As shocking as it may seem, our legs were meant to give us mobility, but most of us today spend little time on our feet, let alone running or walking. This lack of physical activity can greatly reduce the quality of your life and health however. This leads to the leg muscles getting tight and shortened due to lack of use.
The tighter the leg muscles, the higher the chances of injury. Not stretching your legs can also lead to back pain and joint problems.
It is therefore important to include leg stretches into your daily exercise routine. The best leg stretches work all the major muscle groups in the lower extremities helping reduce stress and improving flexibility. Stretches such as static stretches, dynamic stretches and yoga leg stretches target all the major leg muscles such as the hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and shins. Yoga poses such as Down Dog pose, Mountain pose, Tree pose, Triangle pose, the Warrior poses, the Half Moon pose, and the Wheel pose all require strong legs. Practicing these postures will redefine your leg muscles over time and improve their strength. This will make it easier for you to hold these poses for longer as well. These stretches also lessen the risk of soreness and muscle fatigue. This is especially necessary if you work out or play any type of sport. From aerobics to weight training, soccer to running, strong legs are always an asset and leg stretches can help improve your performance both in the field and off.
Leg Stretches For Runners
Leg stretches for runners are an important part of the warm up routine. Even a ten-minute stretching routine before and after your run can save you a lot of trouble in terms of preventing injuries. However to gain maximum benefits from your stretching routine always move slowly in and out of your stretch and hold for at least 30 seconds. Never bounce while stretching and do not stretch past the point of mild discomfort. Warm up your muscles by walking briskly or jogging before you start stretching. This makes them more pliable and easier to stretch. An ideal program of leg stretches for runners should include at least one stretching exercise each for the hamstrings, calves, quadriceps and hip flexors. You can also add a groin stretch and shin stretches to really increase your range of motion while running.
Types Of Leg Stretches
Following are a number of lower leg stretches that you can incorporate into your warm up:
Lower Leg Stretches :
Kneel down with your shins flat on the ground. Slowly sit back on your heels and feel the pressure increase on your shins. Hold for 30 seconds and release.
Standing shin stretch
Using your hand on a wall for balance, stand straight and place your right foot firmly on the ground. Place your left foot behind the right with only the toe touching the ground. Keeping this toe firmly in place, pull the leg forward and feel the stretch right through to your shins. If you find this difficult you can bend both knees slightly. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
Advanced shin stretch
Kneel on the floor with your shins flat. Place your elbows near your knees and slowly sit back keeping your knees and feet together throughout. Hold for 30 seconds.
Stand up straight. Take a large stride and place one foot in front of the other. The back leg heel should be flat on the floor with the leg straight. Bend the front leg and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Advanced gastrocnemius stretch
Stand on a step or elevated platform with only your toes supported. Hang the rest of your foot off the step and drop the heels down. Make sure your knees are straight in this stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and release.
Stand close to a wall and place your hands on the wall. Place one of your legs in front of the other and lean your whole body forwards into the wall. Bend both knees and try to touch the wall but keep your heel down through the stretch.
Advanced soleus stretch
Place your foot on a step and bend your knees. Lean forwards and drop the heel off the step putting your weight on the front leg. Hold and release.
Repeat on the other side.
To the above lower leg stretches, you can add the following thigh stretches for a complete leg routine:
Thigh Stretches :
Balance on one leg and pull the other leg back and up towards your bottom. Increase the stretch by keeping your knees together and tilting your hips forward. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
Laying quad stretch
Lie down on your stomach and pull one foot back and upwards to meet your bottom. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg. You can wrap a band or folded towel around the bent leg to give more leverage to your stretch.
Hip flexor stretch
Kneel on the floor and place one foot in front of the other with the knee bent. Keeping your spine straight, push your hips forwards and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release and repeat with the other leg.
Sitting hamstrings stretch
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out straight in front of you. Bend from your waist and lean forwards towards your toes. Keep your back straight and breathe slowly into the stretch.
Standing hamstring stretch
Stand straight with one leg just ahead of the other. Bend the back leg at the knee and rest your weight on this leg. Tilt your hips forward as if bending down to reach for something. Hold the stretch and repeat with the other leg.
Partnered hamstring stretch
Lie on your back and lift one leg off the floor with your knee straight. Your partner can then hold this raised leg and gently push it further to feel more of a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg. You can also use a towel around your feet and pull the leg towards you for another variation.
Kneeling quad stretch
Kneel on the floor with your toes bent. Place one leg in front of you bent at right angles at the knee. Place your hands on your hips, keep your spine straight and push forward at the hips. Hold and repeat with the other leg.
Leg Stretches Precaution
Just remember that stretching technique is everything. There are certain leg stretching precautions that you should take to avoid causing any damage to your joints and muscles.
- Leg stretches should be a part of a warm up routine and not considered the warm up. To get the best benefits from a stretch your muscles have to be warmed up first.
- Run, walk, or skip before beginning your stretching routine.
- Do each stretch slowly, without bouncing or overstretching.
- Breathe in and out deeply through your nose. Proper breathing during stretches can increase the blood circulation and reduce the build up of lactic acid in the muscles. In this way, you can prevent muscle fatigue and soreness post your workout.
- Leg stretches should also be done as part of your cool down routine. This allows the muscles to regroup and repair and lowers the chance of further injury.
- Leg stretches can be the best way to improve your flexibility and stamina as long as they are performed correctly.
- If you are unsure about the exercises, it would be better to consult with a trainer who can demonstrate the correct way to stretch.
- He can also customize a stretching exercise routine keeping your needs and fitness levels in mind.
Benefits Of Leg Stretching
- Leg stretches when done properly can reduce the risk of injury, strengthen the muscles and improve stamina and flexibility.
- Leg stretches can also increase your range of motion - an important advantage for runners and sportsmen who can improve their performance on field as a result.
- Prolonged yoga leg stretches can even reduce cholesterol and prevent the hardening of arteries.