Without proper mobility, elasticity and flexibility, an athlete can see his or her game suffer. A solid stretching routine is a necessary component to training smarter and improving performance. Here are five lower-body stretching exercises every athlete should incorporate into daily practice.
This stretch targets the quadriceps and the rest of the hip flexor muscle group. It is "great for a couple reasons," says Cody Lockridge, Level 1 CrossFit Trainer and USAW-certified coach at CTOWN CrossFit in Cleveland. "It opens up the hip flexors to help get the body into better positioning for the Squat, and it can easily be done at home."
- Stand with your back to a wall.
- Bend one leg behind you, placing your knee as close as you can to the base of the wall; your other leg is out front in a lunge position.
- Keep your chest up and engage your core muscles. Hold the position for 90 seconds, then switch legs.
"It can also undo [the negative effects of] the hours of sitting the average person does every day," adds Lockridge, "and it can help to alleviate pain."
This hamstring stretch is simple but effective, especially when you are preparing to sprint or do Deadlifts.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Slowly bend at the waist, sending your hips backward and keeping your back straight.
- Once you reach roughly a 90-degree angle, slowly stand back up.
- Repeat this movement 15-20 times.
- For a deeper stretch, hold a dumbbell or bumper plate against your chest.
If hip mobility is an issue for you, this is the stretch for you. "The Pigeon Stretch works the hip rotators [the butt area], and also hits the hip flexors" says Lockridge. "This will improve Squats and any other movement practice you're into."
- Lie facing the ground and bend one leg in front of you while the other remains stretched out behind you. Try to get the shin of the bent leg as perpendicular to the rest of your body as possible.
- Lean forward on your forearms and hold for 90 seconds, then switch legs. Note: If you cannot rest on your forearms without compromising the position of the bent leg, raise up onto your hands instead.
This stretch primarily targets the quads, glutes, hip flexors and lower back, but it also stretches the shoulders and arms, making it an excellent full-body movement.
- Begin by fully extending your arms overhead and interlacing your thumbs.
- Step into a Lunge, keeping your pelvis in a neutral position.
- Push your hips forward while also pushing your hands toward the ceiling. Do not let your knee move past the toes of your front foot.
- Hold for a few seconds, then switch legs.
- Repeat this until you have completed 6-8 reps per leg.
The Cobra is another multi-targeted stretch. Typically done in yoga classes, it stretches the hips, lower back, legs, chest and abs. It's a must for athletes in all sports, especially those that entail running and/or twisting. Unlike some other stretches, which can feel a little stiff or unpleasant at first, the Cobra feels great from the get-go.
- Start by lying on your stomach. Place your palms flat on the ground in line with your sternum.
- Push up slowly, raising your chest but allowing your hips to remain in contact with the ground. For an even deeper stretch in the chest and abs, slowly tilt your head back.
- Hold this stretch for 5-10 seconds and repeat 20-25 times.
If you have a tendency to get that "tight" feeling in your hips and in the back of your legs, you may want to repeat the stretch upwards of 40 times. It can tax your arms a bit, so feel free to break up your reps into sets of 5-10.
Athletes should aim to complete all of these stretches a minimum of four to six times a week, if not every day. They can be done as part of your warm-up and/or cool-down routine. As always, check with your coach or trainer to ensure proper form.
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