The strong muscles of the calf can be quite tight, especially after prolonged standing or walking, and for many athletes whose sport of choice involves running or jumping. To best stretch these muscles, grab a bolster or pillow and have a seat; start with both feet extended out in front of you with the pillow under your knees so that they’re slightly bent. Flex your ankle back so that your toes are toward the ceiling. Using your hand — or a belt if you can’t reach — pull back slowly on the arch or ball of your foot until a stretch is felt in the lower calf. Hold until the stretch sensation diminishes. Remove the pillow and repeat the stretch; this time the sensation of pull may travel all the way behind the knee.
For best results, stretch one calf at a time and repeat the stretch two or three times per leg. Be patient, as the calf muscles can take a while to relax. Once the initial stretch sensation lessens, you can deepen the stretch by pulling back a little more on the ball of the foot.
Chronic tension in the muscles at the front and sides of the hips can contribute to low back pain and poor posture. This stretch is particularly helpful for hip flexor contracture and ITB syndrome when combined with glute strengthening exercises. Changing toe positions of the back foot helps target different muscle fibers for a more complete stretch!
Stand in front of a chair, take a small step back with the leg you want to stretch, then place the opposite foot onto the chair so that you are standing in a lunge position with the forward leg elevated. The toes of both feet should be facing forward. Press your hips forward and tuck your tailbone under, increasing the stretch felt in the front of the hip of the back leg. Hold for thirty seconds, then return to standing.
Repeat the stretch again, this time with the toes of the back foot pointed out away from your midline. The stretch should be felt along the bikini line and into the inner thigh. After 30 seconds, return to standing again and reposition the toes of the back foot pointing in toward your midline . Being careful not to lock the knee, once again place the opposite foot on the chair in front of you and press your hips forward, tucking the tailbone. This time the stretch will be felt along the front and outside of the hip. Release after 30 seconds and repeat all three stages on the opposite hip.
This stretch targets the muscles of the inner thigh, which can get tight if you’re in the habit of crossing your legs, or when there’s weakness of the muscles of the buttock. To stretch them, simply sit with your legs straight in front of you, then open your legs into a V until you feel a stretch along the inner thigh. Bend forward at the waist to bring your torso forward toward the ground between your legs. You may feel a pull along the back of the thigh as well as you bend forward. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
An absolute must for runners and lovers of high-heels. Stand with feet at hip width. While the leg you want to stretch stays in place, take a large step forward with the opposite leg, bending the knee so that it is directly above the ankle. Lower the back leg so the knee comes toward the ground, increasing the stretch across the front of the hip and thigh. Keep your torso straight and your tailbone tucked, so that your hands or arms are resting on your forward leg.
This stretch is essential if you spend all day on your feet, or suffer from hip pain or sciatica. Start in hook-lying position: on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. On the side you want to stretch, turn your knee out, and cross your ankle across the opposite knee. Reach the arm on the stretch side through the triangle space between your legs and hold behind the knee of the opposite leg with both hands. To increase the stretch, lift the opposite side foot off the ground and bring that knee toward your chest.
A straight-leg forward bend does double duty as a stretch for both your hamstrings and your low back. Start with your feet together or hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Bend forward at the waist until you feel a comfortable stretch along the back of your thighs. Allow your belly to rest on your thighs to support your low back, and relax your neck. If possible, straighten, but don’t lock, your knees. Allow your arms to dangle toward the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds to one minute. To release the stretch, bend your knees and slowly roll up out of the forward bend.