How do I stretch my leg muscles?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
To stretch your leg muscles do:

  • Achilles tendon and calf stretch. This exercise stretches your lower leg and helps prevent damage to your Achilles tendon. Face a wall. With both hands against the wall, place one foot well behind you and the other foot flat on the floor with toes touching the wall. Keeping the rear leg straight and your heel on the ground, slowly lean in toward the wall. Keep your back straight. Hold it. Then switch and do the other leg.
  • Gastrocnemius stretch. This exercise stretches your lower leg (calf) muscle. Move the back leg closer to the wall and tilt the front foot upward along the wall, with the toes propped up against the wall. Lean in toward the wall. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Quadriceps stretch. This exercise stretches the long muscle that runs down the front of your thigh. Face a wall. Put your left hand on the wall for balance. Then reach your right hand behind your back and grab your right ankle, pulling it gently toward your buttocks until you feel tension along the front of your thigh. Then alternate and do the same thing for the left leg: place your right hand on the wall and grab your left ankle.
  • Hamstring stretch. This exercise stretches the muscles running down the back of your thigh, as well as the muscles in your lower back. Stand on one leg. Prop the other leg straight out on a chair or table so that the top of the entire leg is as close to parallel to the ground as possible (do not lift it to the point where you have pain). Bend over so that you bring your face over your knee. Slide both hands toward the propped up ankle as far as they'll go. (Doing this stretch eventually protects your back, but initially can be hard on your back. So go slowly and do not let yourself experience pain.)

Static stretching is the process of passively taking a muscle to the point of tension and holding the stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds. By holding the muscle in a stretched position for a prolonged period produces an inhibitory effect on the muscle spindle causing relaxation and elongation. It is wise to contract the antagonistic musculature while holding the stretch to reciprocally inhibit the muscle being stretched, allowing further relaxation and enhancing the stretch. For example, when performing the kneeling hip flexor stretch, an individual can contract the hip extensors to reciprocally inhibit the hip flexors, allowing for greater lengthening of these muscles.

Cross your left foot over your right. Ideally, you want your big toes in line, but go to where you feel comfortable balancing. Slowly walk your hands down your legs as far as feels comfortable. Really relax your neck, as if your head were a bowling ball elongating your spine, and take three deep breaths. Slowly come all the way back up to the starting position, cross your right foot over your left and repeat.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.