For many people, daily life involves a lot of sitting—at a desk at work, behind a steering wheel in a car, or on the train or bus for a commute. Sitting for long periods deactivates the glutes and tightens the hamstrings. After work, you might want to hit the gym, but going directly from hours of sitting right into physical training or playing sports is a recipe for disaster. At the very least, you won’t perform at your best. You’re also more likely to get injured, and that’s especially true for middle-aged and senior athletes. Before you jump into a workout, you need to stretch, and leg stretches should be a key component of your warmup.
Ideally, you should embrace a regular conditioning program that activates the glutes, strengthens the core, loosens the hips, and gets the body working like the well-oiled kinetic machine nature intended. If nothing else, it’s crucial to perform some leg stretches before hitting the court, field, or gym. Here are seven to get you prepped.
The Best Leg Stretches for Any Athlete
1. Knee Hug
Benefits: This simple move stretches the hamstring and glute of your front leg as well as the hip flexor of your back leg. How to Do It: Lift your right knee to your chest and grab below the knee with both hands. Pull your right knee to your chest while squeezing your left glute. Return to the starting position and repeat on the left side. Continue alternating sides. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps per side with a 30-second rest between sets.
2. Lunge Elbow to Instep
Benefits: This is an effective full-body stretch that works your hamstrings along with your groin, hip flexors, and glutes.
How to Do It: Step forward into a lunge with your left foot. Place your right forearm on the ground and your left elbow to the inside of your left foot. Hold the stretch for 2 seconds. Then place your left hand outside of your foot and push your hips up, pointing your front toes. Return to the standing position and repeat with your right foot forward. Continue alternating sides. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps with a 30-second rest between sets.
3. Leg Cradle
Benefits: This simple move opens up the hips, which are the key to all kinds of movements.
How to Do It: Lift the right foot off the ground and lower yourself into a squat while standing on your left leg. Lift the right knee to your chest, placing your right hand under the knee and your left hand under the ankle. Pull your right leg as close as you can to your chest in a stretch while squeezing your left glute. Step forward with your right foot. Switch feet. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps per side with a 30-second rest between sets.
4. Inverted Hamstring
Benefits: This not only works your hamstrings and glutes, but also tests your balance and core strength.
How to Do It: Balance on your right foot while keeping your abs tight and shoulders pulled back and down. Extend both hands out to the sides, bend at the waist, and extend your left leg backward as you fire the left glute. Your left shoulder and left heel should move together, forming a straight line. Return to the start position and switch legs. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps (each side) with a 30-second rest between sets.
5. Lateral Lunge
Benefits: Lateral movement is essential in sports and everyday life, but it often gets ignored with stretching. This move opens up the muscles of the groin and hips.
How to Do It: From a standing position, take a wide step to the right, keeping toes pointed straight ahead and feet flat. Squat onto your right leg while keeping the left leg straight. Center your weight over the mid-foot to heel of your right foot. Squatting as low as possible, keep the left leg straight and hold the position for 2 seconds. Return to a standing position. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps (per side) with a 30-second rest between sets.
6. Sumo Squat-to-Stand
Benefits: This improves flexibility in your hamstrings, and it’s a good indicator of how much you need to work on your flexibility.
How to Do It: Bend at the waist, reach down between your knees, and grab underneath your big toes. Keep your arms straight, pull your hips down until they’re between your shins, and lift your chest. Tuck your chin and try to straighten your legs, holding on to your toes as you straighten the hips and knees. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps with a 30-second rest between sets.
7. Ankle Flexion and Extension
Benefits: Our feet take a beating in daily life. The ankles, like the hips and shoulders, can become locked down and immobile, which is especially dangerous given the strain the ankles experience in sports and training. This compound movement will get you ready to perform and lowers the risk of injury.
How to Do It: Sit down and hold one foot slightly off the ground. Flex the foot upward, moving at the ankle (your toes should point upward toward the shins). Then extend the foot toward the ground, pointing toes to the floor and slightly touching the floor. Perform 2 sets of 15 of each move with each foot.