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Published on November 9, 2018

These 13 Leg Stretches Will Prevent Pain and Injury During Exercise

These 13 Leg Stretches Will Prevent Pain and Injury During Exercise

Can leg stretches really make a difference? You are lucky enough just to fit in the exercise itself – and now you see that more should be added to your regimen? We will talk about how you can make the most of your time, and give you some key concepts for preventing pain and avoiding injury.

How much time should you spend stretching your legs, and how often should you stretch them? Having measured and fair answers to questions like this can save you plenty of pain, time, and frustration. We can help you find your starting place and make a plan to safely enjoy your lower body exercise routine through leg stretches.

The degree to which you will most benefit from stretching will depend on your chosen activity. If you wish to spend time doing aerial yoga, your body may benefit more from additional stretching than if you choose to enjoy a bike ride on a paved trail.[1]

Let’s talk about a few options as you consider what will work best for you. We will begin with a few tips on leg stretching and then introduce you to some specific stretches for the lower extremities.

Leg Stretching Tips for Starters

1. Learn to make the most of idle moments during the day

True, it is best to prepare your body for exercise just before – and after – your chosen activity. However, it is also beneficial to train your body to stay ready for activity throughout each day. This helps to remind muscles and joints that they can be called into action at any time. We will talk a bit more about the relationship between exercise and stretching in a moment.

Choose one stretch to complete as you:

  • Prepare your coffee or favorite tea
  • Enjoy watching a bird in a tree during lunch
  • Have a conversation at work
  • Wait in line (Why not make the most of that popcorn line at the cinema?)
  • Hang a picture
  • Tie your shoes

2. Use it to keep it

Remind yourself that the physical ability that you currently have will stay with you longer and better if you continue to employ its usage. Getting started or coming back from an injury can be frustrating. Be intentional about maintaining your health.

Knowing that you have already chosen to accomplish a goal makes getting past the first few attempts much easier. Then, just keep pressing on one stretch at a time until you have found several that you like and will do regularly.

3. Rest, relax, enjoy

Your body requires rest for proper rejuvenation. Listen to your body. Give it what it needs and the hard work you do with your new stretches and favorite exercises will go much further.

Think smarter, not harder. Know when to stop and enjoy the benefits of your hard work to help avoid injury.[2]

4 Alert your body

You need to give your body a fair ‘warning’ that you are ready to move your legs, core, and arms in a more commanding manner. These stretches have been selected with the idea that you may be seeking to overcome or avoid injury to one or both legs. As you recover, please feel free to add 15 to 30 seconds to the length of each stretch.

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A good warm-up regimen will include 10 to 15 minutes of slightly less strenuous activity than you plan to include in your actual exercise time. The goal is to alert your body that it is time to work and give it time to ‘wake up’ and respond prior to enjoying your more strenuous exercise activity.

Spending a few moments doing a less intense activity gives your heart time to start sending extra blood to your muscles. Muscles love to be ready for action through added nutrients in this manner.

If you plan to run 3 to 5 miles, walk or jog for about 0.5 to 1 mile prior to increasing your pace. If you plan to run 10 miles, proceed at a slower pace for about 2 miles.

5. Decide whether to stretch before or after exercise

It is pretty safe to say that at least some gentle stretching and warming up should be completed prior to any athletic endeavor.[3] Taking a few moments to alert your body that additional activity will soon happen is essential for protecting your muscles. How much stretching will depend on your chosen exercise and desired level of intensity.

Consider your activity when deciding whether or not you will benefit most from stretching before or after your exercise activity. Do you plan to perform in an event that will require you to be relaxed, flexible, and in control of your limbs? You may find that stretching before your event helps you perform at a higher level of ability.

On the other hand, you may wish to simply enjoy a run in the park? If so, you may find greater lasting benefit by performing most of your stretching routine after you run.

13 Leg Stretches for You to Choose

Fortunately, the many tiny portions of our legs overlap naturally with one another. This means that we almost cannot stretch only one tiny element of the body by itself.

We will almost certainly bring benefit to multiple portions of each limb with each individual action.[4] Think about it, can yo u stretch your feet without moving your toes? Thank you, mother nature! Let’s choose your favorite leg stretches:

1. Foot Overlap

Sit on the floor with both legs straight in front of you. Each leg should be slightly bent. Place your left leg over your right leg. Reach your left foot just beyond your right foot and gently pull both feet toward your body.

You should feel a slight pull from your feet all the way up through your right calf and left shin. Hold for a count of 10. Switch feet.

2. Ankle Circles

Make circles with your toes. To make it interesting, rotate one way five times, then the other way five times. You can also try alternating the rotational motion of each foot for some added practice in coordination.

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3. Shin Relax

This stretch is far more comfortable and effective while not wearing shoes. Stand up straight with your spine lengthened and your shoulders square with your feet and toes. Slowly swing your right leg behind you and point the toes on your right foot away from your body. The tops of your toes should rest comfortably on the floor.

Gently draw your body down a few inches as you bend your left knee. You should feel a slight stretch from the tops of your toes to just below your right knee. Hold for a count of 10. Switch legs.

4. Thirsty Calf

Sit with your legs straight in front of you. Gently point all of your toes away from your body. Hold for a count of 10. Bring your left knee up until the sole of your left foot is resting flat on the floor.

While sitting up straight, draw a towel, stretch band, or similar around your right foot ad bring your foot toward your body. You may also choose to lean forward at the waist and use your hands to pull your toes toward you.

Hold for a count of 10. Switch sides.

5. Quadricep Choice

Quad stretches should be chosen based on your level of comfort and whether or not you have any knee injuries. Whether or not you choose to rest on your stomach, side, or stand will depend on your preference.

Once in your chosen starting position, pull your right foot back gently to come as close to your right buttock as you can. You may choose to place a strap around your foot if you are unable to reach. Hold for a count of 10. Switch sides.

6. Hamstrings Hex

Begin in a standing position with your shoulders and hips square. Turn your left foot so that your toes point to the left. Keep your left knee slightly bent and comfortable. Turn your upper body to the left.

Bending at the waist, slowly bring your arms down to meet as far down your leg as may be comfortable. Hold for a count of 10. Switch sides.

7. Pigeon for Hips

Begin with both hands and both knees on the floor and your back raised (table top position). Your hips and shoulders should be square. Bring your left leg up under your torso as is comfortable. Be sure to bring the leg up far enough to feel a gentle pull, but not so far that it is painful. You will feel the stretch in your left hamstring and right hip area. Hold for a count of 10. Switch sides.

If you have existing knee pain, consider this alternative. Stand with your shoulders and hips square. Place your left foot directly behind you. Bend slightly at both knees and bring your body straight down. Be sure that your right knee stays above your right ankle and does not pass your right toes. Hold for a count of 10. Switch sides.

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    8. Glute Twist

    Sit on the floor with both legs straight and relaxed. Point your toes to the sky. Bring your left foot across your right leg onto the floor. Reach your right elbow to the left of your right knee. Face your upper body to the left as you bring your left hand to the floor.

    Keep your shoulders upright. Press against your left leg with your right elbow until you feel a gentle pull in your left glute. Hold for a count of 10. Switch sides.

      9. Leg Hug

      Lay flat on your back. Draw your left knee to your chest. Pull your left leg into your chest with both arms. Hold for 10 seconds. Switch legs.

      10. Leaning Lunge Twist

      Start in a lunge position with your right leg behind you. Take your right hand to the floor even with your left foot. Raise your left arm straight up. Look up to your fingertips.

      Be sure to keep your left knee above your left ankle and not over your toes. Breathe out as you count to 10. Switch sides. You should feel this in your hips, quads, calves, shins, and right foot.

        11. Changing Butterfly

        Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together. You will do this stretch in three forms.

        Begin with your feet as close to you as is comfortable. Lean forward at the waist to feel the stretch in your inner thighs. Hold for a count of 10. Next, move your feet away from your body about three to five inches. Lean forward again and hold for 10 seconds.

        Then, push your feet forward another three to five inches. Your legs should be close to straight but still bent at the knees with the soles of your feet still touching. Lean forward at the waist again and hold for 10 seconds. Breath out slowly each time as you count.

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        12. Changing Forward Bend

        Stand with your legs about shoulder width apart. Slightly bend both knees. Reach your arms toward your feet as you bend at the waist. Hold for a count of 10.

        Next, do the same stretch with your legs about 12 to 18 inches apart. Then, repeat the stretch again with your feet next to each other.

        13. Toes to Hip

        Stand (or sit) and place your right leg slightly behind you. Begin with just your right toes on the floor (left foot still planted). Roll the arch of your right foot down to eventually have your entire foot on the floor behind you. As your right heel reaches the floor, lean back slightly to feel the stretch in your upper leg. Do this three to five times and switch sides.

        A note on knees: Isolating your knees for stretching is a bit less than feasible. As a joint located in the middle portion of the leg, the knee will most efficiently be stretched as you successfully stretch the other portions.

        However, keep in mind that each stretch should be done without pressing or forcing your knee over your toes or into any position that feels strained. Notice how you can feel each of these stretches reach through the connections in each knee.

          The Bottom Line

          Preventing pain and injury to your legs while enjoying your favorite exercise does not have to be painful, enduring, or difficult. If you employ these options with regularity, the powerful tools that carry help to mobilize the rest of your body will thank you!

          Choose a few favorites from this list and remember to be gentle with your muscles and tendons as you complete each stretch. Never force anything or complete stretches in a jerky or forced manner.

          Finding a few favorite leg stretches can go a long way in providing an incentive for keeping limbs ready and equipped for your daily adventures!

          If you appreciated these leg stretching tips, you may love these 10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day!

          Featured photo credit: i yunmai via unsplash.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.

          Chiropractic doctor currently leading over 10,000 Alaskans to more active, pain-free lifestyles – without addictive drugs or invasive surgeries.

          These 13 Leg Stretches Will Prevent Pain and Injury During Exercise

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          Published on November 14, 2018

          Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

          Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

          With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

          For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

          In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

          Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

          Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

          It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

          For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

          Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

          Symptoms of Fatigue

          Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

          • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
          • mental blocks
          • lack of motivation
          • headache
          • dizziness
          • muscle weakness
          • slowed reflexes and responses
          • impaired decision-making and judgement
          • moodiness, such as irritability
          • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
          • reduced immune system function
          • blurry vision
          • short-term memory problems
          • poor concentration
          • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

          Causes of Fatigue

          The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

          • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
          • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
          • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
          • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

          Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

          Medical Causes of Fatigue

          If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

          Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

          Anemia

          Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

          Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

          There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

          Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

          Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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          This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

          Diabetes

          Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

          Sleep Apnea

          Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

          Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

          Thyroid disease

          An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

          Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

          • Lack of sleep
          • Too much sleep 
          • Alcohol and drugs 
          • Sleep disturbances 
          • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
          • Poor diet 

          Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

          • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
          • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
          • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
          • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

          Psychological Causes of Fatigue

          Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

          • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
          • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
          • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

          How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

          Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

          1. Tell The Truth

          Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

          To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

          Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

          The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

          One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

          • How you feel
          • What time of day it is
          • What may have contributed to your fatigue
          • How your mind and body reacts

          This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

          2. Reduce Your Commitments

          When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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          If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

          When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

          Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

          3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

          If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

          Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

          If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

          Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

          Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

          4. Express More Gratitude

          Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

          It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

          Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

          5. Focus On Yourself

          Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

          There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

          But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

          We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

          6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

          Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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          Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

          The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

          Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

          7. Take a Power Nap

          When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

          Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

          This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

          8. Take More Exercise

          The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

          Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

          The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

          You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

          9. Get More Quality Sleep

          To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

          Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

          My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

          10. Improve Your Diet

          Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

          Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

          On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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          To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

          Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

          Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

          11. Manage Your Stress Levels

          Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

          When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

          Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

          My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

          12. Get Hydrated

          Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

          Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

          If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

          The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

          The Bottom Line

          These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

          If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

          Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
          [2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
          [3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
          [4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
          [5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
          [6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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