Whether we like it or not, muscle soreness is part of our fitness routine. Some of us have learned to deal with that feeling and try our best to not complain. But when you wake up in the morning after a killer workout and start limping while walking or holding to the handrail when taking the stairs, you know you need to do something to release the pain and be functional again! That’s were stretches for sore legs and glutes become very important.
The muscles we normally refer to as “the glute muscles” are actually made up of three main muscles: the gluteus maximus muscle, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. Together, these three muscles play a major role in all forms of hip extension, hip rotation, and stability of the trunk and spine. We use these muscles to gain speed in our movements and explosiveness in our lifts. Along with the leg muscles, we engage the glute muscles in almost every movement we perform at the gym and on dailybasis (walking, climbing stairs, standing up). No wonder why it’s common to feel discomfort in these areas.
In this article, we will help you find the best stretches for pain relief in the glutes and legs. These static stretches will help to elongate stiff muscles and stretch connective tissue as postures are held for a couple of minutes in order to apply mild, healthy stress on the lower body and surrounding musculature.
Why are my glutes tight?
Muscle tightness in the glutes and legs can be caused by a number of factors like poor posture or form while training. However, overuse or overexertion in athletic performance is the most probable cause for you, but don’t forget that sitting for long periods can also lead to tight glutes. Excessive sitting causes tight hips, and weakness and tightness within the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle, situated deep within the buttock (beneath the gluteus maximus), is both an external rotator of the femur (the thigh bone) and a stabilizer of the sacroiliac joint.
Technically, the kind of soreness we experience after working out is called “delayed onset muscle soreness” (DOMS); different from a more “immediate” soreness that might be experienced as a result of injury. The DOMS first appears about eight hours after working out and peaks about one or two days later. It’s most felt after getting out of bed. DOMS comes with muscle tenderness, pain when touching the muscle, and tightness that causes pain when you move or stretch.
Glute and leg stretches to relieve pain
The following movements can be done all together as a sequence or individually. We propose a gentle stretching of the muscles that are already sore as this can help muscle recovery, and reduce the sensation of pain and soreness.
All the equipment you need is a yoga mat or a beach towel. Most of the time you will be sitting or laying on the ground and having some padding can help you be more comfortable and relaxed. But you can totally do the stretches on the bare floor.
This movement provides a deep stretch for the hips and the legs, especially the hamstrings and the calves.
- Starting position: Begin by lying on your back, with your legs and arms extended.
- As you exhale, draw both of your knees toward your chest. Wrap your legs with your hands around them. If it is possible for you, wrap your forearms over your shins and clasp each elbow with the opposite hand.
- Keep your spine straight and flat on the ground, draw your tailbone and sacrum down toward the floor lengthening your spine even more.
- With an exhalation release the right leg along the floor, keep the left knee bent close to your chest. Wrap your left shin with both hands.
- Gently pull the bent knee towards your left shoulder, opening the hip to the left side.
- Tuck your chin slightly and gaze down to the centerline of your body.
- Hold for up to one minute. Keep your breathing smooth and even.
- With an exhalation, release and extend both legs along the floor and rest.
- Repeat with the right leg and switch legs in between up to six times.
While not a stretch for the glutes, easy sets of glute bridges can be mixed into your stretching routine in order to bring more blood flow to muscles. Both hamstrings also assist in this hip extension exercise, as well as the transverse abdominis when you keep your abs tight during the movement.
- Starting position: Lay down on your back with your legs extended. Bend both knees and keep your feet flat on the ground. Your feet should be hip width apart with your toes pointed straight ahead, and your heels should be about 6-8 inches away from your glutes.
- Place your arms by your sides with your palms turned down towards the floor.
- Take a big inhale, squeeze your glutes and your abs, press your heels into the floor to lift your hips toward the ceiling.
- Raise your hips as high as you can go without arching your back. The goal is to raise your hips until your body is in a straight line from your knee to your hip and to your shoulder.
- Squeeze the glutes as tightly as you can in the top position while you hold for two seconds. Focus on your breathing.
- Slowly lower the hips down to the floor, keeping tension in the glutes and abs as you lower down.
- Repeat 10 to 12 times.
For more intensity you can increase the time holding in the top position. Also, you could try a single leg glute bridge by keeping one leg straight and the other bent while laying on the ground and then raise the hips while one of the legs is straight up in the air. You can start with your left leg and then switch legs. Try to maintain a neutral core position to avoid arching the low back.
Figure Four Stretch (supine glute stretch)
The figure four position provides deep glute stretches that target the outsides of your hips and your glute muscles, specifically the gluteus medius and the piriformis, which runs from the base of the spine to the top of the femur and helps with hip rotation and stability. The figure four stretch will also help relax tense hamstrings.
- Starting position: Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, legs bent.
- With your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground at hip width; cross your right ankle over your left knee and keep your right foot flexed.
- Bring your left knee toward your chest. Reach your right hand through your legs and your left hand by the outer side of your left leg, interlace your fingers just below the crease of your left knee.
- Gently pull your left knee toward your chest, pausing when you feel a stretch in your right glute and hip. Hold there for up to two minutes, keep breathing deeply throughout, then release and repeat on your left side.
To increase the stretch, press your right elbow into your right knee to increase the stretch, make sure your spine is in a neutral position and your tailbone on the ground.
Variation: Standing Figure Four
This is a good alternative for standing glute stretch, a good option when you don’t have a comfy surface to lay down.
The starting position is standing up with the feet hip width apart and rooted into the floor. The knees slightly bent, the pelvis tucked. The ribcage is lifted. The shoulders are relaxed and the arms at your sides.
- Slowly raise your right foot and place your right ankle on top of the left thigh, just above your knee. You can use your hands to slide your shin closer up.
- Begin to shift your weight back as if you are sitting in a chair and send some weight to the heel of your grounding foot.
- Flex your right foot (the one on top of the thigh) and keep rotating your knee as you hinge your hips back deeper. Keep your chest lifted.
- Hands can come together in front of your chest like a prayer position and find a focal point to gaze at.
- Switch sides
Seated Figure Four Fold (seated glute stretch)
This stretch helps stretch tight glutes and tight hips, but also stretches the ankles and thighs.
- Starting position: Come into a seated position and extend both legs out in front of you.
- Slowly bend your right knee and place your right ankle on top of the left thigh. Make sure both sit bones are equally grounded into the earth.
- Slowly lean forward, bending from your hips and avoiding rounding your back. Keep bending forward leading with your chest until you feel a sweet healthy stretch in your left hamstring and glutes.
- Hold there for a couple of minutes, always coming back to your breathing.
- Switch legs
Seated Spinal Twist
This gentle spinal twist opens up the hips and stretches the chest, shoulders, upper and lower back. This movement serves to increase range of motion in your lower and upper back, upper body, hips, and shoulders.
- Starting position: seated position, right leg is extended to the front and the left knee is bent with the foot flat on the ground.
- Support yourself by placing the left hand on the floor and with the other hand help your left foot come over your right thigh. Your left foot is flat on the ground and close to the outside of your right knee.
- Bring your right arm over your left knee so it rests on your thigh. Your right palm is facing out, your arm is extended.
- Retaining a long lifted spine supported by your left arm, twist the upper body toward the left. Your chest is lifted and shoulders are open. The gaze follows the spine as it twists open.
- Use your inhalation to twist a little bit more every time (if possible) until you reach a point where you feel a nice stretch. Hold there for a couple of minutes.
- Untwist slowly and switch legs.
Creates flexible strength. Promotes stability in the front and back of the torso. Tones the lower body and helps release tension on the thighs.
- Start from a kneeling position, hands on the ground, where the knees and arms form a box with the spine and neck in a neutral position. This starting pose is commonly known as table top.
- Step the right foot forward, placing it outside your right hand, with the knee directly over the ankle. Keep the left knee bent resting over the ground.
- The hips and shoulders are squared to the floor and the palms are rooted with the weight of the body equally distributed between the heel of the hands and the top of the knees. The joints are stacked with the wrists, elbows and shoulders in a straight line. The gaze is down and slightly forward.
- For more intensity you can lift your knee from the ground by tucking the back toes under and straightening the back leg.
The benefits of this stretch are multiple, it stretches the thighs, groin, psoas, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and neck. It also opens the shoulders and chest muscles.
- Starting from a lunging position (see above)
- Keep the hips parallel and squared to the earth with the front knee bent and front foot flat on the earth.
- Slowly walk your front foot to the middle so it rests close to the groin. Place the front knee on the ground at a 90-degree angle. The back leg is extended with the knee and the back foot squared, parallel and pressed firmly into the earth. The upper body is lifted. The chest is open. Fingers rest on the earth by the side body supporting yourself. The gaze is forward.
- Hold there, breathing deeply. Switch to the left leg.
- You can reduce the intensity by bringing the front foot closer to the groin. The opposite also works for a deeper stretch.
Variation: Pigeon Fold
From Pigeon, begin bending forward from the hips, with the hands on the ground and elbows slightly bent in front of you. Keep the weight back into the hips as you lower yourself to the ground. Move down first to the rest in your elbows, then to the forehead, and eventually to the chest, as flexibility allows. You can keep your arms crossed in front of the forehead or stretch your arms out as far as they can reach.
In addition to the benefits that pigeon offers, this variation also provides a gentle and potent opening of the hips, and external rotation of the front hip. It also stretches the quadriceps and hip flexors of the back leg.
Is it better to stretch before or after a workout?
Research shows that when doing consistent static stretching before exercising, the explosive ability of the muscles is reduced and it is best to leave static stretching after working out. Moreover, static stretching after a workout when the muscles are still warm is an excellent idea. They can significantly improve muscle extensibility that improves flexibility and therefore performance. Plus, it’s highly probable that doing these stretches on a regular basis will prevent you from injuries.
A final thought, take at least 10-15 minutes to stretch after your workouts. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t suffer from the effects of DOMS anymore, but the flexibility that you will gain will make you feel better, help your recovery and improve your performance.
Giuliana is a yoga instructor and Crossfitter from Peru who is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with her Crossfit Coach (and husband) Tim.