Given everything our legs do for us every day, it’s no surprise many of us get hit with muscle tightness. When this happens, it can be tough to sit, stand, and walk. You can relieve this tightness by performing leg stretches regularly.
The most common culprit of tight legs is sitting for prolonged periods, which causes muscles to shorten, according to Leada Malek, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a board-certified sports specialist based in San Francisco, Calif.
But crushing an intense leg workout can also lead to tightness — or even discomfort and pain — while your muscles recover. That’s why stretching is crucial.
“Flexibility in the muscles is important for their function,” Malek says.
And leg stretches can help restore short, tight muscles to their full, functional length, enabling them to move through a healthy range of motion. Ease tightness, discomfort, and pain with these expert-approved leg stretches.
1. Kneeling Hip Flexor
Stretch out the hip flexors after long periods of sitting with this move.
- Begin in a half-kneeling position.
- Gently tuck your tailbone and squeeze your rear glute. Keeping your tailbone tucked, rock forward gently until you feel a stretch in your rear quad.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
2. Seated Hamstring Stretch
Give tight hamstrings some love with a simple move you can do right at your desk.
- Sit tall and extend one leg in front of you, keeping a slight bend in the knee.
- With a neutral spine, hinge forward at the hips until you feel a stretch in the extended leg’s hamstring.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.
“Yes, this is traditionally a strength movement, but the deadlift is one of the best ways you can increase the stretch to your posterior chain,” says Blake Dircksen, DPT, CSCS, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York.
- Stand tall with feet hip-width apart.
- Keeping your chest up and a soft bend in your knees, hinge forward at the hips to push your butt back. Reach your hands toward your toes until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
- Reverse the movement. Squeeze your glutes to extend your hips. Repeat.
- Complete 25-30 reps. Add a pair of light dumbbells if you’d like.
4. 90/90 Shin Box Stretch
Improve hip mobility with this stretch, which works both internal and external hip rotation.
- Sit on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the ground in front of you and hands flat on the ground behind you.
- Keeping your feet in contact with the floor, shift both knees to the right to lay both shins on the floor. Hold briefly before returning your knees to center and shifting them to the left.
- Continue alternating for 30-60 seconds.
5. Standing Quad Stretch
This simple stretch targets your quads and hip flexors, Malek says.
- Stand tall. Shift your weight onto one foot and bring the opposite heel toward your glute.
- Grab hold of your ankle and press your knee into your inner thigh. Tuck your tailbone slightly and gently pull on your foot to bring your knee back. You should feel a nice stretch in your quad.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat with the opposite leg. Hold onto a chair for balance if needed.
6. Supine Piriformis Stretch
When the piriformis (a small muscle deep in your glutes) gets tight, you may feel tingling or numbness down your leg, Malek says. Stretch it out with this simple move.
- Lie on your back with both legs extended.
- Bring your one knee toward your chest. Without raising your head or shoulders off the floor, use your opposite hand to gently pull your knee across the midline of your body. You should feel a gentle stretch in your glute and lower back.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
7. Runner’s Stretch
Relieve stiffness in the calf and ankle from long periods of walking and running with this classic stretch.
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. With your knees slightly bent, bend forward at your waist and place your palms next to the outer edges of your feet.
- Bend your right knee and extend your left foot behind you, placing the ball of your left foot on the ground.
- According to your level of flexibility and comfort, lower your hips, allowing your body to sink into the stretch. You should feel the stretch in your hip flexors, quadriceps, and calves.
- Hold for up to 30 seconds before switching legs.
8. World’s Greatest Stretch
This move stretches out the leg muscles in the posterior chain (the back of your body), Dircksen says.
- Begin in a straight-arm plank with your hands directly under your shoulders.
- Step your left foot towards the outside of your left hand.
- Tap your left elbow against the inside of your left foot, calf, or knee (this will depend on your mobility). Then, rotate your torso to extend your left arm overhead, reach your fingertips toward the ceiling. Follow with your gaze.
- Reverse the movement to return to plank. Repeat on the opposite side.
9. Frogger Stretch
This move stretches out the hip adductors and improves mobility in the hip capsule. “This move should be done slowly and gently,” Dircksen says. “No pain is allowed here.”
- Begin on all fours with hands beneath the shoulders and knees beneath the hips.
- From here, spread your knees as wide as you can and allow your feet to spread outward. Drop to your forearms if you can, or fold your hands under your forehead and relax your upper body.
- Sink your hips toward the floor and gently rock back. Stop when you feel tension and rock forward again.
- Continue for 30-60 seconds.
10. Sumo Stretch
Malek recommends this move for stretching the hips and groin at their end-range, which helps you maintain full hip mobility.
- Begin standing with feet hip-width apart and toes pointed outward to 45 degrees.
- Sink down into a deep squat, keeping your spine tall and heels down. Press your elbows against your knees to gently push your thighs wider apart.
- Take a few deep breaths.