Stretch those legs!
The importance of stretching your legs after heavy exercise is often overlooked. However, leg stretching should be a vital part of your workout routine, having the same importance as cardiovascular and strength training.
There are numerous benefits to stretching after exercising – first, it improves the flexibility of different muscle groups, helping contracted muscles to release back to a more comfortable state.
It also improves blood circulation by allowing the body to cool down and helping the heartbeat return to normal. Stretching breaks the release of lactic acid experienced during an intense workout, allowing muscle repair and recovery and enabling blood to circulate normally to the muscles again.
Stretching after a workout will help minimise any pain. If your muscles remain tight after exercise, this can also increase your risk of injuries.
So, what are the best stretching techniques for your legs? Read on to find out the stretching exercises that benefit the different muscles…
Exercises that work the inner thighs are recommended to tone and strengthen the legs, while stabilising the knee and hip joints. Start by standing with a wide stance and then bend your right knee, while shifting your whole body to the right, until you feel your left inner thigh stretch.
Hold for one cycle of relaxation breathing of around 20 seconds, then shift your weight to the left-hand side and repeat.
Hamstring and calf
The hamstring muscles are used mainly when you’re running, or playing sports. The calf muscles are along the back of your lower leg and help to move your heel when running, walking or jumping.
It’s possible to stretch both groups of muscles at the same time with one simple exercise. Placing your right foot in front, lean your body forward from the waist towards your extended right leg, while bending the supporting knee at the same time.
Then, flex the right ankle slowly, pulling your toes upwards towards your body. Keep the position for around 20 seconds’ relaxation breathing, before repeating the movement with your left foot.
The muscle group at the front of your thigh is called the quadriceps, known as “quads” for short. These muscles are used mainly to run, walk and do lunges. In order to stretch your quads, stand sideways on to a wall, with your hand placed on the wall to help you balance.
Holding your outside foot with your outside hand, lift the foot upwards towards your bottom, while keeping your knees and thighs together. The idea is to feel a moderate stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold the position for a cycle of relaxation breathing and then repeat with the other foot.
Supine leg stretch
Use this stretch to work your ankle, calf, hamstring and lower back all at the same time. These muscles are used in everyday activities and also for running and cycling, so keeping them flexible is vital. Lie on your back with your knees bent and keep your feet flat on the floor.
Then, hug one bent knee into your body and slowly kick that leg upwards towards the ceiling. Straighten it as you do so and pull it towards your body, until you feel tension up the back of the leg.
Point and flex your foot three times and perform three circles with your ankle in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. Then, lower your leg and repeat the motion with the other leg.
Each exercise should continue for around five minutes. However, if you feel any discomfort or feel overstretched, stop immediately. Aim for a mild pulling sensation, but if you start to feel pain, stop right away to avoid injury.
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