Improve Your Lower Body Flexibility

Part three of the flexibility series.

A healthy range of motion (ROM) in your lower body is just as important as upper body flexibility to improve your scuba performance and overall quality of life. The following lower body flexibility routine serves to strengthen and increase ROM in the lower body with a combination of static stretching, dynamic stretching and a few strengthening moves. This serves to maintain an elevated core muscle temperature throughout your routine optimizing stretching effectiveness. If you don't continually maintain flexibility, you'll lose it, so be sure to utilize your full ROM on a regular basis; incorporate the following exercises into your balanced fitness routine every time you exercise to improve or maintain a healthy ROM in each region of your body. Before beginning any new exercises to increase your ROM, complete a flexibility assessment. The exercises below address hip flexion, hip extension, knee flexion, knee extension, dorsi/plantar flexion of the ankle, and tightness in the Ilio Tibial (IT) Band.

This first series will be referred to as: high knee, step forward and drop down. It can also be referred to as a high knee walking lunge, but I prefer to separate the step and the drop to minimize shearing stress that may occur at the knee. When first completing this series, it may be beneficial to touch a wall, railing or table (just be sure it is secure) to help stabilize your body. All movements should be slow and controlled. The number of steps you complete in each direction depends on the amount of flat space you have available. Continue the next two series for 1 minute to start. Then, work up to 3 minutes each.
High Knee, Step Forward and Drop Down

  1. Lift your dominant knee as high as possible.
  2. Kick out your dominant foot.
  3. Step dominant foot on the ground as far in front of you as is comfortable.
  4. Drop your buttocks straight down towards the floor keeping your nondominant knee as straight as possible.
  5. Extend both legs to standing position.
  6. Repeat using opposite leg.

Safety Tip
Keep your head and chest up. This may feel strange at first as you may be inclined to look at your front foot; however, this will keep your weight through the heel of your front foot, minimizing stress on the knee.
Lunge to Hip Bump

  1. Take a giant step forward with your right foot.
  2. Drop your body down keeping your weight through your right heel and your left knee slightly off the floor.
  3. Drag your left leg forward behind your right so your legs are crossed at the ankles.
  4. Simultaneously bump your left hip laterally while flexing (bending) at the hip. Hold this position for 10 seconds to start, working your way up to 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on opposite side.

Safety Tips
During the hip bump make sure that you are bending at the hip maintaining a flat back. The bump component addresses the commonly tight IT Band. A tight IT Band frequently presents as a sharp lateral (on the outside) knee pain (slightly below where your knee bends).

When completing a lunge, many people commit a common performance error: stepping forward as they are dropping down. Make sure you step forward prior to dropping down as instructed in the previous series.

Last but not least, it is important to stretch the calves (gastrocnemius and soleus) and the antagonist muscle group on the front of the shins which includes the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle. In addition to adequate hydration, improved muscular strength and endurance through regular use, training and increasing blood flow to the area can reduce the probability of cramping.

This series consists of two static stretches. Complete calf stretch on both sides, followed by the TA stretch on both sides. Repeat the series three times.
Calf Stretch

  1. Put your left heel forward and sit back, putting weight through your right heel.
  2. Hold for about 10 seconds, then try to go a bit deeper into the stretch holding for 30 seconds.
  3. Repeat on opposite side.
TA Stretch

  1. Begin in a split stance with your left foot forward.
  2. Lean your body weight on your left foot while pointing your right toe behind you.
  3. Hold for about 10 seconds, then try to go a bit deeper into the stretch.
  4. Repeat on opposite side.
Learn More
Complete a flexibility assessment.
Improve your upper body flexibility.
About the Author
Jessica Adams is an assistant professor in the department of physical education at Kean University in Union, N.J. She is co-author of Fit for SCUBA, a strength and conditioning handbook and a proud alumna of the DAN internship program. Jessica is also a Health Fitness Specialist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. She is the author of the Dive Fitness column for Alert Diver magazine.