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December 04, 2022 9 min read

Warm-up and cool-down stretching pre-and post-workout routines are probably the most neglected aspect of just about everyone's body workout and other training regimens.

Researchers agree that a dynamic and static stretching combination is most useful for boosting athletic performance, improving flexibility, and preventing injury. Fitness experts recommend doing dynamic stretches before you start exercising and static post-workout stretches.

Thigh Stretch – Image from Shutterstock

A dynamic stretch is an exercise that prepares targeted muscles for what’s coming. It mimics the motions of your planned workout to activate the muscles. Dynamic stretches help increase the heart rate and body temperature and boost blood flow to the targeted muscles, getting them ready to work and reducing the risk of injury.

In contrast, static stretches are most beneficial after an intense workout.

These stretches are carried out slowly and held in place for 30 to 60 seconds without movement. Their purpose is to relax and stretch the muscles that did the hard work. Static stretches loosen them to recover flexibility and allow the recovery process to begin.

Research has shown that static stretches tend to be less effective if they’re done without a warm-up or dynamic stretching routine.

Thigh muscles to target

Your thigh muscles work very hard — they’re activated whenever you run, walk, stand, jump, climb stairs, and more. That's why it's important not to neglect them, but to give them the TLC they deserve.

Your thighs stretch from the knee joints to your hips. The muscles play a significant role in supporting your knee and hip joints, and they help with the movement of your tibia (shin bone) and femur (thigh bone).

The muscles in your thighs can become tight after periods of inactivity and injury, and also following an intense leg workout. To prepare them for a workout, you should stretch the muscles down the back, sides, and in the front of your upper legs.

The muscle groups to target before and after workouts include those listed below.

  • ​Hamstrings:​ This group of four muscles is located on the back of your thighs, and their primary functions involve bending your knees and extending your legs.

Hamstrings - Image from Shutterstock
  • Quadriceps:​ The quads are also a group of four muscles, but they stretch down the front of your upper leg between your knee and hip bone. The function of the quadriceps femoris muscle is to extend the leg at the knee joint and to flex the thigh at the hip joint.

Quads – Image from Shutterstock
  • Abductors:​ This ribbon-like muscle group originates in the lower pelvis area, and they are attached along the thighbone or femur. Their primary function is adduction of the thigh, as in squeezing the thighs together; they also aid in rotation and flexion of the thigh.

Abductors – Image from Shutterstock
  • Adductors:​ The adductors are a group of three muscles located in the inner thigh which have many functions responsible for bringing the legs inwards towards each other (adduction) when the leg is extended and stabilizing the pelvis in more controlled activities such as walking. This fan-shaped muscle group has a significant emphasis on strength training, rehabilitation, and preventative programs.

Adductors – Image from Shutterstock
  • ​Hip flexors: Your hip flexors are a group of muscles located near the top of your thighs. They are key players in moving your lower body like walking, kicking, bending, and swiveling your hips. If your hip flexors are too tight or if you make a sudden movement, they can stretch or tear.

Hip Flexor – Image from Shutterstock

To target all these thigh muscles, you’ll have to do different stretching exercises to ensure you activate the correct muscles.

Benefits of Stretching Your Thigh Muscles

Tight muscles can cause poor posture and low back pain, which can be reversed by keeping those muscles flexible.

  • Stretching can improve muscle flexibility, thereby improving your range of motion. This is extremely important to maintain your mobility and your ability to use your hip and knee joints and extend your lower limbs.

  • Stretching can decrease knee, leg, and lower back pain and can also help relieve pain from existing injuries.

  • Stretching can help prevent injuries and pain, especially in the hips, knees, shins, and low back.

  • These exercises can increase your heart rate and blood circulation and decrease muscle soreness and stiffness.

  • Stretching helps reduce cellulite, which results from the loss of elasticity and weakness of connective fibers located just underneath the skin.

  • Stretching can help relieve stress and tension.

Pre-Workout Dynamic Thigh Stretches

Warming up before working out is significantly more important than you might think. Five minutes of warm-up stretches could help you avoid five months of pain and mobility problems if you should tear a cold thigh muscle. Dynamic upper leg stretches can help you prepare your upper leg muscles, ligaments, and soft tissues for the entire range of motion of your planned thigh workout. Here are four dynamic stretches to warm up.

1. Leg swing stretches for inner thighs

This is a simple dynamic stretch that will activate your inner thighs, glutes, and hips.

Starting position:

Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.

If necessary, you can hold on to a chair or place your hands on a wall to stay balanced.

Here’s how to do the stretch:

  1. Lift your right leg off the ground, while putting all your weight on your left foot’s heel.

  2. Start to slowly swing your right leg in a pendulum-like motion from side to side. Try to avoid twisting your torso too much.

  3. You can speed up the pace as your hips start loosening up, swinging your leg a bit further out every time.

Perform 20 swings with your right leg before switching to doing the same with your left leg.

2. Crossover or Carioca Stretch

Carioca is a lateral moving dynamic stretch to warm up your abductors and the adductors. You’ll need perfect coordination, and getting the movements right could be tricky at first. However, if you enjoy dancing you shouldn’t have problems. The key to the movement is moving the hips, twisting them left and right.

Starting position:

Start with your feet together, and lift your heels so you’re standing on the balls of your feet.

Here’s how to do the stretch:

  1. Start off by moving slowly, making sure to do the movement pattern correctly.

  2. While on the balls of your feet and not looking down, step sideways to the left with your left foot.

  3. Then bring your right foot to step over your left foot.

  4. Take another step to the left, but this time, let your right foot cross behind your left foot.

  5. Continue stepping in front and behind moving in one direction.

  6. Depending on the available space, continue the cross-over stepping to the left for several steps.

  7. Switch to leading with the right foot, crossing the left foot over, and moving in the opposite direction.

  8. Once you’ve mastered the steps and the hip twisting as you go, you can speed up the pace and have fun.

Continue moving in both directions for 3 to 4 minutes.

The adductors and abductors are the muscles that bring your legs together and apart, respectively. If Cariocas become too easy, you can take bigger steps and move at a faster pace. However, don’t overdo it during your warm-up.

3. Straight Leg Kick Stretches

This is a simple stretch that targets the hip flexors and the hamstrings. If you are a beginner, you might not be able to kick your leg up high. As long as you keep your leg straight, you can kick as high as you can, and it won’t be long before you’ll manage to kick your leg up high.

Starting position:

Stand with your feet together. If you feel unbalanced, stand next to a chair or a wall to hold on to with your left hand or right hand to keep you stable.

Here’s how to do this stretch:

  1. Without bending your right knee, and without moving your back and your neck, kick your right leg up as high as you can.

  2. Do this with your foot flexed with your toes lifted toward your shins to give you a greater hamstring stretch

  3. You can alternate legs as you go, or complete 10 to 15 kicks with one leg before switching.

  4. Once you feel comfortable doing the kicks, you can attempt to touch the toes of your kicking leg with the opposite hand with every kick.

4. Lunge Walk Stretches for Hip Flexors

Although lunge walks are dynamic stretches, they are a low-intensity way to stretch your hip flexors. Don’t rush at first. Start slow with small steps and gradually increase them as you progress. You will need enough space to take several giant steps in each direction.

Starting position:

Stand with your feet together and keep your chest upright and your core braced throughout the exercise.

Here’s how to do the stretch:

  1. Take a large step forward with your right leg and sink into the step to increase the stretch of the hip flexors.

  2. Push yourself up through your legs and follow with a giant left-leg step.

  3. Swing your left arm up to shoulder height as you step with your right leg and your right arm with the left-leg step, as you would when walking.

  4. You can start with smaller steps first.

  5. keep your core tight for added stability as you do your lunges

  6. Walk several steps in each direction.

NOTE: Don’t sink low enough with your knees bent to let them go past your feet if your muscles are cold. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this stretch motion, doing so when you are “cold” may be harmful to the knees.

Post-Workout Static Stretches

Static stretching has an elongation and relaxation effect on muscles, increasing the range of motion (ROM) and decreasing musculotendinous stiffness. Furthermore, static stretches can also reduce the risks of acute muscle strain injuries.

These are slow, controlled movements, emphasizing body alignment and postural awareness. Static stretches are performed while you stand, lie, or sit still and hold a single position for 30 to 45 or 60 seconds.

Here are 3 static stretches you can do to avoid muscle stiffness and pain after your workout.

1. Hip Flexor Stretch

Tightness in these muscles that connect your thighbones to your hip bones can lead to lower back and pelvis pain. Stretching your hip flexors after exercising can prevent that. This lunge movement will target the correct muscles.

Starting position:

Stand up straight with your feet together.

Here’s how to do the stretch:

  1. Step forward with your right leg.

  2. While keeping your left leg straight, slowly bend your right knee.

  3. Continue to bend your right knee until you can feel a gentle stretch on top of your thigh.

  4. Take care not to arch your back as you lean onto your front leg.

  5. Inhale deeply and hold that position for 10 to 15 seconds.

  6. Exhale as you return to the starting position.

  7. Repeat these movements 5 more times.

  8. Switch legs, stepping forward with your left leg.

Do not continue the exercise if you experience discomfort or pain.

2. Lateral Squat – Quad stretch

These stretches will stretch your quads, hip adductors, and glutes.

Starting position:

Stand with your feet double shoulder-width apart.

Here’s how to do the stretch:

  1. Keep your chest up, and put your weight on your right leg.

  2. Bend your right knee while slowly pushing your hips back as if you’re going to sit down.

  3. Keep your left leg straight, stretched out in front of you, and squat as low as possible.

  4. Inhale deeply and hold the position for 10 to 20 seconds

  5. Exhale as you return to the starting position.

Repeat the movements 3 to 4 times, then switch to the other side, bending your left knee.

3. Adductor muscle stretch

Your adductor muscles run from your hip to your knee on the inner side of your thigh. They help to pull your thighs together. Here is how you stretch them:

 

Starting position:

Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.

Here’s how to do the stretch:

  1. Slowly lean sideways to your right while bending your right knee.

  2. Keep your left leg straight.

  3. Continue leaning onto your right leg until you feel a gentle stretch in your inner left thigh. (If that is not where you feel the muscle stretching, you are not doing the stretch properly).

  4. Inhale deeply and hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds.

  5. Exhale as you return to the starting position.

Do 5 or 6 reps before changing sides, and then lean on your left leg.

Do not continue if the stretch causes pain.

Including post-workout stretches in your daily routine can benefit your overall mobility.

Safety Tips

Keep in mind that stretches are not intended for intense exercising. They are intense enough only to warm your muscles before working out and slow enough to remove tightness after your workout. To be safe and avoid muscle tears, sprains, or strains, note the following.

Don’t bounce –Sudden, bouncy or jerky movements can injure the muscles.

Start slowly –Never do too much too quickly if you are not fully flexible. Start with a few stretches, and add more as you gain more flexibility.

Use proper breathing techniques –Breathing helps relieve muscle tension and stress. Breathing in during the difficult part of a stretch, holding the movement, and exhaling as you return to the starting position. That can help you hold a stretch for longer.

Stop when it becomes painful –Some level of discomfort is normal when stretching tight muscles, but it shouldn’t be painful. Stop immediately if you feel sudden or sharp pain.

Furthermore, see your physician if you experience intense pain that worsens when you sit or walk, or if it affects your mobility.

In a Nutshell

Your thigh muscles play an important role in keeping you stable, balanced and moving safely. Furthermore, they also play crucial roles in stabilizing your knees, hips, lower back, and core.

The best way to keep these muscles relaxed and flexible is by including pre-workout dynamic stretches and post-workout static stretches. Stretching your thigh muscles regularly can improve your performance and flexibility while also preventing stiffness and injuries.

Similarly, other muscle groups like the lats should receive the same care, before and after workouts.

Talk to your CPT or your doctor if you have any concerns about body stretches, especially if you have an existing injury or medical condition.

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