stretches for sore and tight leg muscles

7 Best Stretches For Tight & Sore Legs Using Resistance Bands

February 21, 2020 1 Comment

Has it been a couple of days since you finished a brutal leg workout and your muscles are still sore and tight?

Are your legs tight and stiff from prolonged inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle?

Do you want to get ahead of tight leg muscles, making sure you maintain good range of motion and normal flexibility?

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, the resistance band leg stretches in this post are going to benefit you greatly. These effective, gentle, easy-to-get-into stretches will help you relieve sore and tight leg muscles - calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes and hips - allowing you to speed up the recovery process so you can get back to moving normally again and feeling great.

stretches for sore and tight leg muscles

Before we get into our 7 best resistance band stretches for tight and sore legs (targeting the entire lower body), let’s discuss the most important facts about sore and tight leg muscles, some common questions - such as “is stretching good for tight and sore muscles?”, and why resistance bands are great for stretching sore and tight legs.

WHY ARE MY LEGS SO TIGHT?

The most common causes of tight and stiff legs are prolonged sitting, overall sedentary lifestyle, soreness from exercising, excessive running, and muscle strains.

Sitting throughout most of the day causes your leg muscles to shorten, as your knee is bent in a position that flexes the muscles that act on it.

People who work out regularly, which includes both running and weight lifting, have a similar issue with muscle tightness in the legs as contraction (concentric) exercises shorten the muscles of your calves, quads, hamstrings, hips (especially for runners), and glutes.

Whether you are tight from inactivity or too much activity, stretching on a regular basis is important. However, you don't want to be too flexible, the goal is to simply create normalcy in your flexibility. Abnormal flexibility can mean too flexible and not flexible enough. So, again, we want to achieve normalcy in the flexibility of our leg muscles. Normal flexibility will make you strong in your movements and feel better when moving in general.

Note: Remember that your muscles work together. This means you need to focus on improving the flexibility of all your muscles, not just the one(s) that feels tight. For example, if your hamstrings are tight, you should also stretch your hips as the two work together. The same goes for all your leg muscles. So, stretch your entire lower body on a weekly basis. Ideally, 2 or 3 times a week, spread out evenly, and don’t overdo it.

WHY DO LEG MUSCLES GET SO SORE?

When training, if your muscles are worked harder or different than they are used to, your muscles will get sore. It’s completely normal and to be expected after strenuous workouts. The reason your legs likely feel sorer than other muscles like your shoulders is because they consist of larger muscle groups and you use them pretty much any time you move. So, you simply notice it more.

how to loosen tight legs

ARE SORE MUSCLES A GOOD SIGN?

It depends, muscle soreness can be a sign of an effective workout and it can also be a sign of inconsistency and possibly even injury. Generally speaking, sore muscles the next day after a hard workout is normal. In the simplest explanation, the muscles tear/break down then they grow back stronger and you are able to workout at a higher level of intensity and strength.

If you are just getting back into working out, intense muscle soreness can be expected. However, if you are working out regularly, you need to look at muscle soreness a little differently. 

Acute Muscle Soreness

Soreness can happen during and immediately after a workout. This is called acute muscle soreness and it usually lasts up to 24 hours and it occurs during strenuous physical exercise. Beginners to advanced athletes and bodybuilders experience this when working out hard. It is a sign that you are training effectively.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Delayed onset muscle soreness refers to a gradual increase of soreness that begins around 24 hours after working out and starts to peak at 48 hours. It can last up to 72 hours. It is completely normal and even veteran weight lifters who train consistently experience it occasionally or even often. However, it may not always be a good sign. If your soreness lasts more than 5 days, you may have done more muscle damage than what is beneficial. And it’s also possible the soreness is a muscle strain.

How long should muscle soreness last?

If you are training regularly, muscle soreness should last for 2-3 days after working out. This is why people do split training, so they can train specific muscle groups while the other muscle groups recover.

If your leg muscles are sore for more than a few days and it is effecting your daily activity or keeping you from working out, that is not advantageous for your fitness or daily life. You should modify your fitness regimen and workouts if this is the case.

Acute Muscle Soreness vs DOMS - What does it tell me?

DOMS should only be expected when you are doing a new routine or you are increasing weight or intensity. It shouldn't last more than 72 hours, though. If it does, it becomes more detrimental than beneficial for improving your fitness.

If you are having DOMS after every leg workout, it means you are changing things up too much, you aren’t being consistent. Consistency is key to improving your strength and building muscle. You want to be consistent in not only making time to workout, but also the exercises and routine you do. So, if you workout regularly, muscle soreness can be a bad sign, a sign that says you aren’t being consistent, at least not in a beneficial way. If you are going intense one week then moderate the next, you can expect mediocre results. Look at your habits like sleep and eating to see why some workouts are intense and others are not. If you continue like this, you can expect to be sore regularly. Moreover, if you change exercises on a weekly basis, you can also expect soreness. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it is proven that consistency in both intensity and the exercises are key for the best fitness results. Aim to change things up every 2-3 months.

Acute Muscle Soreness should be expected if you push yourself hard when exercising, even with consistent routines and exercises. It is typically always a good sign. However, don’t let discomfort confuse you for injury. Push yourself during training smartly. There’s a difference between working hard in the gym and overdoing it.

If you do the same rep count two or three weeks in a row, it will become easier as your body adapts to it. At this time, you should increase the reps slightly or add a little extra weight, not change things up completely. By doing this, you will experience acute muscle soreness and you may have DOMS, but it won't be severe. Gradually increasing your reps and weight every two or three weeks will make recovery faster and it will help you avoid severe DOMS.

Overall, many people experience soreness on a regular basis, but it doesn’t inhibit their other workouts, daily life and it doesn’t last more than 3 days, as after 3 days, ideally, you should target that same muscle group again, and you can’t do so if you are sore still. At least you definitely shouldn’t. One of the major goals of people who train regularly is to recover their muscles as quickly as possible, so they can train the same muscles again. This speeds up growth significantly. So, instead of absolutely demolishing your legs and then having them out of commission for a week so, train in moderation and try to hit them twice a week!

Relieve leg muscle soreness

HOW DO YOU GET RID OF SORE LEGS FAST? HOW TO SPEED UP RECOVERY AFTER AN INTENSE LEG WORKOUT?

Here are the best steps you can take for fast recovery after a leg workout and to relieve muscle soreness:

Best ways to speed up the recovery of sore leg muscles:

  • Warm up before working out.
  • Take in simple sugars and high quality proteins around your workout. Nutrient timing is important for reducing soreness and decreasing recovery time.
  • Move! After you workout don’t stop moving and become a couch potato the next day. This will surely increase your soreness. Light movement the next day will help, this includes things like walking, bodyweight lunges, and even jogging or going for a light bike ride.
  • Stretch after a workout. This doesn’t mean intense stretches, they can be simple gentle stretches to lengthen your muscles to normalcy. Moreover, stretching the day after a leg workout will increase blood flow which aids in recovery.
  • Hydrate. Make sure you stay hydrated. This is crucial.
  • Get enough protein during the week. Protein is a vital nutrient for building and maintaining muscle. It plays a very important role in recovery. Aim for 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
  • This is up for debate but heat or ice therapy can help relieve muscle soreness. Hit the sauna or do an ice bath, see how it feels for you. The benefits will extend beyond relieving sore muscles, so it’s worth a try - benefits of sauna.

DOES STRETCHING HELP SORE LEGS?

There is some debate on whether stretching is good when you are sore. To sum it up, gentle stretching when you have sore legs is beneficial and intense stretching isn’t. Light stretching not only feels good when you are sore, but it also helps by increasing blood flow to your muscles which delivers necessary nutrients to help the muscles recover faster. It also helps by lengthening your muscles back to normalcy (range of motion), as concentric-focused workouts can tighten your muscles.

As for intense stretching, it can do more harm than good as it may enlarge the tiny tears in your muscle fibers caused by your workouts.

All in all, stretching is beneficial when sore, but you should keep it light. Don't go too deep and don’t overdo it to the point you are in real pain as you try to push past your limits. There’s no need for that. Just a gentle stretch so your muscle pull and lengthen/lax slightly is perfect. You can hold the stretching position for up to 2 mins and take a rest and repeat each stretch 2 or 3 times, each side. If someone is screaming and making crazy faces while stretching when sore, they are overdoing it - going too deep.

leg stretches with resistance bands

WHY ARE RESISTANCE BANDS BEST FOR SUPER SORE AND TIGHT LEGS?

Although you can effectively stretch without resistance bands, we believe resistance bands have a very special place for stretching when muscles are tight and sore, especially the legs.

Here are 4 reasons why we love stretching with resistance bands when our muscles are sore and tight:

  1. They allow you to get into stretches with ease. When you are sore, it can be hard to do even the simplest of stretches effectively.
  2. They help you maintain proper form. When sore, tight or you are lacking flexibility, resistance bands give you that extra help needed to actually perform a stretch effectively. When you are so tight, it can be hard to reach your toes to hold a stretching position for example, or it can be hard to pull on your leg to get it to the point where you are doing the stretch in a manner that actually increases flexibility and lengthens the muscle.
  3. It gets you into new stretching position that you’d otherwise not be able to, especially when super tight and sore.
  4. Although deep stretches are not the best for sore muscles, they are good for tight muscles caused by inactivity. With resistance bands, people who lack flexibility can get into deep stretches. The bands act like a person, helping pull your hands or push your legs so you can increase your flexibility past what you can by yourself.

resistance bands for legs

What size resistance bands for leg stretches?

The best resistance bands for leg stretches are the 41" heavy duty loop resistance bands. We suggest getting the wider sizes for leg stretches - 1.85" or 2.5", which is our green or gray band...although our blue band (1.25") would work as well - as they provide enough tension to really pull yourself into the stretching position. Lighter bands will have too much slack. The muscle groups that make up the legs are large (and legs are heavy) so they require bands with more tension.

HOW DO YOU LOOSEN TIGHT LEG MUSCLES?

Both static stretches and dynamic stretches are effective for loosening tight legs. You will want to do dynamic stretches before working out and static stretches after working out or at a time later in the day when you aren’t going to workout afterward. Make sure you hit all the muscle groups (glutes, hamstrings, quads, hips and calves) as they are connected with each other so if you want to loosen up your legs, you need to consider your lower body as one unit.

how to stretch sore legs

WHAT IS A GOOD LOWER BODY STRETCHING ROUTINE TO HIT ALL LEG MUSCLES?

Various gentle stretches that target all your muscle groups will be best for sore and tight muscles. You will want to hit the larger muscle groups with a couple different exercises as certain stretches will target specific areas of large muscle groups.

Below are the best stretches for sore and tight muscles using resistance bands.

7 BEST STRETCHES FOR SORE & TIGHT LEG MUSCLES - LOWER BODY STRETCHING ROUTINE:

Do each of the following resistance band leg muscle stretches for 2 sets (each side). 

If you do them before a workout, do they dynamically. Meaning 3-5 second stretches in reps, not long static holds.

If you do these after a workout, or while sore, then you can do them in a static stretch format, holding for 20 seconds up to a couple of minutes.

GLUTE AND HAMSTRING STRETCHES

EXERCISE 1: BANDED HAMSTRING STRETCH

leg stretches for tight hamstrings

  • Put the resistance band around the back of your waist and the bottom of your foot.
  • Lie down on your back and bring your leg up while keeping it as straight in the air as possible.
  • Pull at the band (down and towards you). Keep the opposite leg on the ground.

EXERCISE 2: BANDED CROSSOVER STRETCH (Glute and Lateral Hamstring)

leg stretches for sore glutes

  • Put the resistance band around the back of your waist and the bottom of your foot.
  • Lie down on your back and bring your leg up while keeping it straight in the air then cross it over your body completely.
  • Pull the band towards you for a slightly deeper stretch and make sure to keep your torso and shoulders flat to the ground.

EXERCISE 3: BANDED FIGURE FOUR STRETCH (Glutes - internal rotator muscles on your glute - and Hamstring)

resistance band stretches for legsresistance band stretches for tight legsbest stretches for sore legs

  • Put the resistance band around the back of your waist and the bottom of your foot.
  • Slide your leg underneath the band, so that your ankle is on the outside of your opposite knee.
  • Bend the knee with the band and lie on your back. The crossed leg should be resting on your quad just above your knee.
  • The band will be pinned against your leg. You can push at the crossed leg’s knee for a deeper glute stretch (pic 2) OR just pull the band towards you (pic 3).
QUAD AND HIP FLEXOR STRETCHES

EXERCISE 4: LYING BANDED QUAD STRETCH

resistance band stretches for tight quads

  • Wrap the band around your foot or ankle.
  • Pull the band over the contralateral shoulder. Feel the quad stretch.
  • Be sure to keep the non-banded leg on the ground and your pelvic bone to the ground. 

EXERCISE 5: LYING BANDED HIP FLEXOR STRETCH

stretches for tight hip flexors

  • Wrap the band around your foot or ankle.
  • Pull up on the band, allowing the banded leg to rise up.
  • Be sure to keep the non-banded leg on the ground and your pelvic bone to the ground. 

CALF STRETCH

EXERCISE 6: BANDED CALF STRETCH (Gastrocnemius)

stretches for tight calves

  • For this one, you can loop the band around your back like the first 3 exercises or you can hold the band in your hands.
  • Loop the band around your foot, at the ball of your foot, and pull at the band towards you. Relax your ankle on this. Make sure the band doesn't slip off your foot and fly at you! Use shoes for this one to avoid that.
  • Your calf has two muscles important muscles, one crosses the knee and the other doesn’t. So, if you want to get the muscle that crosses the knee (gastrocnemius), then keep your knee straight. Then pull the band towards you. Again, keep your ankle relaxed.

EXERCISE 7: BANDED CALF STRETCH (Soleus)

stretches for sore legs

  • If you want to get the muscle that doesn’t cross the knee (soleus), get a slight bend in your knee. Then pull at the band towards you. Keep your ankle relaxed.

How long should I hold the stretches?

Be sure to do both sides equally. If it’s before a workout, short dynamic stretches. If post-workout or recovery, hold for 20-120 seconds. Use a timer so you do it equally.

How often should I stretch my legs?

Do these stretches when you are sore or your legs are tight. To stay ahead of tight legs and help reduce soreness, do these stretches the following day after a leg workout. You can also do these every couple of days just to maintain good range of motion and flexibility. 

DYNAMIC LEG STRETCHES BEFORE A LEG WORKOUT TO LOOSEN UP - by Dr. Michael Risher

Although these are great stretches for sore and tight legs, they are also great to do before a workout, as part of a warm up to make sure you have a good range of motion going into your leg workout. 

If you do them before a workout, do they dynamically. Meaning 3-5 second stretches in reps, not long static holds.

Warning: Be careful with these exercises. Don’t let the bands slide off your foot and smack you in the face! Do these with shoes if you can, as it will give you some grip on the bands. 


IS IT OKAY TO WORKOUT WHEN SORE?

You’ll want to avoid doing a normal, intense workout when your muscles are sore. This can lead to overtraining. Overtraining can be harmful and even dangerous for your health. Your body needs time to recover.

So, if your legs are sore, then workout another muscle group that isn’t.

3-4 day splits are great as you can train other muscle groups while your sore muscles recover. i.e. lower body day, back and arm day, chest and shoulders, repeat.

If you do full body workouts, start with every other day or every two days. Get the recovery you need. Eventually, you won’t experience DOMS with full body workouts as your body will be used to it. So you can go from 3 workouts a week to 5 or even 6.

Although you should not do strenuous exercises on muscles that are sore, “active” recovery for sore muscles is beneficial. Active recovery includes:

  • Stretching out sore muscles
  • Low intensity cardio such as walking or swimming
  • Some forms of Yoga (for those who are in good shape)

These light forms of training will provide some temporary relief and can speed up recovery as they warm up the muscles and increase blow flow to the tissue.

IS IT OKAY TO WORKOUT WITH TIGHT LEGS?

First, you need to know why your muscles are tight. If it’s from soreness, then the same answer above applies. However, if it’s from inactivity, then working out is definitely ok when your legs are tight.

Now, if you are going from inactive to a strenuous workout, you need to be careful. Pace yourself. But that doesn’t mean you have to only do a light workout. You can do a regular workout, relatively speaking. However, you must warm up properly. And by warm up, we don’t just mean cardio. If your legs are tight from sitting all day, and you want to do a leg workout, then you need to do dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches are short stretches in repetition form. All of the stretches we’ve shown you today can be done in a dynamic fashion. All you have to do is hold the stretch for 3-5 seconds then release and do that 8-10 times each side for all the exercises. That way you will have dynamically hit all the muscles in your lower body. One set for each exercise will be good for a dynamic warm up, but 2 sets is also ok. You don't want your leg muscles to become overly lax, though.

Try to hit all your muscle groups with at least one dynamic stretch, but ideally you will need to hit the larger muscle groups from different angles, as certain stretches will target different areas of a large muscle group like your hamstrings, quads and glutes.

Benefits of dynamic leg stretches before a leg workout:

Dynamic stretches will get your muscle temperature up and blood flowing. This will help loosen up your tight leg muscles. It will also make your muscles more lax, but not too lax - the perfect amount to increase your range of motion.

Static stretching (long holds) lengthen your muscles, which causes weakened performance when done just before a workout. Dynamic stretches of a few seconds will not do this, but they will give your muscles that stretch needed so you can perform exercises in the correct range of motion/mobility. Thus helping you maintain proper form.

Apart from dynamic stretches, you will want to do some light cardio as well since your muscles are tight, you want to make sure to get your body temperature up. Sometimes the dynamic stretches aren’t enough to achieve the right core body temperature. Generally speaking, you want to work up a light sweat before you get into anything intense.

GET SOME RESISTANCE BANDS SO YOU CAN EFFECTIVELY STRETCH SORE AND TIGHT LEGS

If effectively stretching your legs when they are sore or tight is difficult for you, we highly recommend getting yourself a resistance band or two. They will allow you to get into the stretching positions with ease and get a deeper stretch in an unaggressive, noninvasive manner (slowly but surely). Overall they are like your stretching partner - we aren't all pro athletes with trainers ready and on-demand at all times. 

best resistance bands for leg stretches

BUY A SET FOR SET RESISTANCE BAND (We recommend the Green or Gray Band. If you are under 140-150LBS, the Blue Band will also be a suitable size for leg stretches).



1 Response

Jim Mavromatis
Jim Mavromatis

June 03, 2020

Perfect timing. I have little or no cartilege in my knees. I also have osteo arthritis in both knees. I have pain daily, however I have realised that I can live with the pain, really it’s more of an ache, and I don’t want to be taking pills every day. I exercise daily with bands and the exercises on this site has prompted me to rotate my exercises daily to prevent overwork. By the way I am 74 and I think I am reasonably fit based on my daily 11/2 hour workout. Are there any exercises you can recommend that I should be focussing on to develop the strength around my knees. Thank you ….Jim

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