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Karen Voight / The Right Moves

Whatever Your Lifestyle, It's Hip to Stretch the Legs

March 06, 2000|Karen Voight

Believe it or not, when it comes to certain lower body muscles, fitness buffs and desk jockeys have a lot in common. Both groups of people need to pay special attention to their quadriceps, the muscles that make up the front of the thigh, as well as their hip flexors, the muscle group that connects the top of the thigh to the front of the hip.

If your lifestyle includes activities such as skiing, running, power walking, cycling or even squatting in your garden, you need to keep these muscles stretched out and limber to prevent soreness. Most people who work out regularly are acutely familiar with that sore feeling in their quadriceps. It usually hits the day after a tough leg workout, when you can barely walk up and down a flight of stairs or you can't get up from a chair without grimacing.

Then there are those of you who are more sedentary, who spend long hours sitting at a desk or on plane rides. You may notice your legs getting stiff over time.

That's because when you sit for long periods, you are keeping a constant bend where your thigh meets your hip. This continuous fold shortens the hip flexors, which results in that tight and cramped-up feeling when you finally stand up.

Here is a leg stretch with a dual action to counter both of these conditions. If you are strength-training your legs or involved in vigorous sports, this stretch is ideal between sets or at the end of your workout. If you are sitting a lot, remember to take regular breaks to stand up and walk around. Then, when you sit down, take a few minutes to do this move.

My favorite way to do this stretch is from the seated position. I've found that people who do it in the traditional standing position tend to grab their toes and arch their lower back, putting unnecessary stress on their foot and back. Plus, if you twist your lower leg you can injure your knee joint.

Here's how to get the best stretch in the safest way:

(A) Sit sideways on a chair with your left side facing the back of the chair. Place your left leg in front of you with your ankle directly below your knee. Your left foot should be flat on the floor. Hold the back of your chair for support and make sure you are sitting near the front edge of your chair so that the right leg is hanging off the side. Grasp the right ankle with your right hand. Now pull your abdominals in and tuck your hip under, pointing your tailbone toward the floor. This aligns the pelvis, making the stretch more effective.

(B) Slowly move your knee back until it points toward the floor. Aim to get your knee, hip and shoulder in the same vertical line. Use your right hand to bring your right heel closer to the buttocks. You should feel a moderate stretch, but no pain, along the front of your thigh and hip. While doing this move, do not twist the right knee, foot or calf out to the side.

(C) Hold this stretch for 20 to 30 seconds as you concentrate on relaxing your leg muscles. Remember to keep rotating your hip to point your tailbone down. Lift your chest without letting your back arch. Repeat this stretch a couple of times, and then switch and do it on your left leg.

It's always smart to keep in mind how powerful your quad and hip flexor muscles really are. If you keep them in shape, they are a great source of strength and endurance for sports and everyday activities. If you neglect to keep them limber and pliable, however, they can also be a powerful source of pain and stiffness.

*

Joan Voight, a San Francisco-based journalist, contributed to this column.

* Karen Voight is a Los Angeles-based fitness expert whose column runs the first and third Mondays of each month. Her latest videos are "Ease Into Fitness" and "Yoga-Sculpt." She can be reached at kvoightla@aol.com.

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