Poses for Your Legs

5 Calf & Quad Stretches to Enhance Your Yoga Practice

These classic stretches help release stress and muscle tightness in your leg muscles, so you can move more effectively.

Yoga offers us opportunities to stretch our entire bodies, including our often-overworked legs. Try incorporating these calf and quad stretches into your next asana session or after a workout to target these two key areas. Invite your breath into every move as you focus on the release.

Some of the stretches below may be familiar to you. Most people, if they learn to stretch at all, get to know some of the tried-and-true calf and upper-leg stretches. Familiar or not, the stretches are all very doable and will help counter the effects of anything you’ve been doing—from over-sitting to ambitious cycling—to shorten your body’s biggest muscles.

See also: 6 Foot, Toe, & Ankle Stretches to Improve Your Yoga Poses

Why stretching these muscles matter

The calf is actually made up of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus, both of which work hard when we walk or run. (If you want to impress your friends, here’s how to pronounce gastrocnemius: gas-trok-NEE-me-us.)

The footwear you choose can have a big impact on how your calves feel. High heels, in particular, put the calves in a shortened position, and that can lead to cramping. If high heels are part of your daily (or even occasional) wear, calf stretches will be particularly important to add to your routine.

Your upper legs contain some of the biggest and strongest muscles in the body. These muscles, which include the hamstrings, quadriceps (quads), and adductor muscle group (inner thighs), do the brunt of the work when you move and suffer the most when you’re stationary. These muscles also have outsize influence on other areas of the body. Tight quads, for instance, can pull the pelvis down, creating lower back pain. Tight hamstrings can tug at the hips, causing the same problem, and at the knee, sending pain to that region, as well. It’s important, too, to keep these large muscles loose so you avoid injury; a muscle with little give is more prone to strains and tears.

A stretching sequence for your legs

Calf stretches

Stretching your calves and quads lowers the risk of cramping. These moves elongate the muscles shortened by heels or overworking.

 

A man performs a Standing Calf Stretch
Photo: Fred Lopez

Standing Calf Stretch 1

Stand straight and tall, hands on your hips. Place one leg behind you, flex your front foot, and place part of it on a block. (You can also use a wall to elevate your foot. Place hands flat on the wall for stability.) Keeping the front and back knee straight, raise your back heel until you feel a good stretch in the calf of your front leg. Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Switch sides. Holding the stretch homes in on the calf, which is exactly what you’re going for here.

Optimize your stretch: 

  • Keep your back knee straight for the best gastrocnemius stretch.

Target Areas:

A man demonstrates a version of a standing calf stretch
Photo: Fred Lopez

Standing Calf Stretch 2

The previous exercise targeted the superficial calf muscle. With this stretch, you’re going to get into the muscle that lies beneath it, the soleus. The two work together to keep you on the move.

Stand straight and tall, with your hands on your hips. Place one leg behind you, flex your front foot, and place part of it on a block. (You can also use a wall to elevate your foot. Place hands flat on the wall for stability.) Keeping your front knee bent, bend your back knee and lean forward until you feel a good stretch in the calf of your front leg. Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Switch sides.

Optimize your stretch: 

  • Bend your front knee for the best soleus stretch.

Target areas:

  • Calves
  • Ankles
  • Achilles

Quad stretches

Cyclists and fans of indoor spinning generally know what it’s like to have tight quads. The same is true for anyone else who participates in other thigh-centric activities (sprinting is one, rowing is another). If you don’t do any of the above, you might not notice a lack of flexibility or feel much discomfort in the quads, but trust me, the four quad muscles that help you straighten your knee and move your leg forward need your attention. Yoga offers many hamstring stretches, but not as many quad releasing asanas. Balance out the equation with the below stretches. In doing so, those who experience low back pain may also find relief.

A man demonstrates a Standing Quad Stretch
Photo: Fred Lopez

Standing Quad Stretch

Whenever I think of this stretch, I always envision someone warming up for a morning run. It’s a classic, and for good reason. It does the job, it’s easy, and it’s straight to the point. Stand on one leg, and if you need help with balance, stand with your side to a wall, and place your hand on the wall. Bend your outside leg, reach behind you, and grab your foot and pull it toward your butt until you feel a good stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Repeat on the other side.

Optimize your stretch: 

  • Stand straight and tall, with your abs pulled in.
  • Keep your knees close together.

Target area:

A man demonstrates a Quad Stretch on a Bench
Photo: Fred Lopez

Quad Stretch on a Bench

This stretch can easily be done on the couch while you’re watching TV. What’s better than that? Well, it’s also effective. It really gets deep into the quads and hits the hip flexors, as well. Facing away from a bench, bend one knee, and place it on the floor in front of the bench. Place the other leg—bent at a 90-degree angle—and foot flat on the floor in front of you. Raise your upper body until you feel a good stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Switch sides.

Optimize your stretch: 

  • Squeeze your butt and abs.

Target areas:

  • Quads
  • Hip flexors

A man demonstrates a Side-Lying Quad Stretch
Photo: Fred Lopez

Side-Lying Quad Stretch

If you tried the Standing Quad Stretch and maybe felt a little wobbly, you may like this version better; it takes the balance component out of the stretch and is a good option until you feel comfortable doing it while standing.

Lie on your side, rest your head in your hand, and bend your top leg back toward your butt. Grab the ankle and pull until you feel a good stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Switch sides.

Optimize your stretch:

  • Keep your knees close together.
  • Try not to arch your lower back.

Target Areas:

  • Quads
  • Hip flexors

See also:

6 Poses to Stretch and Strengthen Your Hamstrings

3 Poses to Unravel Tight Hips


Joe Yoon, also known as “Joe Therapy” through his social media following, is a trainer and massage therapist who is one of the fitness industry’s leading experts on mobility. He is the author of Better Stretching: 9 Minutes a Day to Greater Flexibility, Less Pain, and Enhanced Performance, copyright ©2020, published by St. Martin’s Group, from which this post was adapted with permission. Find him at Joetherapy.com