Flexibility is a huge part of all modern day athletes’ training programs, so why do so many of us disregard it? Stretching correctly will not only increase your flexibility and reduce the risk of injuries caused by lesions of the connective tissues but massively improve performance. This guide provides 3 easy leg stretches along with the correct techniques, with the goal of revamping or establishing your stretching routine.
Do not stretch if you are injured as this may cause injury unless instructed be a professional.
One of the most common areas for stretching…the hamstring. Everyone must have performed a hamstring stretch before, or at least tried, but if not you are in the right place. You don’t need to be able to touch your toes for the stretch to work, you just need commitment for doing it every day, or more, and you are sure to see improvements. So, here’s an easy hamstring stretch to start you off:
Seated Hamstring Stretch
- The seated hamstring stretch can be done on the floor (obviously). Put one leg out and sit with one knee bent and the bottom of your foot against the inside of the opposite thigh.
- Stretch out the other leg in front of you while scooting your bottom back and lifting your chest up.
- Maintaining good pelvic alignment and keeping your chest up (or keeping your back straight in simple terms) is important to prevent lower back injuries, during this stretch, and will maximize the stretch on the hamstrings
- Repeat with the other leg, and then do it with both legs.
Another leg stretch, a personal favorite, is stretching of the calf, a common area targeted in my training routine as a sprinter. Repetitive running and dorsi flexion of the foot can really fatigue your calves, so for all of you out there who are already running, or plan to start, this is a must have stretch.
Calf stretch hands against the wall
- Stand facing a wall from several feet away. Stagger your stance, placing one foot forward and you back leg remains straight.
- Lean forward and rest your hands on the wall, keeping your heel, hip and head in a straight line
- Attempt to keep your heel on the ground and both feet facing the same way.
Stretching the groin…It certainly sounds the most painful, but really it’s just sitting down with a purpose. This groin stretch is easy and requires no balancing or diverted pressure to other areas of the body, but, like all the stretches I’m sharing be careful and do not push yourself too far. Your trying to prevent injury not cause it – if it hurts, STOP!
The Groin (so-called butterfly) stretch
- Sit on the floor.
- Press the soles of your feet together.
- Pull your feet the closest you can.
- Put your hands on your ankles to where your elbows are lined up with your knees.
- Push against your elbows trying to close your legs. (This contracts your groin muscles to help you get a deeper stretch.)
- Push your knees down.
Legs and lower body stretches are vital for a huge variety of activities, due to the dependence on running and speed in the ever advancing competitive sporting world. For this reason, I decided to make this beginner introduction to some of the best leg stretches that, in my opinion, generalize to the widest population in the aim of helping you improve.
When To Stretch
The last thing you need to know about stretching is when to do it. This in itself is more complex that some may realize, as knowing when to stretch can not only prevent injury but can make your stretching more efficient.
First of all, never stretch before you warm up. The only reason it feels good to stretch even when you’re cold is because your body sends out natural painkillers. To protect your tissues, you need to partake in a pulse raiser, to fill them with blood. Some good pulse raisers:
- Swimming is the safest way to raise your cardiac pulse. Water reduces shocks to the body because it reduces the felt effect of gravity on your body.
- An efficient and safe way to raise cardiac pulse would be by cycling (except if you have knee problems).
- But, maybe the easiest and most accessible way, is going for a light jog for a minute or two, as no fancy equipment or facilities are needed.
Always stretch after a workout, as this is when your muscles are at their warmest and when most adaptations will take place. Stretching will ensure you have an optimal circulation of body fluids throughout muscles and tissues and your flexibility which will prevent your connective tissues to become damaged when contracting your muscles in exercise.
- Stretch correctly and create a good stretching routine
- Stretch more than once a day for 20 minutes or longer for quicker improvement in flexibility
- Make sure you warm up efficiently first to prevent injury
- Stretch after activity for the most beneficial adaptations to flexibility
One final point is how long should you hold a stretch? Well, there are no specific guidelines, and in my experience as an athlete, many top coaches and professionals have all stated different lengths of time. I’ve speculated for a long time on how long to hold my stretches for and there is just no right answer? 10 seconds is really too short and a minute I believe is too long. So from 20-40 seconds is the time to aim for. I use the widely assumed 30 seconds, plus it is slap bang in the middle.