If you have joint pain or are having trouble with your squat form, these 5 stretches can help.
Dynamic stretches are exercises that warm up the muscles and joints before a workout. Static (holding) stretches can improve your flexibility and are best done after your workout. Both types of stretches are beneficial for improving your squats.
I will explain the benefits of each stretch, including which muscles and joints they target. I will provide tips to make sure you are getting the most from each exercise.
1. Leg Swings
Leg swings are a dynamic stretch you should do at the beginning of your warm-up for squats.
Leg swings warm up the hips by increasing blood flow to the tissues surrounding the joint. When your hips are adequately warmed up, you will be able to get a better range of motion without pain or stiffness during your squats.
Leg swings will also loosen your hip flexors, hamstrings, and glutes. These are the primary muscles used during squats.
- Stand with your feet together with your left hand on the squat rack for balance.
- With a flexed foot, kick your left leg up to hip level.
- Swing your leg behind you as far as you can without bending forward.
- Complete 10 reps before switching sides.
- Face the squat rack with your hands at shoulder height for support.
- Lift your left leg directly to the side to 45 degrees.
- Swing your leg gently across the front of your body.
- Complete 10 reps before switching sides.
Keep your core tight during this warm-up stretch. Your upper body should not be moving as your leg swings.
Only swing your leg as high as you can to feel a gentle stretch. You will find that your leg moves farther as you get more warmed up.
2. Wall Facing Squats
Wall facing squats are one of the best movements to prepare your entire body for squats.
Facing the wall will force you to press your knees out and engage your glute medius. Your glute medius is a hip abductor muscle that is responsible for stabilizing the hip joint during squats. Engaging these muscles will allow you to squat deeper without pain to your hips and knees.
Wall facing squats also stretch your back. Facing a wall will force you to lengthen through your thoracic spine to keep your torso upright just as you should during a weighted squat.
- Stand 1-2 feet away from a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly out.
- Lift your arms overhead with your pinky fingers lightly touching the wall.
- Sit back into a squat, keeping your arms straight and your gaze forward.
- Try to squat a little lower on each rep to get below 90 degrees.
- Complete 10-15 repetitions.
Move away from the wall slightly if you cannot squat to full depth or keep your arms straight. Try to move a bit closer to the wall once you have warmed up with a few reps.
Keep your abs tight and your spine neutral just as you do this dynamic warm-up stretch, just like you would with a weighted squat.
Keep your weight distributed evenly throughout your feet as you do this exercise.
3. Lunges With Twist
The lunge with a twist is the best dynamic stretch for your hip flexors.
Most people have tight hip flexors from sitting most of the day. Loosening up these muscles will allow you to squat with better form by using your glutes and hamstring correctly.
The twisting portion of the lunge warms up your core and your back. You may not think of these muscles when you squat, but they are working to support the bar’s weight while your lower body does the heavy lifting. A flexible back and tight abs are critical to getting a great squat workout.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your abs engaged.
- Take a long step forward into a deep lunge with your right leg.
- Rotate your torso to the right and reach your right arm toward your back leg.
- Rotate your torso back to the center and step your left leg in to meet the right leg.
- Repeat the movement on your left side.
- Complete 10 reps on each leg.
Move slowly and focus on your form during this exercise.
Stay in a deep lunge and keep your torso upright as you twist.
4. Pigeon Stretch
The pigeon stretch is a static stretch that should be done at the end of your workout.
This is an excellent stretch for your glutes, which will be tight after doing squats. You will also get a gentle stretch through your hip flexors.
Doing this stretch after your workout will reduce tightness and soreness in the days following your workout.
Do this stretch several times per week if tight hips limit your squat depth.
- Start on the floor on your hands and knees.
- Bring your right leg forward with a bent knee.
- Position the outside of your right foot and lower leg on the ground.
- Extend your left leg straight behind you.
- Hold yourself in place with your hands or forearms, depending on your level of flexibility.
- Hold this stretch for 1-2 minutes for maximum benefit.
Use yoga blocks under your hands if you can’t get into a comfortable position without them.
Lower your chest down to your front leg to increase the stretch.
Modify pigeon stretch to a standing variation if you can’t get into a comfortable position on the floor. Use a box that is hip height to rest your front leg on instead of the floor.
5. Couch Stretch
The couch stretch is the best stretch you can do to improve your quads and hip flexors’ flexibility, and you should do it after your workout.
Tight quads and hip flexors can cause knee and low back pain.
Couch stretch can also reduce the soreness in your quads that are common in the days following a challenging squat workout.
- Place a foam pad or folded towel next to a wall.
- Facing away from the wall, place your right knee on the pad and the top of your right foot against the wall.
- Place your hands on your left leg to bring your torso upright.
- Squeeze your glutes to open your hips.
- Hold the stretch for 1-2 minutes for maximum benefit.
Place your hands on yoga blocks if you are not flexible enough to bring your torso fully vertical.
Bring your full shin to the wall to make this stretch more difficult.
Keep your abs tight, and remember to breathe normally.
Flexibility Is the Key to Getting the Best Squat Workout
You now have 5 stretches to do before and after your squat routine that will help you lift heavier weight with less pain and soreness.
Follow the instructions and tips to modify each stretch to your current level of flexibility to make sure you are targeting the correct muscles and joints.
Stretching isn’t the most fun part of a workout, but adding in these 5 easy exercises will be the key to helping you reach your strength and fitness goals quickly.