Flexibility…either you have it or you don’t. If you have it, life is as good as a box of chocolates. If you don’t, life is as nasty as a bag of black jellybeans. Flexibility is essential to prevent injury when doing everyday activities. The best way to improve your flexibility is stretching. Some benefits of stretching are:
- Improving athletic performance for some activities
- Speeding up recovery from muscle soreness from a strenuous workout
- Decreasing the risk of activity-based injuries
While stretching the upper body is important, it essential to stretch the legs. Many people who work 9 to 5 desk jobs constantly battle with tight hamstrings, calves, quads, hips and a tight lower back due to not stretching their leg muscles enough (or at all). If that describes you, now is the time to get loose. Before revealing the best 7 leg stretches you can do, we’ll walk you through some of the ways tight legs can really harm your level of fitness.
The tightest muscle group on most people is their hamstrings. Hamstrings are a very intricate part of your body; they help you to bend your knees and move your hips. This muscle is hard at work when you’re playing a fast-paced sport. The way most individual’s hamstrings become tight is due to prolonged periods of sitting (e.g., driving, watching TV, working, etc.). While seated, your hamstrings are in a shortened position, with blood circulation and nerve activity within the muscle being compromised.
In addition, overuse of the hamstrings (mostly by athletes) can cause tightness. If this issue isn’t addressed, it could cause a slew of other problems including:
- Lower back pain
- Knee pain
- Difficulty bending over
- Difficulty running, jogging or walking properly
- Poor posture
Due solely to genetics, women and children generally have more flexible hamstrings than men. Regardless of your genetics, though, it is a must to stretch your hamstrings at least several times per week.
Tight Hip Flexors
One issue most people ignore or aren’t aware of is tight hip flexors. Your hip flexors are among the most important groups of muscles in the body. The hip flexors allow you to raise your legs toward your torso. The muscles of the hip flexors are also responsible for keeping your hips and lower back strong, flexible and properly aligned. The main cause of tight hip flexors is physical inactivity. In most cases, this problem leads to knee and/or lower back pain.
Another muscle issue for lower bodies is tight quadriceps. Unlike tight hip flexors, this injury occurs in active individuals, too. How so? The constant tension of lifting weights, jumping, and running can lead to individuals overworking the quadriceps, causing them to tighten up. In fact, tight quads in combination with weak hamstrings may lead to a serious knee injury. So whether you are physically active or relatively sedentary, you are vulnerable to overly tight quads.
Tight calves is a common injury among runners. The muscle issue may be caused by something called a compartment syndrome. This is where the muscle becomes too big for the sheath surrounding the muscle causing pressure, sometimes pain and restricted movement. The biggest reason for weakened calves is a lack of stretching.
The calves lift your heel as you walk. Because you use calf muscles in everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, you need to exercise and stretch them to keep them strong and flexible. For athletes, it is very important to maintain calves’ health. Weak calf muscles affect running ability and could possibly lead to the rupture of the Achilles tendon (this tendon attaches your calf muscles to the heel bone). An injury like that would require at least six months to fully heal.
One muscle issue that rarely gets any publicity is tight glutes. Your minimus, medius and gluteus maximus muscles combine to make up your glutes (or butt). The largest and most powerful muscle group in your body, glutes are responsible for movements such as extending your hip to the rear when you sprint or climb stairs. Weak and sore glutes fail to support the lumbar spine, which can lead to lower back pain.
Now that you’re familiar with the lower-body tightness issues that plagues millions of people on a daily basis, here are seven leg stretches you can to do to ensure your lower body stays stretched and nimble!
Hip Flexor & Quad Stretch
Muscle Issues This Stretch Relieves: Tight hip flexors, hamstrings and quads; lower back pain
Doing the hip flexor and quad stretch several times per week will ensure you keep your hip flexors and quads loose.
Hamstring & Calf Stretch
Muscle Issues This Stretch Relieves: Tight hamstrings, calves, and quads
This classic static stretch is great for stretch your tight hamstrings, calves, and quad muscles; especially after a strenuous leg workout.
Inner Thigh Stretch
Muscle Issues This Stretch Relieves: Tight thighs and hips
Some people may experience tightness in their inner thighs. This stretch helps relieve that issue.
Supine Leg Stretch With A Resistance Band
Muscle Issues This Stretch Relieves: Tight lower back, hamstring, calves, and ankle
Doing the supine leg stretch with a resistance band not only relieves most lower-body tightness, but can help with ankle mobility as well.
Muscle Issues This Stretch Relieves: Tight glutes, chest, abs and hip flexors
Glute bridges not only alleviate tight glutes but help build a stronger, denser butt as well. In addition, this movement strengthens the hamstrings and lower back.
Inverted Hamstring Stretch
Muscle Issues This Stretch Relieves:
This dynamic stretch quickly alleviates stiff hamstrings. Doing a few reps of inverted hamstring stretches on each leg loosens the hamstrings. A perfect stretch to do prior to a leg workout.
Muscle Issues This Stretch Relieves: Any leg muscle group that’s experiencing tightness
A form of self-myofascial release (SMR) stretching, a foam roller is perfect for digging deep into the crevices of any leg muscle group that’s very tight or weak. Simply roll the foam roller over the area of your body that’s tight and feel it work its magic.