Is stretching a regular part of your workout routine? It should be! According to the American College of Sports Medicine, stretching is an integral part of any fitness routine because as we age, flexibility naturally decreases as muscle mass does, paving the way for potential injury. Today, I’m sharing the lower body stretches I do. These are general stretches that can benefit everyone because they’ll keep your hips and hamstrings flexible and help you maintain the range of motion in your joints.
Please know that I’m not trained in exercise physiology. I’m not a certified personal trainer. I’m merely sharing what I do personally. Also, be sure to see a physician before beginning any new type of fitness routine. ????
If you have specific issues like back problems, know that there are exercises and stretches that you need to be doing daily. (Click HERE for the ones the Mayo Clinic recommends.) Also, if you sit at a desk or hunch over a computer all day, it’s essential to stretch the front of your chest and shoulders to maintain your flexibility. (Click HERE for the stretches that Prevention recommends.) If you have other issues, like hip or knee pain, many of the stretches I’m sharing today can help significantly, but you definitely need to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Why We Need to Stretch
According to Michele Olson, adjunct professor of exercise science at Huntingdon College, flexibility is related to collagenous tendons, which are a part of our lean body mass. This lean body mass decreases as we age. Without flexibility, your muscles shorten and tighten, reducing their ability to support the joints, and potentially leading to joint injury.
Types of Stretches
There are two main types of stretches: dynamic and static.
Dynamic stretches are active stretches, where you repeatedly move your joints and muscles through a full range of motion. Examples are brisk walking or things like walking lunges, high knees, or shallow squats. Dynamic stretches warm up your muscles and joints, increase circulation, and get the oxygen flowing throughout your body. They reduce the risk of injury.
Static stretches involve stretching your muscle to a point where you feel slight discomfort and tugging, but not pain. In a static stretch, you hold your position for a set time. (The American College of Sports Medicine recommends holding a stretch 15 to 30 seconds and performing it three to five times.)
When to Stretch
To prevent injury like pulled muscles, static stretches should be done after activity when your muscles are nice and warm. In fact, studies have shown that static stretching before an athletic event or vigorous exercise can actually reduce your strength. Static stretches minimize muscle tension and soreness because they elongate muscles and increase circulation.
The stretches in this post are the static stretches I do two days a week. I hold each one for 15-30 seconds and do them three times.
It may surprise you, but tightness in the calf is a common cause of both foot pain and knee pain! I’ve had some issues with my feet, and my orthopaedist gave me these calf stretches to reduce pain, tightness, and instability. They can also help if you have Achilles Tendonitis or Plantar Fasciitis.
Stand facing the wall with your foot pointing forward. Then repeat the stretches with the toe of your foot pointing inward to stretch your outer calf muscle and with the toe pointing outward to stretch your inner calf muscle.
Did you know that your quadriceps muscles are actually a group of four muscles? They’re located at the front of the thigh. If you sit at a desk most of the day, you probably really need to do this stretch, because sitting for too long shortens and tightens your quads. If your quadriceps muscles are too tight, your quads can pull the hips and pelvis forward which, may contribute to lower back issues.
Stand up straight near a wall or use a chair for balance. (In the photo above, I’m clearly trying to look super cool ???? and just rest my elbow against the wall!) Grab the toe of your foot, gently pulling your heel toward your rear end.
Tight hamstrings reduce the mobility of your hip joints and pelvis, in turn putting pressure on your lower back. It’s vital to strengthen and stretch your hamstrings, so they don’t tighten up and also to provide extra support for your back and pelvis.
I always stand near a wall when I do this one in case I lose my balance! Turn to the side. With feet a little less than shoulder-width apart, place one in front of the other. (If you’re not sure how far apart to set them, do a calf stretch first with your weight on your front leg (see photo at the top of this post), and then shift your weight to the back leg to move into this hamstring stretch.
Keeping both knees straight, bend forward over your front foot. You’ll feel this one in the buttocks, hips, and hamstrings!
Inner Thigh Stretch
Tight muscles in your inner thigh and groin can lead to weakness in your hips, which can cause pain in your lower back, hips, and knees. Tightness in these muscles is usually the result of poor posture and inactivity.
I call this the “skater stretch,” because it reminds me of Olympic speed skaters! Stand with your legs far apart. Allow one of your knees to bend and shift your weight until your knee is over your left foot. Keep both feet on the ground facing forward.
Your glutes are made up of three muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Tight glute muscles typically result from too much sitting, which elongates and weakens those muscles. This can have enormous consequences, including lower back or knee pain, because you need strong glutes to align everything from your femur and knee, right down to your ankle and foot. Our doctor prescribed glute stretches to help with my husband’s shin splints! He said that tight glute muscles throw your lower body alignment so out of whack, it can contribute to everything from plantar fasciitis to those pesky shin splints.
Stand with your legs far apart, but not so far as to affect your balance! With knees straight, reach forward as far as you can. As with any static stretch, I find that the longer I hold it, the farther I can go.
Whew! I hope you found this post helpful! I loved writing it for you! I have to tell you, as I was researching it, two things really stood out to me. First of all, I was amazed at the complexity of how our bodies are knit together! Who knew that tight glutes could contribute to foot pain? Wow. ???? Second, I was reminded of the consequences of sitting too much. I switched over to a standing desk a little over a year ago, and I have been shocked at how much more energy I have as I work. It’s definitely reduced the pain I was having in my lower back, my hips, and my knees. (THIS is the one I have.) I like it because I can move it up or down. If you’re considering one, be sure to add a cushy anti-fatigue mat to help with leg fatigue.
Have I convinced you to add flexibility training into your fitness routine? If you’re like me, you may find it challenging to get in all of the cardio, strength training, and stretching you need every week. I do! My solution is to do a little of all of it every day, switching up my emphasis. One day I’ll go hard on the cardio, get in a couple of planks, and maybe just do dynamic stretching instead of these static stretches. Another day, I’ll do a HIIT workout, pausing every 5 minutes during an elliptical or treadmill workout to do a different strengthening exercise.
Experts recommend that we stretch well at least two days a week. But studies have also shown that workouts that challenge your body in new ways over time are the most beneficial. So mix it up! Do what you can each day, and don’t look back once you’re done. Tomorrow is a new day. (After all, we need to stay flexible, right?!) ????
Happy Weekend! Bob and I are headed to visit our daughter this weekend, and we can’t wait to see her! Be sure to come back here on Monday for a very special coffee talk post! I’ll be sharing details about our upcoming adventure and answering your questions. (Email me if you’ve got one you want me to include!) I hope you have a wonderful weekend with your peeps!
Photos by Megan Weaver.
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