As gyms are starting to open up across the country, so does the continuation of leg day. Whether you’re starting a new program at the gym or starting one at home, maintaining flexibility as well as strength are both essential. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, healthy and increases range of motion. Range of motion is especially important to increase the work done by muscles, resulting in more stimulation and growth! Without stretching, our muscles become short and tight.
Think about the times you’ve sat in the car for a long road trip and how your hamstrings shortened and tightened in those few hours so much that stretching during the breaks was necessary. When those tight muscles are called on to move a weight or perform, they are unable to extend all the way through the motion. This is what puts most at risk for strains, joint pain, and muscle damage.
Leg day is possibly the most taxing day of the workout week as the exercises utilize the bigger muscles of the body. More specifically, the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, and glutes are in high demand these days. Our hips, knees, and core need a large and stable range of motion in order to move safely. Stretching before and after are very important to stay safe and mobile. Not to mention, stretching and yoga are great stress reducers which will aid in muscle recovery as well. If time for a whole yoga flow is not available to you on your workout days, try holding each of these stretches for leg day for at least 5 long breaths each.
Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
Useful for: hamstrings & lower back
This is one of the most fundamental yoga postures, but it’s not exclusive to yoga. It’s very commonly used as a leg stretch, but stretches can be found along the lower back all the way to the latissimus dorsi, or “wing” muscles that are necessary for stabilizing a barbell on your shoulders. Be sure to not strain yourself and try to pull forward with the belly button.
Standing Figure Four Pose (Arda Utkatasana)
Useful for: lower back, hamstrings, hips, gluteus maximus, quadriceps
This is both a stretch and balancing posture. It challenges the hip abductors and glute muscles with the practice of figure four. The lower your hips, the more intense the hip and glute stretch. Keep the foot that is resting on your knee flexed (toes toward the shin) to keep the knee safe. You may want to have a wall or chair next to you to build up your balance.
Half Pigeon Pose (Ardha Kapotasana)
Useful for: hip flexors of straight leg, hip, hamstrings, lower back
This is a deep stretch for the entire hip and back. It is very similar to the previous postures such that the leading leg is in the same position, but with the other leg extended back you are able to experience an elongation in the hip flexor. It is also a more favorable posture for longer holds once a comfortable position is attained. I recommend lifting the hips up with a block if you are experiencing tight hips.
Low Lunge Pose (Anjaneyasana)
Useful for: hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips
This posture is also the first and more simple version of the Crescent high lunge pose. Unlike the Crescent pose, Anjaneyasana only asks for your knee on the ground. This creates a more comfortable and relaxing stretch rather than a “working” posture. You can focus on the muscles at play in that way. A scooping motion of the pelvis forward will intensify the quad and hip flexor stretch.
Half Splits Pose (Ardha Hanumanasana)
Useful for: lower back, hamstrings, hips, gluteus maximus
Ardha Hanumanasana is a preparatory posture for Hanumanasana, or full splits. This posture is perfect for those with tight lower back, hamstrings, and IT band. Make sure to keep the core engaged and the belly and chest leading the stretch to avoid a curved upper back.
Hero Pose (Virasana)
Useful for: hips, knees, quadriceps
This seated posture is great for a slow opening of the upper quadriceps and a gentle lengthening of ligaments and muscles around the knee joint. It creates the deepest flexion of the knee joint and increases blood circulation around the legs which increases rate of healing.
Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana)
Useful for: lower back, shoulders, triceps, biceps
Although this posture doesn’t involve any leg muscles as the main focus, it is still a great stretch for leg day. The lower back and upper back can get very tight in order to keep your posture safe during a hard work. Additionally, the core is used extensively to keep the body balanced with added weight or movement. The sphinx pose is a gentle lower back releaser as well as a gentle core, chest, and shoulder lengthener.
Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)
Useful for: lower back, hamstrings, hips
Happy Baby is used in almost all vinyasa flow yoga classes to release the hips one last time before the final resting pose. It is considered a restorative pose that helps the body realign and prepare for relaxation. Be sure to reach with the lower back and tailbone toward the floor and keep elbows off the knees if possible.
Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Useful for: lower back, quadriceps
Legs up the Wall is another restorative pose and awesome stretch for leg day that is perfect to end a yoga session with. It can help with nerve pain stemming from the lower back, relax the lower back, neck, and shoulders, ease menstrual cramps, and help recirculate stagnant blood or lymph from the feet. This posture is incredibly soothing to the nervous system and as stated earlier, less stress means better performance. Use props to get yourself as possible as you like in this posture and hold for as long as you can.