Sore After Leg Day? Try These 8 Stretches

Leg stretches are ideal after a lower-body workout or on your active recovery days.
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Just thinking about all your legs power you through — running, walking, standing, jumping, climbing stairs — is enough to leave you exhausted. So just imagine what your muscles are feeling! That's why it's important to give them plenty of TLC — including stretching.

For best results, you'll need to stretch the muscles down the front, back and both sides of your legs. These five major muscle groups include:

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  • Quadriceps:​ a group of four muscles running down the front of your thigh that straighten your leg at the knee
  • Hamstrings:​ a group of four muscles that run down the back of your thigh that bend your leg at the knee
  • Adductors:​ inner thigh muscles that pull your leg in toward the middle of your body
  • Abductors:​ the muscles and connective tissue opposite your adductors on the outside of your hip that draw your leg away from your body
  • Calves:​ the gastrocnemius and soleus are the two big calf muscles that run from the back of your knee down into your Achilles tendon, which connects to your heel, and help your point your foot down

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Each muscle group needs a different type of stretch, so you'll assume a number of different positions to hit them all.

Try These 8 Best Leg Stretches

No single stretch addresses all the muscles of your leg. But you can do several different moves to loosen up your lower half.

1. Toe Touch

  1. Stand tall with your feet two inches from each other.
  2. Keep your knees completely straight (but not locked) and reach down toward your toes with both arms.
  3. Stick your butt back as you go down.
  4. Go down as far as you can and hang there, holding the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

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Tip

This stretch is commonly used to test lower-body flexibility. If you can't touch your toes, consider adding more of these leg stretches to your routine (especially the wall hamstring stretch below).

2. Quadriceps Stretch

  1. Find a wall or something stable to hold onto. Brace yourself with your right hand.
  2. Grab your left foot or ankle with your left hand.
  3. Pull your left foot toward your butt, bending at the knee. Try to touch your heel to your butt.
  4. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds on each leg.

3. Kneeling Adductor Stretch

  1. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
  2. Reach your right leg out straight to the side with your knee straight but not locked out. Plant your foot flat on the ground with your toes pointed forward.
  3. Rock your butt back toward the other foot and reach your arms forward.
  4. To increase the stretch, reach your right hand toward your right foot.
  5. Stretch for 15 to 30 seconds on each leg.

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Tip

This is one of the best stretches for the adductors, as it gives you the most control over the intensity of the stretch.

4. Wall Hamstring Stretch

  1. Lie down on your back next to a doorway or the corner of a wall. You need enough space to be able to prop one leg up on the wall while the other leg is flat on the floor.
  2. Scoot up so your knees are in line with the doorway or corner.
  3. Raise the leg closest to the wall and plant your heel on the wall with your knee straight. Keep the other leg flat on the floor.
  4. To increase the stretch, move closer to the wall.
  5. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds on each side.

5. Bench Hip Flexor Stretch

  1. Stand facing away from a bench or chair that has a flat surface at about knee-height.
  2. Reach one leg back and put the top of that foot flat on the top of the bench or chair.
  3. Drop your back knee down to the ground and keep the other foot planted in front of you.
  4. Keep your torso tall and lean back toward your back leg to increase the stretch.
  5. If you still don't feel a stretch, raise your arms overhead and lean back.
  6. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds on each side.

Tip

This stretch focuses on both your hip flexors and quads, and you should feel it from your hips all the way down to your knee.

6. IT Band Stretch

  1. Stand tall with your feet close together, like you're going to touch your toes.
  2. Cross your right leg in front of your left.
  3. Fold your upper body forward and reach toward your toes, aiming for the toes of your left foot.
  4. Go as low as you can, then stand back up.
  5. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds on each side.

Tip

Many athletes, particularly runners, have discomfort along their IT bands. Though you can't stretch your iliotibial (IT) band directly, if you stretch the tensor fascia latae (TFL), you release tension on the IT band. Use this technique to lengthen the muscles that pull on the IT band and relieve some pressure.

7. Lateral Lunge

  1. Start standing, then step out to the right with your right leg.
  2. Keep both feet pointed forward and lean to your right, straightening your left leg, bending your right knee and sticking your butt back. You should feel a stretch down the inside of your left leg.
  3. Come back up and lean to the left, straightening out your right leg.
  4. Step your left foot up to your right and step to the right again, repeating the stretch.
  5. Do 5 steps to the right and 5 to the left.

8. Half-Kneeling Calf Stretch

  1. Kneel on a pad, cushion or rolled-up towel on one knee.
  2. Plant the other foot in front of you so that your front knee is bent at 90 degrees. Your back knee should also be bent at 90 degrees.
  3. Put your weight on your front foot and lean forward, trying to drive your knee over your toes. Keep your front heel on the ground.
  4. Come back to the start position, then lean forward again, trying to push slightly farther.
  5. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Tip

Both the calf muscle and Achilles tendon are common places for injuries, so it's important to take some tension out of your calf by stretching.

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