Martial artists, gymnasts and other athletes who depend on greater flexibility in their lower bodies often use leg stretchers, a simple machine that gradually stretches these key muscles.
These stretches primarily increase flexibility in the hamstrings, adductors, calves and inner thighs, which is important for high kicks, splits, toe touches and other movements that require full range of motion from the legs and lower body. Leg stretchers are available from online and in-store sporting goods and fitness equipment retailers.
As with most fitness equipment, they can vary in design, cost and quality. The simplest and most affordable leg stretchers utilize a metal tripod and are priced under $50; more involved versions with built-in seats or electric motors can cost hundreds of dollars.
1. Warm Up First
Start with the warm-up activity of your choice, like light cardio, to elevate your body temperature, warm up the muscles and increase the heart rate (i.e. walking, jogging, rowing, cycling, or jumping rope). After five to 10 minutes, perform some light stretches to prepare for the more intense leg stretching workout.
2. Using the Stretcher
Start by sitting on the floor. You should sit straight and tall on your ischium—the bottom, curved bone at the base of the pelvis. Lean forward at the hips, but do not round your back. Adjust the leg stretcher so that your legs are pushed comfortably apart. This is a very mild beginning stretch.
3. Progressing the Stretch
Gradually increase the stretch as far as it is comfortable and then hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds. This action will vary depending on the model of leg stretcher you have — either pull the central bar toward you, turn the ratchet handle, or press the control button. Try to relax and maintain normal breathing; do not hold your breath. Then, sit up straight or lean slightly forward at the hips again, but do not round your back.
Contract your leg muscles. Without reducing the stretch or holding your breath, try to push your legs together against the resistance of the leg stretcher. Hold this contraction for 10 to 15 seconds. Inhale and then forcefully exhale as you release the contraction. Then, increase the stretch again; this time, you should find a greater increase as the leg muscles relax. Hold this new, deeper position for 30 to 60 seconds.
Repeat until you're no longer able to make any further progress. Hold the last position for 60 to 120 seconds and then slowly release the stretch.
- Avoid holding your breath, clenching your jaw, hunching your shoulders, or tensing up in any other way. You'll get much more out of the workout.
- To achieve the deepest stretch possible, always forcefully exhale.
- Stretch at least three times a week to get maximum benefits from your practice.
- Be careful to only stretch the muscles, not the tendons.
If your muscles begin to shake uncontrollably or you feel burning in your muscles, release the stretch slightly until these symptoms abate: you may be over-stretching and potentially causing damage to your muscles.
Avoid rounding your lower back, as this can lead to injury. Always sit up tall and lean forward from the hips, not the back.