Sitting or standing for long periods of time can often lead to tight hamstrings and stiff Achilles tendons. With tight muscles and tendons your range of motion is limited, which can make activities such as walking up stairs, taking a leisurely jog or playing your favorite sport more challenging. Incorporating a variety of lower-body stretches into your regular fitness regimen can help improve your flexibility, your sports performance and reduce your risk of muscle strains and pulls.
ID the Muscles
Your hamstrings, which is a group of muscles with four heads, are located at the back of your thighs. They are active in knee flexion and hip extension. The Achilles tendon, which is considered the strongest tendon in your body, is a thick, fibrous band that connects your calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus, to your heel. Every time you walk, run or jump your Achilles tendon is activated and bears your entire weight with each step. Your calf muscles will also benefit because many hamstring and Achilles stretches also stretch the muscles at the back of your lower leg.
To stretch your hamstrings, sit on the edge of a sturdy chair, preferably one without wheels. Bend your right leg and put your foot flat on the floor. Extend and straighten your left leg and rest your heel on the floor. While keeping your back straight, bend lean forward until you feel the stretch at the back of your left thigh. An effective Achilles stretch starts with you sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front. Loop the middle of a towel around the ball of your right foot. While sitting tall, hold the ends of the towel and slowly pull your toes back toward your body.
Hamstrings Towel Stretch
If you'd rather stretch while lying down, perform the 90/90 hamstring stretch. Lie flat on your back with both legs extended straight. Keep your left leg straight, bend your right knee and hip and lift your leg so that there's a 90-degree angle at your knee and hip. Wrap your hands around the back of your right thigh for support. Raise your right foot and straighten your leg until it forms a 90-degree angle with your hip and you feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
Lying Achilles Stretch
Start as if you are going to perform the 90/90 stretch for the lying Achilles stretch, except wrap the middle of a towel around the ball of your right foot before lying back on the floor. While holding the ends of the towel, lift and straighten your right leg until it forms a 90-degree angle with your hip. Pull on the towel to pull your toes toward you.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
The good morning stretch is a simple, yet effective stretch. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your palms on the top of your thighs. While keeping your legs and back straight, jut your butt backward, press your hands into your thighs and lean forward. Stop when your back is parallel to the floor and you feel the stretch at the back of your thighs. To increase the intensity of the exercise, hold a light dumbbell under your chin.
Achilles Step Stretch
To further stretch your Achilles in addition to your calves, stand on a step with your toes on the step and your heels off the back of step. Hold onto a sturdy object for support and slowly lower your body until your heels are lower than the level of the step and you feel the stretch.
Stretching Tips and Precautions
Avoid stretching cold muscles and tendons as this could lead to pulls, strains and tears. Warm up with 10 minutes of activities such as a brisk walk, a slow jog or riding a stationary bike. Stretch only to the point where you feel a light tension. If you experience pain, ease back on the stretch. Hold each stretching exercise for 20 to 30 seconds, perform five reps with each leg and then repeat with your other leg. Consult your health care provider before starting a new stretching regimen.