Take a second to think about the last time you stretched. What muscles did you hit? I’ll wager they were your quads, hamstrings, back, and chest. We’re all pretty good about loosening up these large muscle groups, but we too often ignore the small, stabilizing muscles in between — the forearms, shins, inner thighs, and neck. These muscles are more important than you think. Tight inner thighs, for instance, make it impossible for your hips and glutes to fire fully, weakening the entire lower body. What’s more, tight muscle fibers can’t become stronger, which may explain why you’re not seeing results from all those squats and push-ups. The four exercises below will help you address hidden tightness (you may be surprised by what you find), and feel loose and fresh before your next workout.
Grip-intensive exercises — dead lifts, pull-ups, heavy-kettlebell swings — and even clutching your mouse at work can build tension in the forearms. The fix: Get on all fours and plant palms on floor in front of you, fingertips facing back. Slowly lean back toward heels until you feel the stretch.
A lot of chicken-legged guys tell me that it’s impossible to strengthen their calves. The first thing I tell them is to start foam-rolling the sides of their shins. Once you loosen the small muscles, you’ll bring more blood flow to the lower leg, allowing you to build strength and mass in the calves.
Too much sitting shortens and tightens our inner-thigh muscles (which are key in helping the hips and knees maintain alignment). Targeting the inner thigh is tough, but this method is very effective: Hold a kettlebell upside down and use its handle to knead the muscles inside the thigh and under the hip.
Tension in the neck often comes from tight back muscles that are literally pulling on the neck. This exercise gives twofold relief: It opens up the back and shoulders while stretching the neck. Crouch on all fours with hands behind head; rest forehead on floor. Lightly push head toward knees.