You’ve mustered up the energy to hit the gym, try a new workout class, or head out on a long run this week—in other words, you’re crushing this whole #fitlife thing. But did you take the time to stretch before and after your workout?
If the answer is no, we get it: Carving out an extra five minutes for a stretch session may fall pretty low on your list of priorities. But just a few minutes of stretching could mean a much quicker recovery and way less soreness the next day. Stretching can increase flexibility, improve circulation, prevent injury, boost your coordination, and even pump up your energy and zen levels, says Laurie Campbell, stretch and recovery specialist at Barry’s Bootcamp. “The key to improving performance with stretching and increased mobility is to do it regularly,” she says. If you’re stumped about where to begin, Campbell curated these 19 lower-body stretches to help you get started.
How to use this list: Remember to stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not pain, and to never bounce. The list is broken up into two sections: warm-up and cool-down moves. Before a workout, choose 5 moves from the warm-up portion and perform each for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 3 times as necessary. After a workout, choose 5 moves from the cool-down section and perform each for 15 to 60 seconds. Repeat 4 times. Or scroll to the bottom of this page to check out the stretch series that Kara Faulk, certified trainer at Barry's Bootcamp, has put together for us.
1. Lunge With Twist
Start standing, feet hip width. Take a huge step forward with left foot and lower until left knee is bent to 90 degrees, right leg is straight. Place both hands on mat on either side of left foot for support. This is a runner’s lunge position. From here, twist to the left from the waist as you draw left hand and gaze up toward ceiling. You'll feel this in your right hip flexor, lower back, and glute. Return hand to starting position and repeat on other leg.
2. Triangle Stretch
Stand with feet wide apart. Keep left toes straight and rotate right thigh open until right toes point directly to the side. Keeping both legs straight, ground through your feet and lift through your thighs. Spread arms wide at shoulder height, roll your front thigh open, and hinge at the front hip. Lengthen your spine toward front foot and release right palm to the right shin, ankle, or mat. Repeat on other side.
3. Wall Calf Stretch
Start standing and facing a wall. Shift weight to left leg and place right toes up on wall with heel on floor. Rest hands on wall for support then slowly lean in toward wall to feel the stretch in your calf deepen. Gently push into left leg for more depth. Hold then repeat on other leg.
4. Child's Pose
Start kneeling on all fours. Send hips back to sit on heels, toes touching, forehead to mat, belly resting between legs. From here, reach arms straight out in front of you to feel stretch in lower back. Optional: Slowly walk hands to right side to feel stretch along left side body, then walk hands to left side to feel stretch along right side body.
5. Walking Toe Touch
To warm up those hammies, from standing, bring right leg straight out in front of you and reach left fingertips out to touch your toes. Keep a tall posture (don't lean forward). If you can't reach toes, just get as close as possible. Alternate with each leg as you walk forward. (Basically just pretend you’re a toy solider, and you’ll be good to go.)
6. Walking Knee Hug
Start standing. Draw right knee up to chest and grab shin with hands to pull knee close to your body. Return to starting position and repeat with left knee as you walk forward. Continue to alternate. You should feel this most in the front of your hips.
You might not like 'em, but squats are one of the best moves to activate your glutes. Stand with feet just wider than hip width, hips stacked over knees, knees over ankles. Hinge at hips then send hips back and bend knees to lower body. Keep chest lifted and lower to at least 90 degrees. You can raise arms overhead for balance if you want. Rise and repeat. For more details on how to squat, click here.
8. Bridge Pose
Lie faceup and place feet flat on the ground, hip-width distance apart, knees bent. Press into heels and use butt to lift hips up, forming a straight line from shoulders to knees. Shimmy shoulders underneath you for support. Slowly lower hips back down and repeat.
9. 3-Legged Down Dog With Hip Stretch
Show your legs some love with this variation on a classic yoga pose. Start off in downward-facing dog (hands and feet on the floor, hips straight up to create a V-shape with your body). Ground through feet and lift through thighs. Reach hips away from hands to lengthen the sides of your torso. Then lift left leg up toward ceiling. To add a hip stretch, open hips to left side and bend your knee to bring foot towards your glute. Return to starting position then repeat on the other side.
10. Forearm Lunge
Begin in a runner’s lunge position: From standing, take a big step forward with right leg and bend knee at a 90-degree angle, knee stacked directly over ankle. Keep left leg straight and back tall. You'll feel this in your left hip flexor. If this is enough of a stretch for you, stop there. If you have more flexibility, bend at the waist and bring hands to the floor on the inside of right leg. If this is enough, stop there. If not, bend elbows to get forearms down to mat until you feel the stretch. Repeat on the other side as flexibility allows.
11. Quad Stretch From Lunge
Start by lowering into a lunge position: Take a step forward with right foot and lower body until right thigh is parallel to floor and knee is stacked over ankle. Rest left knee on mat. From here, draw left foot to glute and reach back with left arm to grab top of foot. Pull foot as close to butt as possible to feel a stretch in your quad. Repeat on other side.
12. Hamstring and Calf Stretch
Start standing and take a small step forward with left leg. With a slight bend in right knee, hinge at hips and fold over straight left leg, resting fingertips on mat for support. You should feel a stretch along the back of your left leg. Then, flex ankle and use hands to pull left toes toward you to deepend the stretch in your calf. Hold then repeat on other leg.
13. Pigeon Stretch
While the name may not sound that appealing, pigeon is likely to be your new favorite stretch. Start in a downward-facing dog position. Bring right leg forward and lay right shin down on mat with right foot flexed and knee bent. Try to get your shin as parallel to top of mat as possible. Keep left leg straight out behind you with top of foot on floor (don't let left leg roll open out of alignment). This may be enough for you. For a deeper stretch, crawl fingertips forward as far as possible to fold torso over right leg. Hold then repeat on other leg.
14. Seated Twist
Start seated with legs stretched out in front of you. Bend right leg and cross it over left leg, placing right foot on floor near left knee. Twist from the hips and place left elbow on the outside of right knee. Push into the knee to deepen the twist (you'll feel it along the outer side of right thigh). Repeat on the other side.
15. Tuck Stretch
Lie faceup on mat and draw both knees to chest. Place hands on knees to pull them close to body and roll ankles clockwise then counterclockwise. You should feel a nice stretch in front of hips and mobility in your ankle joints.
16. Hip Drop Stretch
Lie faceup with both legs extended out straight. Draw left knee to chest then guide knee over to right side across right hip as you straighten left leg. You should feel a slight pull in the left side of your butt. Hold then repeat on opposite side.
17. Supine Quad Stretch
Start by lowering into a lunge position with left leg forward. Rest right knee on mat, then send hips back to sit butt next to right foot as left leg extends out straight. Sitting up straight may be enough for you. If not, slowly walk hands back away from you as you lower back down to mat. This is a really deep stretch for the quad and ankle, so only lower all the way down if flexibility allows. Hold then repeat on other leg.
18. Cross-Legged Hip Stretch
Start lying faceup on mat, knees bent to a table-top position. Cross left leg over right (as if you were to cross your legs sitting in a chair) and grab opposite feet with hands. Pull legs toward you to feel a stretch deep in your hips. Reverse to cross other leg and repeat.
19. Standing Quad Stretch
Start standing tall next to a chair or wall for support, feet hip-width apart. Shift weight to left leg with a slight bend in left knee. Reach back and grab right foot with right hand, then draw knee forward so both hips and knees are in line. Hold then repeat on other leg.
Photography: Julia Hembree
Special thanks to Barry's Bootcamp trainer Kara Faulk for demo-ing each move. Barry's Bootcamp now offers guided stretch and recovery routines designed specifically to prepare muscles pre workout and stretch muscles post workout in the new "Stretch Lounge," available in select studios in the U.S.