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This article discusses the importance of stretching for weight training and how to perform the most common and effective muscle stretches for the major muscles of the lower limb.

Importance of Stretching

The importance of stretching pre- and post-workout, in regards to weight training, is not very well understood despite it being widely researched. Numerous studies exist that suggest stretching is an important part of weight lifting and should not be ignored. Conversely, just as many studies exist that indicate stretching is not needed before or after weight lifting activity and that it is neither detrimental nor beneficial. The literature on this topic is greatly divided. A number of studies have identified however that stretching (whether it be pre- or post-workout) can be beneficial in a number of ways. Thus, it is important that individuals are made aware of these benefits so that they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to include stretching to their daily workouts.

The following benefits have been identified:

  • Stretching decreases soft tissue / muscular tension
  • Stretching decreases pain associated with muscular soreness
  • Stretching increases mobility and physical fitness
  • Stretching helps in the development of body and spatial awareness
  • Stretching reduces risk of injury to joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments

These are obviously some fairly significant benefits to stretching. However, whether stretching truly results in all or any of these benefits is debatable. With the importance (or arguably the lack of importance) of stretching pre- and post-workout discussed, we can now move onto discussing the types of stretches available for the lower limb muscles. Please note that all the stretches mentioned below should be completed for 20-30 seconds with a decent stretch being felt in the target muscle. Two to five stretching sets should be completed for each target muscle and for both legs.

Quadricep Stretches

  • Many techniques for quadriceps stretching, however, the following exercise is the simplest yet one of the most effective and least dangerous.

Quad Stretch 1:

  • Stand with feet together or slightly apart
  • You may hold onto support with one hand for balance
  • With other hand, hold ankle and flex knee, bringing foot to buttocks and hold (stretch should be able to be felt in quadriceps at this point)
  • Tilt pelvis anteriorly (i.e. forward) if a greater stretch is required
  • You can also do this exercise lying on your side if that is more comfortable

Hamstring Stretches

  • Numerous techniques also exist for hamstring stretches; however, the following three are the safest and most effective. Be cautious when doing hamstring stretches as the hamstrings have a large influence on the lower back and can cause injury if not completed properly.

Hamstring Stretch 1:

  • Lying on your back with one leg straight and relaxed
  • With the other leg, flex hip to 90° and gently extend knee as straight as possible (until a stretch is felt in the hamstrings)
  • Ideally use a towel or theraband looped around the foot for assistance in straightening knee

Hamstring Stretch 2:

  • Stand up straight in normal stance
  • With one foot, place heel of foot on ground with toes pointing in the air
  • Lean forward through pelvis (maintaining neutral/straight spine) until a stretch is felt in the hamstrings and hold this position

Hamstring Stretch 3:

  • Sit on ground with legs straight in front of you
  • “Tuck in” one leg so that the sole of your foot is in contact with the opposing leg’s inner thigh
  • Keep opposing leg straight out
  • Lean forward through pelvis (maintaining neutral/straight spine) until a stretch is felt in the hamstrings

Adductor Stretches

Adductor Stretch 1:

  • Feet wider than shoulder width apart, both feet pointing forward
  • Shift body weight to one side until a stretch is felt in the inner thigh (adductor) region and hold

Adductor Stretch 2:

  • Sitting down on floor, spine straight and can be supported (e.g. against wall)
  • Tuck feet in-front of you, facing each other (i.e. soles of feet touching)
  • Gently bring knees down to ground until a stretch is felt in the adductor region of both thighs

Triceps Surae (Calves) Stretches

Calf Stretch 1:

  • Lean gently against support (i.e. a wall)
  • Feet shoulder width apart
  • Flex front knee while keeping back leg/knee completely straight – hold this position
  • You should feel a stretch just below the knee
  • Feet should point straight ahead
  • Heels should remain on the ground throughout the motion

Calf Stretch 2:

  • Stand on the edge of a step
  • Feet shoulder width apart and pointing straight ahead
  • 2/3 of foot should hang off of step
  • Gently lower heels down, placing a stretch on the calves in doing so
  • This is a more aggressive exercise and should be used in caution in children and in those with significant muscular tightness

Calf Stretch 3:

  • Positioning same as 1st exercise
  • Bring back foot closer to support (i.e. the wall) and gently bend both knees with bodyweight moving forward

Benefits of Stretching

Thus, in conclusion, while there is no strong evidence supporting the use of stretching or the absence of need for stretching, you should now have a better idea of the potential benefits stretching has. Furthermore, with a better understanding of the types of stretches available, you should be able to make an informed decision as to whether you yourself should include stretching pre- and/or post- weight training workouts.

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