Competitive runners and Olympic weightlifters aren’t the only people who need thigh stretches. No, couch potatoes need thigh stretches just as much as their more active peers. The reason? Sitting for extended periods places the hip flexors in a shortened position, which leads to pain and tightness in the upper thighs as well as inactive glutes and overcompensating hamstrings.

So, whether you’re training for your next marathon or clocking your fifth consecutive hour in front of the TV, you should know how to stretch your thighs. Use the following list of static and dynamic thigh stretches to stretch your inner thighs, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors.

1. Butt Kicks

A Butt Kick is a dynamic thigh stretch that targets the quadriceps, the muscle group located on the front of the thigh, and the hip flexors. When performed quickly, butt kicks also increase your heart rate and warm up your body’s tissues, priming you for a workout.

“Butt kicks can sometimes aggravate people’s knees, since the move is hyperflexion done at an accelerated pace,” says Dr. Theresa Marko, PT, DPT, MS, OCS, board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist in physical therapy and owner of Marko Physical Therapy, PLLC, in New York City.

If you feel any knee pain while doing butt kicks, Marko suggests slowing down your pace and decreasing your range of motion. (i.e., not kicking your butt).

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Transfer your weight to your left foot and, keeping your right knee pointed down toward the ground, quickly snap the right heel up and behind you so that it taps your butt.
  • Bring your right heel down and hop onto your right foot. Simultaneously raise your left foot up and behind you so that your left heel taps your butt.
  • Continue to hop from foot to foot, tapping your butt with alternating heels, until all reps are complete.

2. Toy Soldier

Also, a dynamic thigh stretch, the toy soldier stretches the hamstring, the muscle found on the back of the thigh below the glutes. Marko notes that, if performed too quickly, the toy soldier stretch could lead to unintended pulling and straining of the muscles.

“My advice is to ease into them and perform them at a moderate pace,” she says. “Don’t try to get your leg up as high as you possibly can!”

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Keeping your back and knees straight, swing the right leg forward and lift up until you feel a deep stretch in the back of the thighs. Keep the right foot flexed.
  • Bring the right foot down, step forward, and swing the left leg forward and up. Again, keep the knee straight and the foot flexed.
  • Continue to walk forward like a toy soldier, swinging alternate legs, until all reps are complete.

3. Side Lunge

lower body workout - side lunge

“Side lunges are a great way to stretch the inner thigh,” Marko says. However, if you deal with knee pain or injuries, move slowly and proceed with caution, as this inner thigh stretch can put a lot of stress on the ligaments located on the inner portion of the knee.

  • Stand with the feet together.
  • Keeping the left foot planted, take a sizeable sideways step with the right foot.
  • Keep your chest up as you bend your right knee, hinge at your hips, and push your butt back. Keep your right knee stacked over your ankle and in line with your second toe.
  • Lower your hips until you feel a deep stretch in the inner left thigh.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before returning to a standing position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

4. Crossed-Leg Forward Bend

In addition to stretching the hamstring, this thigh stretch also targets the top of the iliotibial (IT) band.

  • Stand with the feet together and cross the right leg over the left (like an X).
  • Bend forward at the waist, allowing your upper body to hang. To increase the intensity of the thigh stretch, grab hold of your calves or ankles and pull your chest toward your legs.
  • Hold the thigh stretch for 30 seconds and return to a standing position.
  • Cross the left leg over the right and repeat the thigh stretch.

5. Kneeling Lunge

kneeling lunge | thigh stretches

Marko loves the kneeling lunge thigh stretch for people with tight quadriceps and hip flexors, but it’s easy to do incorrectly.

“One huge mistake everyone makes is they arch their back. You really need to be kneeling in a lunged position with your knees at 90 degrees, and then you must perform a pelvic tilt and drop your tailbone down. This will pull on the hip flexor on the top portion of the fibers,” Marko says. “Otherwise, if you do not do the pelvic tilt, all you are really doing is arching your back and compressing your lumbar spine.”

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Take a significant step forward with your right foot. Plant your right foot and come up on the ball of your left foot.
  • Lower your left knee so that it’s resting on the floor. (You may want to place a mat or towel under your knee.) Both knees should form right angles.
  • Tip your pelvis forward to tuck in your tailbone. Make sure the front knee is stacked directly above your ankle and in line with your second toe.
  • If you’re able, reach your left arm back and grab the top of the left foot. Balancing on the left knee and the right foot, pull your left heel toward your butt. If you’re unable to reach or hold the left foot, simply hold the kneeling lunge position.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before releasing the thigh stretch and repeating on the opposite side.

You should feel this stretch on the front of your back thigh, which targets your psoas and quads.

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