If the phrase ‘to stretch your legs’ was anything to go by, you may think there’s not that much to it. A few side-to-sides and lunges, and you’re good to go. In reality, there are many muscles in the lower limbs, all of which require different stretches to get them moving. As we will see in this blog, even saying things like ‘stretching your calf muscles’ can be an oversimplification. Today we’re going to identify the main muscle regions in the lower limbs, and provide instructions on how to stretch them.
You may not have thought that the Gluteus Maximus was considered part of the lower limb, but the muscles there are intrinsically linked to your legs. Tightening of the muscles in this region can significantly reduce mobility in your legs. Fortunately, there is a relatively simply stretch to help loosen these muscles up.
Start by lying with your back on the floor, raising both legs so that your knees create a right-angle that runs parallel to the ground. Lay your left calf across your right quad, clasp your hands, and pull your knees to your chest. Then reverse and repeat. You can do this in sets of ten, several times a day, but don’t overexert yourself. You should feel a stretch, but not pain.
If you inserted your hands into pockets with no actual pockets in them, and ran your hands down to your knees, these would be your quads. They should be distinguished from your inner thigh muscles, which we will look at below.
To stretch your quad muscles, you first need to hold onto something to help you maintain your balance. Stretching one leg at a time, grab your foot and pull it back, as if you were kicking yourself. Do this several times for each leg, holding for about ten seconds.
The inner thigh, as the name suggests, are the muscles that run next to the quads on the inside of the leg. You’ve likely seen people perform this stretch many times throughout your life, so it should be relatively familiar.
To stretch the inner thigh, stand with your feet apart, just slightly wider than the width of your shoulders. To stretch the right hand side, lean to the left, bending your left knee only. Repeat and reverse to stretch the left hand side.
The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of your leg, above the knee. These are not always stretched as often as other lower limb muscles, so it is important not to neglect them.
To stretch your hamstrings, sit on the floor with one leg fully stretched, and the other tucked away. Point your toes inward slightly, and then touch them with your hands. Most people will instantly feel the stretch, and you may not be able to hold it for very long. Practice this stretch gently and over time to gradually increase the length of your hamstrings.
While we often hear people talk about their calf muscles, it is important to distinguish between the two different types: superficial, and deep. The superficial muscles are those located directly below the skin, and connect to the heel. Below these are the deep muscles, one of which connects to the knee, while the other three connect to the ankle and foot.
To stretch the superficial muscles, stand with one foot in front of the other, and lunge forward, keeping the back leg straight, and not allowing the heel of your back foot to leave the ground. To stretch the deep muscles, repeat the same exercise, but allow both knees to bend.
The Plantar Fascia is the muscle that runs from your heels to your toes, and is one of the most commonly injured muscles in the human body. To stretch it, simply sit down with your leg extended straight, reach forward, and pull on your toes. Switch legs and repeat.
If the arches of your feet hurt, you can also freeze a bottle of water and roll it back and forth with your feet. This will massage the area and help to reduce any inflammation that is occurring, which is quite a common occurrence given how often we use our feet.