Take care of your legs: five basic stretches for runners

Stretching off the bike is key for muscle recovery
Here are five basic leg stretches, emphasizing different muscle groups, to do before and after your runs.

1. Upper calf: With your hands on a wall, slide your right leg back two or three feet and lean forward onto your left leg, knee bent. To stretch the right calf, straighten the right leg and firmly press the heel onto the floor or ground while letting the hip come forward. Point the toes of your right foot forward, not out to the side. Repeat with the left leg.

2. Lower calf: Slide your right foot forward a foot and bend the knee as much as possible while keeping the heel pressed firmly down on the floor. Repeat with the left leg.

3. Quadriceps: With one hand on the wall for support, use the other to grasp your foot behind you. Keep your standing leg firm and stand up tall. As you draw the heel toward your buttocks, press the bent knee forward without actually letting it move too far in front of the standing leg's knee. Gently tuck your tailbone forward at the same time. Repeat with the other leg.

4. Knees: Put your hands on your hips and cross one foot over the other. Tighten your quads, then inhale and stretch your torso up. On an exhalation, bend forward at the hips (not the waist), coming down as far as you can. Rest your hands on the floor or on a support for balance if needed. Once down, "pull" your feet toward each other without actually moving them.

When you come up, keep your back straight. Repeat with your legs crossed the other way. Lastly, uncross your legs and repeat the forward bend with your feet placed hip-width apart, quads taut. Again, pull feet toward each other without moving them.

5. Hamstrings: While lying on your back, draw your left knee into your chest. Clasp your hands around the back of your thigh and press your thigh into your hands. Keeping the thigh taut, slowly extend your left foot to the ceiling until your leg is straight. Press your heel to the ceiling (point with the heel, not the toes).

Keep the right leg extended, with the right thigh pressing down and toes pointing up throughout the stretch. Switch legs and repeat. You can do this stretch with a strap or jumprope around your raised foot, which makes it easier to keep the leg fully extended.

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