. Outside Online. https://www.outsideonline.com/health/training-performance/bodyweight-leg-exercises/
Here are the steps for this butterfly stretch-like strengthening exercise:
How To Do A Frog Bridge
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor as if you were going to do a regular abdominal crunch. Cross your arms over your chest.
- Then, drop your knees out to the sides and rotate your lower legs, ankles, and feet so that you place the soles of your feet together so that your legs are in the butterfly stretch position. This is the starting position and it should look like the butterfly stretch only your back will be lying down on the floor rather than sitting up straight.
- Keeping your knees spread wide in the butterfly stretch position, squeeze your glutes to lift your hips off of the floor until your butt is in line with your body from your knees down to your shoulder blades.
- In the top position, pause and squeeze your glutes as hard as you can for 3-5 seconds.
- Slowly lower back down.
- Perform 10-15 reps.
If you’re not strong enough to lift your butt up without assistance or losing your balance, you can put your elbows down alongside your body for extra balance and leverage.
How Many Butterfly Stretches Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?
The butterfly stretch is designed to be a static stretch for increasing the passive range of motion in your adductors, hips, glutes, and lower back.
It is not a traditional strength training exercise like squats, lunges, or glute bridges, so programming how many butterfly stretches you should do is far less of an exact science.
With most traditional strength training exercises, there are different recommendations for the number of reps, sets, and weights to use based on your primary training goal (namely, improving strength, building muscle, or increasing muscular endurance).
For basic flexibility exercises like the butterfly stretch, recommendations don’t vary significantly based on your fitness goal.
Most people perform butterfly stretches as part of a post-workout cool down or in a flexibility workout.
In either context, the general recommendation for static stretching is to hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and then rest.
As for your question, how many butterfly stretches should I do?
You can repeat the stretch 2-3 times or more, depending on how tight you are, how much time you want to dedicate to your flexibility workout and the other stretches that you are doing for the adductors and hips.
In restorative yoga workouts, or for athletes who need a more relaxing and prolonged stretch, you can hold the butterfly stretch for up to 60 seconds or so, but make sure that the intensity is dialed back a bit so that the stretch is gentle rather than moderate.
Try to do butterfly stretches at least five times per week.3Thomas, E., Bianco, A., Paoli, A., & Palma, A. (2018). The Relation Between Stretching Typology and Stretching Duration: The Effects on Range of Motion. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(04), 243–254. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0044-101146
For more stretching exercises and advice, check out our guide to dynamic stretching here.
- 1Tyler, T. F., Silvers, H. J., Gerhardt, M. B., & Nicholas, S. J. (2010). Groin Injuries in Sports Medicine. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 2(3), 231–236. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738110366820
- 2Sayer, A. (2023, July 31). The 11 Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises, According to a Personal Trainer. Outside Online. https://www.outsideonline.com/health/training-performance/bodyweight-leg-exercises/
- 3Thomas, E., Bianco, A., Paoli, A., & Palma, A. (2018). The Relation Between Stretching Typology and Stretching Duration: The Effects on Range of Motion. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(04), 243–254. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0044-101146