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Whether you spend a lot of time exercising or sitting throughout the day, you are still prone to leg tightness. After strength training or strenuous exercise, your leg muscles can easily feel tight, stiff and sore but at the same time. Prolonged sitting and inactivity can also cause your bent knee muscles to become used to this shortened position.
It is then critical to practice stretching exercises to maintain flexibility of your leg muscles and joints. Stretching should be performed at least two to three times a week.
However, improper stretching can actually hurt you instead of helping you, so correct stretching techniques should be applied. In order to learn how to correctly stretch your leg muscles, it’s good to start with understanding different muscles in your legs.
All about your leg muscles
There are different muscles that make up your legs: thigh muscles are made up of the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the adductors; the below-the-knee tibialis anteriors make up the shin muscles, and the calves are made up of gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.
These muscles propel our legs and depending on your movement, activity or exercise, you can experience tightness on any of these muscles. When you stretch these muscles, you are not only relieving the tightness or soreness, but it also delivers numerous benefits.
Benefits of stretching your leg muscles
Leg stretching provides several advantages. They are essential for your overall fitness and health. Some of these benefits includes:
When you stretch, you improve your flexibility so the more you stretch, the more flexible you become. People have different levels of flexibility – if you are naturally less flexible, it can take weeks of stretching to improve your flexibility. But you can be sure that over time, you will notice improvement.
2. Injury Prevention
When you have tight leg muscles, you can be more prone to injury while doing your day to day activities. This can also contribute to other pains in your body. To prevent this, make sure you stretch and loosen your muscles. It’s very important because movement becomes easier and can help avoid injury.
One benefit of stretching is improved posture. Poor posture can be a problem and often becomes worse especially as you grow older. Muscles can also shorten over time which can contribute to poor posture. For example, wearing high heels can cause shortening of calves, because calves are constantly in full contraction.
Increased blood and nutrient supply
Using proper stretching technique allows blood to flow through the body, which also increases nutrient supply to muscles. This specific improves your circulation and contributes to your overall health. It can also help reduce soreness.
Dangers of Bad Stretching
Following good stretching technique is crucial. If you don’t have correct stretching practices, it can harm your muscles and may even cause injury instead of preventing it.
If you feel leg pain while stretching, you shouldn’t overwork those muscles to avoid further damage. If you’re in pain, take a break and take it easy. If you are already injured, it is best to consult a professional physical therapist to know how to safely stretch your leg.
What to remember when stretching your legs
Before stretching, keep in mind few dos and dont’s. It will give you the optimal benefit of your stretching routine.
- Stretching when your muscles are cold may cause an injury. Don’t use stretching as a warm up to your leg workout. If your muscles are extremely tight and you want to stretch before the exercise, it’s best to jog or cycle first to warm up your muscles before stretching.
- Stretch your legs after your leg day. Stretching after exercise can actually help you prevent soreness and tightness the next day.
- If you want to improve leg flexibility, you have to stretch regularly. Just remember that your muscles have to be warmed up first.
- You can stretch your muscles for about 15 to 60 seconds. However, if you are doing an intense stretch, don’t hold an intense stretching position for more than 15 seconds. Holding a position for too long can also limit your blood flow and cause muscle hypoxia or lack of oxygen in the muscles. It’s better to combine few short stretching exercises. The rule of the thums is, the more intense your leg stretch is, the shorter it should be.
- Avoid holding your breath during the stretch. It can tense your muscles. Instead, try controlling your breath and relax.
Ways to stretch your legs
Daily leg stretching should be incorporated in your exercise regimen. It’s best to focus on exercises that target and incorporate all the major muscle groups of your lower body. While there are numerous stretches that you can do, let’s focus on these three simple positions which can effectively stretch your entire leg.
1. Standing Hamstring Stretch
Hamstring muscles run from your pelvis to the back of each knee. These muscles are responsible for helping you flex your knee and extend your hip. Hamstring muscles often develop tightness from sitting for long periods. It’s a common problem that many people struggle with.
To make your legs limber and loosen your hamstrings, you can perform easy stretch whether at home or on the go. This is a quick standing position that stretches both legs at once.
- While you are standing, cross your right foot in front of your left.
- Next, slowly bend at the waist and lower your forehead towards your right knee, with your hands reaching towards the floor.
- Keep both knees straight and hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Make sure to relax while at this position
- Repeat for the other side by crossing your left foot in front of your right, 3-5 times for each side.
2. Standing Quadriceps Stretch
The quadriceps muscles are simply referred to as “quads”. These muscles help strengthening your knees. They are located at the front of your pelvis, over your kneecap and up to the front of your shin. Engaging in sports such as biking, running and other daily activities can cause tight quads, so it’s important to stretch these muscles.
- The Standing Quad Stretch is an easy stretch that you can do almost anywhere. It is best to do this stretch especially after working out or after a long run.
- As you are standing, bend your knee back by grasping your ankle with one hand and bend your knee back as far as possible.
- If you cannot hold your balance, you can hold on to a table, a chair or any stable support.
- Maintain position for 15 to 30 seconds and return to standing position.
- Repeat exercise 3 to 5 times with each leg.
3. Calf Stretches
The calf muscles can be found from behind your knee to the back of the heel. Tightness of calf muscles is especially common with women who wear high heels. Developing tightness in these muscles can lead to ankle and foot problems, including plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis. In order to relieve muscle tightness, you can perform this basic towel calf stretch.
- Start by sitting on the floor with your feet out in front of you
- Hold a towel with one end in each hand forming a loop and place the loop around one foot.
- Pull your toes toward you.
- Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch in your calf muscle and hold for 15-30 seconds.
- Repeat 3-5 times for each leg.
The Key to Proper Stretching
You benefit most from stretching when you do it regularly. It doesn’t need to be time consuming. You need just a few minutes 2-3 times a week to make sure your legs are properly stretched.
Stretching can increase your range of motion. It can be practiced by anyone with any level of fitness. However, if you are having difficulty performing these leg exercises, or you’re not seeing your desired results, it may be the lack of personalisation that’s affecting your training.
This is why we created The Movement Athlete Academy: to offer a fully personalized training program reflecting exactly where your level is for optimal performance.
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