This illustrated guide to stretching focuses on the lower body.
Lower Body Stretches
The back stretch begins by lying on your back and pulling your knees towards your chin. Wrap your arms over the legs. Pull with your upper body so that you rock backward and feel the stretch in your lower back. You may rock back and forth several times for this stretch.
The next stage for the back stretch involves straightening the legs. You are not trying to touch the feet to the floor, but extending your legs over your head. Pull your legs up and down so that the stretch affects the lower back area. Your lower back should remain relatively close to the ground for this position.
The final position involves taking the legs completely over the head. Allow the feet to touch the floor. The goal is to move the lower back as close to the floor as possibly while maintaining foot contact with the floor above your head.
The ankle stretch is very important. This is a stretch that is often neglected. Ankle flexibility is important for proper function during activities like running and exercises such as the squat. For the first position, simply lean forward on the floor and then cross one leg behind the other, so that your weight bears down on the ankle.
The second position involves bending the leg and shifting your center of gravity backwards.
The legs are still crossed, but you sit into a more upright position, similar to squatting but with legs crossed over.
This increases the pressure on the ankle relative to the stretch.
For the hamstring stretch, lie on your back. In the example shown, one leg is bent, with one leg extended. Another variation is to keep the leg on the floor extended and focus on not allowing your lower back to rise. With a towel wrapped around the other leg, pull the leg towards your head, keeping it slightly bent (the bend is exaggerated in the illustration).
Pretzel / Glute Stretch
This stretch is performed by lying on your back and bending one leg at a right angle. Cross the other leg so that the ankle is resting on the knee. Reach through the loop formed by your legs and grasp the opposite knee, and pull upward to feel the stretch in the glute region. You can work three positions with this stretch by pulling first using the knee (as shown), then reaching farther down the shin, and finally utilizing the ankle for the fullest range of stretch.
Posterior Chain Pair
For the posterior chain, lie on your back and extend the arms so you are forming a cross on the ground. Focus on keeping both shoulder blades on the ground for this stretch. Raise one leg straight so that it is perpendicular to the ground, then cross it over the body and try to touch your foot to the floor without raising your shoulder blades. As you improve your range of motion, try to bring the leg higher so that the foot is closer to your head on the ground.
For the second position of this stretch, begin the same way you did for the first position. This time, bend the leg. Take the same-side hand and grasp your leg using the knee joint, and pull your knee up towards your head as far as possible while keeping the knee close to the ground or touching.
There are several variations for this stretch. The one shown involves starting on the floor, then turning onto your side. Keeping the lower leg extended, bend the upper leg at the knee. Grasp your ankle with the same-side hand and pull upwards to stretch the quadriceps.
Hip-flexor / Lunge Sequence
Begin this sequence by kneeling. One leg should be at a right angle with the lower leg parallel to the ground, and the other leg should form a right angle with the lower leg perpendicular to the ground. Your thighs should be forming a right angle with each other. Rest your arms on the forward-facing knee, and straighten your torso with the chest up and out. Now, push your entire body down as if you were attempting to touch your inner thighs to the ground without changing your leg position. This will stretch the hip flexors.
Moving from the first stretch in this sequence, place the hands behind the head and then step forward and lunge. This stretch will place tension on the hamstring of the forward leg and the quadriceps of the rear leg.
There are other lower body stretches, but these basics can help get you started. If you are skeptical about whether or not stretching may be beneficial, instead of reading yourself to death, why not try it out? Incorporate these stretches into your lower body workouts for a period of four to twelve weeks, and keep a detailed journal to decide for yourself if you receive a noticeable benefit from stretching.