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Stretching regularly and correctly increases the flexibility of muscles in the body, which can help to prevent injury during sporting activities. Lower body stretches such as hamstring, calf and quadriceps stretches are essential for any athlete but are also important for keeping the body supple and agile in everyday life. Other types of lower body stretches include ones that focus on the hip flexor, iliotibial band and glute.
One of the most important lower body stretches is the hamstring stretch. The hamstrings are a powerful group of muscles that run from the hip down the back of the thigh to the knee. This muscle group is important in many aspects of movement. An effective way of stretching the hamstring involves lying on the floor and raising a single leg upwards using a towel or exercise band until a stretch is felt along the back of the thigh. The knee should not be bent during the stretch.
A quadriceps stretch can be performed by pulling the foot toward the buttocks while standing. A stretch should be felt along the front of the thigh. If the stretcher finds balancing on one leg difficult then this can be performed while lying down or against a wall.
The calf muscles are another powerful set of muscles. These muscles run from the knee down the back of the lower leg to the Achilles tendon. Tight calf muscles can cause a number of problems with both the ankle and knee joints. Both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles — the two main muscles of the calf — should be stretched regularly for this reason. To stretch the calf the stretcher should stand with one leg in front of the other before bending the front leg until a stretch is felt in the back leg. The stretch should then be repeated with the back leg bent in order to stretch the second calf muscle.
All lower body stretches should be held for a minimum of 20 seconds. Stretching should not be painful as this is an indication that the muscle is being damaged. If a stretch becomes painful then the stretcher should slowly release the stretch and allow the muscle time to recover before trying again. To achieve the most benefit from lower body stretches the stretcher should repeat the stretch several times. It is thought that repeated stretching for several months is required before any permanent gains in muscle length can be achieved.
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