You may be surprised to find that the calves affect the hamstrings and vice versa.
What is really interesting is how these two sets of muscles affect each other in straight leg positions. Often times the stretch you feel in a forward bend (or the discomfort) isn't so much the hamstrings but the calves.
The calf stretches article includes both passive calf stretches (like the ones shown above, and active calf stretches. Be prepared for some discomfort!
Related are the ankles and the toes. Find out about stretching them in toe and ankle stretches.
Yoga for flexibility exercises that stretch the quadriceps all involve "closing" the back of the knee joint.
Easier quadriceps are those where the hip joint is bent forwards (flexed hip stretches) while more challenging quadriceps stretches which could be thought of as Bent knee hip flexor stretches are those where the hip is bent backwards (extended hip stretches).
Note that if you have difficulty kneeling you may find it helpful to work on these yoga ankle stretches. These can also be helpful for if you have difficulty kneeling with toes tucked under.
Hip flexor stretches work on the front of the hip. These may be useful as warm ups or compliments for quadriceps stretches.
Front to back splits is both a hip flexor stretch and a hamstring stretch though with the torso upright the focus is more on stretching the hip flexors (and psoas) of the rear most leg.
For strengthening and stretching the hip flexors (and understanding why they might be tight in the first place and just as importantly, what you can do about it), read Hip flexor stretching and strengthening.
The sartorius is also a hip flexor, but it also bends the knee. Here's how you can stretch the sartorius using warrior 1: Sartorius stretch, warrior 1
Bent knee hip flexor stretches are a special group of hip flexor stretches that work on the rectus femoris and may also work on the tensor fascia latae. Because the rectus femoris crosses the front of the hip and the front of the knee, it can only be stretched when both the knee and the hip are bent backwards.
While some of these stretches can be thought of as quadriceps stretches, I'd say that they'd be better labeled as stretches for the rectus femoris. One particularly popular bent knee hip flexor stretch is couch stretch. This article does cover more than just the couch stretch. But it also does show you how to make the couch stretch more effective.
If you want to stretch your hamstrings in order to work towards splits, then these hamstring stretches can help. (You'll have to work on your hip flexors also!)
Standing forward bend
Standing f-bend using arms
Standing f-bend on one leg
Pyramid pose hamstring stretch
Spine long TA engaged
Pulling lifted leg fwd
Bending down to standing leg
Semi-kneeling w/ hips lifted
hamstring and hip flexor splits
For a set of yoga poses that can be used to stretch the hamstrings, also check out hamstring stretching yoga poses.
And for a simple seated hamstring stretch check out seated hamstring stretch.
For a set of simple (and relatively easy) postures for stretching your hamstrings, check out Simple postures for stretching your hamstrings.
For more on how the hamstrings and glutes work together in different yoga poses you may find the hamstring anatomy article useful.
Yoga for flexibility stretches for lateral glutes and piriformis include pigeon pose variations as well as low lunge variations.
You could consider these stretches as an extension of the side stretches in the previous section.
In general these glute and piriformis stretches include an external rotation of the thigh relative to the pelvis with a forward bend.
One of my favorite glute stretches is pigeon pose glute stretch.
I often use this version of pigeon as a prep for foot behind the head because the leg positions are quite similiar.
Another hip stretch, which is also a shoulder stretch, is armpit pose.
While it may not be possible to stretch the actual Iliotibial band (also called the fascae latae), you can stretch some of the muscles that work on it (fibers of the gluteus maximus, tensor fascae latae and vastus lateralis) with shoelace pose.
If you have difficulty hamstring stretching yoga poses, you may find it helpful to stretch the back of the hips by doing bent knee hip extensor stretches first.
Glute stretches like low lunge, modified marichyasana e and Happy Baby Hip Stretch) can be used to increase flexibility at the back of the hip when the knee is bent. This can mean muscles like the adductor magnus long head are affected (since it can extend the hip), as well as some fibers of the gluteus maximus.
These yoga for flexibility poses mainly stretch the inner thighs but also include poses where one or both legs are internally rotated.
Where the previous two sections focused on side bends and stretching the outer hips or abductors, here the focus is on the inner thighs or adductors.
Inner thigh stretches work on the adductors, the muscles that pull the legs inwards. This includes the adductors brevis, longus and magnus, pectineus, gracilis and perhaps also the psoas and iliacus.
Inner thigh hip stretches include Half side split and full side split.
In full side splits you can focus on keeping one leg still and then move the other leg away from this stationary reference point.
The hip crease
A useful reference for stretching the adductors (and for feeling and controlling the hips in general) is the hip crease.
You may find the action of opening the hip crease handy in bound angle pose. But don't forget to counter pose (or counter stretch) by closing the hip crease wide leg forward fold.
Read about both in opening the hip creases, bound angle pose.
Another way you can use the hip crease opening action is in seated straddle splits.
The psoas is a hip flexor (and a lumbar stabilizer). One way to stretch the psoas is with a Reclining Psoas Stretch. Part of what makes this stretch interesting is that it is based on the understanding that the psoas connects to the 12th set of ribs. You can also stretch the psoas with a Standing Psoas Stretch as well as these Standing psoas stretch variations. Other stretches include some Active Psoas Stretches.
One method for stretching the psoas includes learning to add "inner tension" to the lumbar spine. This is covered in psoas stretches. Another technique is to keep the abs engaged, in particular the obliques. This is covered in psoas stretches-1.
Lower back stretches include a variety of standing and seated yoga exercises for increasing the flexibility and control of the lower back muscles and hip muscles. If you have low back pain, check out the low back pain section under the lower back category:
Lower back: Low Back Pain
If have low back pain, you may actually be suffering from weak or imbalanced or ill functioning hip or leg muscles. So if you have chronic low back pain, look at exercises to strengthen and stabilize your hips. Some of those are listed in the section linked to above.
You may find some of the shoulder stretches (below) also helpful for tight upper backs.
When you stretch your back you are actually stretching a part of your spine. Here's a comprehensive list of spinal movements that you can use as spine stretches.
The spine is meant to be flexible. But it's also meant to be strong. You can stretch your spine by taking its parts through simple movement ranges as shown in these spine stretches.
A simple tip for these spine stretches and all other stretches:
Move slowly and smoothly.
If you do that, you'll be focusing on what you are doing. You'll also be less likely to hurt yourself. And you'll be more likely to find optimal movement that then allows you to improve your flexibility.
Side stretches are perhaps one of the most overlooked stretches. These simple stretches can offer a lot of back for the buck if for no other reason than we tend to neglect side bending actions.
Note that the section on side stretches has a lot of overlap with lower back stretches, below. That's because side stretches stretch the lower back, as well as the side of the ribcage. If the hips are included in a side stretch like standing side bend, then side stretches can also be used to stretch the inner and outer hip and thigh muscles.
When side bending the torso, you can make your side stretches active in two ways. You can work at actively lengthening the long side of the stretch. You can also work at actively shortening the short side of the stretch.
As an example, Bending to the right you can focus on lengthening the right side of the torso or on shortening the left side of the torso. You could also work at doing both actions at the same time.
A focus on either lengthening or shortening (or both) causes muscles to activate. These muscles in turn help to generate sensation, both muscle activation sensation and connective tissue tension. Both of these types of sensation allow you to feel your body. They also help to keep your joints safe by keeping them lubricated. You may find that although it can be hard work, focusing on either of these actions can make whichever stretch you are doing feel more comfortable.
If you choose to relax while stretching, do make sure that you create stability. So for example if you want a relaxed spine while bending to the side, and you are standing, the stabilize your feet, or your knees or your hips, or your entire leg so that the muscles you are stretching have a firm or fixed foundation from which to lengthen away from.
One way to improve shoulder flexibility is to focus on your shoulder blades. For tips on how to use and control your shoulder blades read Shoulder flexibility stretches.
If you've got tight shoulders these shoulder stretches and arm stretches can help.
The muscle assisted shoulder stretches are if you want to work while stretching. The gravity assisted arm stretches are for a more relaxed stretching experience. Both types can be used to help improve shoulder flexibility
Yoga shoulder stretches includes traditional yoga shoulder stretching positions like reverse prayer, eagle pose and the shoulder stretch used in prasarita padottanasana C. Hip and Shoulder Stretches are poses which stretch the hips and shoulders at the same time.
Meridian stretches are stretches which are designed to stretch the meridians. The meridians run up and down the sides of the body, arms and legs and correspond to organs.
Because these stretches can be a good way to relax or re-energize, they've been grouped under the yoga for stress category (de-stressing).
The meridians lie within connective tissue and to stretch them the main stretching technique to use is relaxed gravity assisted stretching.
For a particularly refreshing stretching session you can use the meridians to guide the sequence in which you do your stretches. To do that, follow the "flow of the meridians".
For an overview of how to stretch (and what to do while stretching) take a peak at a quick guide to stretching.
To find out more about what flexibility is, and why your brain might limit it, read what is flexibility?
Do you need a stretching routine suitable for beginners? Stretching for beginners includes a sequence of stretches with detailed instructions for each pose.
Stretching for beginners includes also some simple muscle control techniques that can make it easier to feel (and control) your body.
You can always leave out any of the stretches that cause pain. Plus there are options if your flexibility is really limited.
When using opposing muscle activation to stretch a muscle it helps to understand reciprocal inhibition.
A lot of people assume that because of reciprocal inhibition, when one muscle activates, the opposing muscles automatically relax. In reciprocal inhibition it's explained why this isn't always the case.
Understanding this one simple thing is one of the keys to understanding muscle control in general!
To improve flexibility a little more easily it can help to understand 10 Muscle Control Principles.
Why understand these muscle control principles? It makes it easier to feel and control your muscles in general! And if you have problems, it gives you some general tools to help solve those problems.
For a sequence of basic yoga stretches read:
A good question to ask about stretching and getting more flexible is why? Why bother getting more flexible (or trying to)? Here are Three reasons why you should improve flexibility. This isn't to say that you should. Just why you might want to.
Stretching Techniques explains the principles behind different stretching techniques.
For an index of stretches that you can use for improving flexibility check out yoga stretches for improving flexibility.
For more tips on stretching to improve flexibility, read flexibility tips.
Also check out Stretching for flexibility
- 1. Standing Side Stretch (lower back stretches)
- 10. Bent Back Hero and Other Seated Lower Back Stretches (lower back stretches)
- 11. Bharadvajasana (lower back stretches)
- 12. Counterposing Lotus (lower back stretches)
- 2. Half Moon Pose (lower back stretches)
- 3. Trikonasana Yoga Pose Variation (lower back stretches)
- 4. Standing Slouch Lower Back Stretch (lower back stretches)
- 5. Triangle Forward Bend for Upper and Lower Back Stretching and Strengthening (lower back stretches)
- 6. Seated Side Bend (lower back stretches)
- 7. Screaming Pigeon (lower back stretches)
- 8. Seated Twist (lower back stretches)
- 9. Bound Angle (lower back stretches)
- A quick guide to stretching: an overview to stretching effectively
- A Seated Hamstring Stretch with the Leg Lifted: aka: Modified Heron Pose
- A Sequence of (mostly) Active Shoulder Stretches: for Improving Shoulder Flexibility and Strength
- A Sequence of Arm Stretches: For Stretching Chest and Shoulder Muscles
- Active Psoas Stretches (psoas anatomy)
- Adductor Stretches: Stretches for Improving Inner Thigh Flexibility and Control
- Arm Behind the Back Lateral Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- Armpit Pose, a Stretch for the Hips, Shoulders and Ribcage
- Arms Overhead Shoulder Reactivation Exercise (shoulder stretches)
- Basic Yoga Sequence for the Hip and Spine, Part 1
- Basic Yoga Sequence Part 2
- Basic Yoga Sequence Part 3
- Belly Down Single Leg bent knee hip flexor stretching Yoga Pose (bent knee hip flexor stretches)
- Bending towards your standing leg to stretch your hamstrings (hamstring stretches)
- Benittasana Arm Stretch (arm stretches)
- Bent knee hip flexor stretches: AKA bent knee hip flexor stretches
- Binding Preparation Shoulder Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- Bound Angle Pose/Butterfly (Baddha Konasana) (adductor stretches)
- Bound Angle Yoga Pose with Feet Away from Pelvis (glute stretches)
- Bow Pose and Half Bow (hip flexor stretches)
- Camel Yoga Pose Flexor Stretch (hip flexor stretches)
- Choke Hold Shoulder Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- Combined Hip and Shoulder Stretches
- Couch stretch for the hip flexors: Learn how this hip flexor stretch affects (and is affected by) the knee
- Cross Chest Shoulder Stretch/Half Dragonfly (arm stretches)
- Dealing with pain in the lower back (lower back)
- Double Pigeon Side Stretch (side stretches)
- Dragonfly Shoulder Stretch for the Back of the Arms (arm stretches)
- Eagle Arm Position Shoulder Stretches (shoulder stretches)
- Easy Bharadvajasana Side Stretch (side stretches)
- Easy Bharadvajasana Upright Side Stretch (side stretches)
- Extended cat foot grab (rectus femoris stretch) (hip flexor stretches)
- Extended Cat Pose, An Active Hip Flexor Stretch (hip flexor stretches)
- External Rotation Arm Stretch (arm stretches)
- Foot Behind the Head: Working Towards Eka Pada Sirsasana Yoga Pose Intelligently and Efficiently
- Forward Bending Bent Knee Hip Flexor Stretches (bent knee hip flexor stretches)
- Frog Pose Adductor Stretch (adductor stretches)
- Frog Pose bent knee hip flexor stretch (bent knee hip flexor stretches)
- Front-to-Back Splits: Creating a Strong Foundation
- Glute and Hamstring Anatomy for Yoga: Yoga Anatomy for Back Bending and Forward Bending the Hips
- Gluteus Maximus Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: (Back Bending And Using it to Help Stretch the Psoas)
- Grabbing the Hands Behind the Back (arm stretches)
- Half camel semi-kneeling hip flexor stretch (hip flexor stretches)
- Half Happy Baby Hip Stretch: A Preparation for Foot Behind the Head Yoga Pose
- Half Hero Side Bend (side stretches)
- Half Side Splits: An Inner Thigh Stretch and Full Split Preparation Pose
- Half Split Adductor Stretch (adductor stretches)
- Hamstring stretches: (and posterior glute stretch) for working towards front to back splits
- Hamstring stretching yoga poses: With muscle control suggestions for improving hamstring flexibility
- Hands Clasped Palm Press (shoulder stretches)
- Heels lifted squat for stretching the Vastus muscles (bent knee hip flexor stretches)
- High Lunge/Warrior 1 (hip flexor stretches)
- High Penguin Shoulder Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- The hip crease: A proprioceptive reference for improving hip awareness and hip control
- Hip Flexor Stretches: Opening the Fronts of the Hips for Front to Back Splits
- Hip flexor stretching and strengthening: How to anchor your hip flexors so that you can do both
- Hip Flexor Wall Stretch (hip flexor stretches)
- Hip Flexor Wall Stretch, Splits (hip flexor stretches)
- Hug Yourself Shoulder Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- Hurdler's Stretch/Frog Pose (adductor stretches)
- If You Have Trouble Kneeling, Try These Sensational Toe and Ankle Stretches
- Intense Pigeon Side Stretch (side stretches)
- Janusirsasana Side Bend (side stretches)
- Lappasana Shoulder Stretch (arm stretches)
- Leg supported standing hamstring stretch (hamstring stretches)
- Lengthening your spine and engaging your transverse abdominis (hamstring stretches)
- The long head of the Adductor Magnus: Your Backbending Friend
- Low Lunge Hip Extensor Stretch (hip extensor stretching variations)
- Lower Back Stretches: for Alleviating Low Back Pain and Improving Hip, Hamstring and Spinal Flexibility
- Lunging bent knee hip flexor stretching pose (bent knee hip flexor stretches)
- Lunging bent knee hip flexor stretching Variation (bent knee hip flexor stretches)
- Marichyasana E Hip Stretch (hip extensor stretching variations)
- Meridian Stretches: Increasing Flexibility, Deepening Body Awareness
- Modified Low Lunge Glute Stretch (glute stretches)
- Muscle Control Principles: Understanding How Muscle Control, Joint Lubrication and Proprioception Interact
- Overhead Triceps Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- Penguin Dual Arm Stretch (arm stretches)
- Penguin Shoulder Stretch Variation (shoulder stretches)
- Pigeon Pose Glute Stretch Hip Stretch
- Piriformis, IT Band and Glute Stretches
- Prone Big Toe Pose (adductor stretches)
- Prone Spiderman Shoulder Stretch (arm stretches)
- Psoas Stretches: Focusing on Stretching the Lower Fibers of the Psoas Major
- Psoas Stretches: Using the External Obliques to Straighten the Lumbar Spine and to Counter Low Back Pain
- Pull Back (arm stretches)
- Puppy Dog Shoulder Stretch (arm stretches)
- Pyramid pose (hamstring stretches)
- Rack Arm Stretch (arm stretches)
- Rearward Arm Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- Reciprocal Inhibition: Why It Doesn't Work When Doing Static Stretching (And what you can do instead )
- Reclining psoas stretch: The 12 ribs and the lumbar curve
- Reverse Prayer Shoulder Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- Safety Helmet Shoulder Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- Seated asymmetrical hamstring stretches (hamstring stretches)
- Seated straddles splits: Opening your hip creases to get deeper into this seated adductor stretching position
- Seated Wall Assisted Stretches (adductor stretches)
- Seated Wide Leg Forward Bend/Upavistha Konasana (adductor stretches)
- Seated Wide Leg Sidebend (side stretches)
- Semi-kneeling hamstring stretch (hamstring stretches)
- Sensational Calf Stretches: (Passively and Actively Stretching the Soleus and Gastrocnemius Muscles)
- Shoelace Pose (glute stretches)
- Shoulder Flexibility Stretches: Improving Shoulder Flexibility With Scapular Awareness
- Side-to-Side Splits/Box Splits (adductor stretches)
- Simple Postures for Stretching Your Hamstrings: Using props in different ways to stretch your hamstrings
- Single Arm Overhead Reach (shoulder stretches)
- Single leg standing forward bend (hamstring stretches)
- Spiderman Arm Stretch (arm stretches)
- Spine Stretches: Twisting, Sliding and Bending Actions,
- Splits (hip flexor stretches)
- Standing Bent knee hip flexor stretches (bent knee hip flexor stretches)
- Standing forward bend (hamstring stretches)
- Standing forward bend on one leg (hamstring stretches)
- Standing Psoas Stretch: For Stretching Upper and Lower Fibers of the Psoas Muscle
- Standing Psoas Stretch Variations: An standing option for a supine psoas stretch
- Standing Side Bend (side stretches)
- Straight Elbow Hug Yourself Stretch (shoulder stretches)
- Stretching Arms Back with Hands Clasped (shoulder stretches)
- Stretching for Beginners: Stretching to Feel Good and Improve Flexibility
- Stretching for Flexibility: A Sequence of Poses and Exercises for Improving Flexibility and Body Awareness
- Stretching for Flexibility Tips: (Especially if You Aren't Flexible To Begin With!)
- Stretching Techniques: For Body Awareness, Feeling Good, and/or Improving Flexibility
- Stretching the hamstrings in Splits (hamstring stretches)
- Stretching the Rectus Femoris in Pigeon Pose (bent knee hip flexor stretches)
- Stretching the Side of the Shoulders with the Arms Up (shoulder stretches)
- Stretching your inner thighs in bound angle by opening your hip creases: and counterposing with a hip crease closing wide leg seated forward bend
- Supine Wall Assisted Adductor Stretches (adductor stretches)
- Supporting the Front Hip In Yoga Pigeon Pose
- Three Reasons Why You Should Improve Flexibility
- Triangle Yoga Pose Side Stretch (side stretches)
- Upright Pigeon (hip flexor stretches)
- Upward Facing Dog (hip flexor stretches)
- Using a strap (hamstring stretches)
- Using the Splits as a bent knee hip flexor stretch (bent knee hip flexor stretches)
- Using Warrior 1 to stretch the sartorius muscle: Plus how the sartorius can function in hip flexion, knee flexion and shin rotation relative to the femur
- Using your hip flexors (hamstring stretches)
- What is flexibility?: If you understand what flexibility is, it can be a little bit easier to improve it
- Yoga Pose Side Stretches: For Stretching and Strengthening the Sides of the Spine and Legs
- Yoga Shoulder Stretches: Using Yoga Pose Arm Positions to Stretch the Arms and Shoulders
- Yoga Stretches for Improving Flexibility: In Any Stretch You Are Either Relaxing Muscle Or Activating It!