The reminder not to skip leg day in the gym is directed at us for good reason—because the legs are one of the three most important muscle groups that affect athletic performance. Proper training and stretching of the legs, chest, and back are key to unlocking optimum athletic performance. Whether you are a long-time gym buff or you are just starting to hit the weights, these tips for how to work and stretch your primary muscle groups will help you step up your athletic performance. 

Legs

When you think of the best moves for working your legs, you probably think of squats and lunges, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Air squats and forward walking lunges are great moves for strengthening the muscles in your legs including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Additionally, sumo squats and hip bridges are excellent moves for targeting the inner thighs and glutes. 

However, optimizing your athletic performance doesn’t stop at doing the exercises. After a hard day in the gym, your muscles need stretching. When you head to work and spend the day sitting, your muscles tighten and some of these basic stretches can help loosen leg muscles for better athletic performance. 

  • Quad Stretch 
  • Hamstring Stretch
  • Thigh Stretch 
  • Hip Stretch 

Woman stretching her chest

Chest

Your chest includes some of the largest muscles in your upper body and you use those muscles all day long. Proper training and stretching of those muscles give your chest the strength it needs to perform daily activities without tiring. Even simple movements like pushing open a door, washing your hair, or getting up and down off the floor utilizes your chest muscles. 

Whether you like free weights or prefer weight machines, there are countless exercises like chest presses, chest flies, and even simple push-ups that work to train your chest muscles. After training, building the strength and flexibility of your chest muscles requires stretching. Simple stretches like the behind the back elbow to elbow grip stretch and the above the head chest stretch can be done anytime, anywhere, and even from the comfort of your desk. Not only do these stretches help your muscles recover from being properly worked but they can help your posture as well. 

Back

Have you complained about your back being tight or hurting? Whether you work in an office or your job entails manual labor, back pain and tightness is probably on your list of body aches. Not only is training your back important, but it has huge benefits including helping to correct your posture, reducing the risk of injury, and reducing lower-back pain. 

Exercises like kettlebell swings, bent-over rows, pull-ups, and deadlifts all work the muscles in your back. These movements strengthen your back muscles; however, if not properly stretched, working out can make your back feel tighter than before. Stretching your back is crucial for recovery after a workout or for taking a break in the middle of a workday. These stretches are great for loosening your back muscles and increasing performance:

  • Child’s Pose
  • Seated Spinal Twist
  • Cat-Cow Stretch
  • Sphinx Stretch 

Incorporating exercise and stretching of these key muscle groups into your routine helps strengthen and lengthen muscles resulting in increased athletic performance. Tight muscles, especially in the chest and back can result in poor posture and pain throughout the day. Taking breaks to stretch your muscles and move around is beneficial whether you are moderately active or a high-performance athlete. If you are struggling to get started, working with a personal trainer can help you understand the how and why for exercise and stretching.