Pull out your Flux Capacitor and get it up to 88 miles an hour as we travel back to 1997 to the first time I took a yoga class. My legs were shaking, my arms trembled, I was dripping in sweat, but for some reason I decided to hang in there. Maybe it was because my teacher was so encouraging and he instructed us to turn within and listen to our own bodies.
My body was talking to me alright. It was telling me there was an opportunity for growth with yoga; there was work to be done. After that fateful class, few a few days I could barely walk and I was sore in places I never knew existed.
With that class, I began my consistent yoga practice, started to get stronger and leaner with each passing day, and have on the journey for almost 20 years. One of the amazing benefits of yoga practice is that you get both stronger and more flexible. It’s a beautiful combination, and if you’re looking to tone up your legs, you definitely want both.
3 Yoga Poses to Strengthen Your Legs
1. Chair Pose
This classic pose will strengthen your quads. It’s like sitting down in a chair, but holding yourself up just before you actually sit. While standing, start with your feet together or shoulder-width apart. With a straight spine, reach your arms over head, bend your knees, and push your hips back. Your gaze can be forward or slightly up, but to prevent hurting your neck avoid tipping your head back. This is an amazing pose to feel grounded, build heat, and gain strength. Perfect leading up to ski season or a spring full of hiking! I recommend starting holding the pose for a few seconds, then building to be able to hold for 60-90 seconds.
2. Leaning Crescent Pose
From downward dog, bring your right foot in between your hands in a runner’s lunge. Plant your entire right foot into the mat while keeping the left heel off the ground, then lift the upper body upright and reach the arms to the sky. Do your best to keep your right knee at a 90-degree angle and just above the ankle. This is a great standing pose that helps lengthen the hip flexor of the back leg while strengthening the quadriceps of the front leg. If you lean forward slightly, the pose works the quadriceps muscle even more, as well as adds some core work. It’s a great pose for runners, cyclists, or anyone doing an intense leg routine. Similar to Chair pose, I recommend building to a 60-90 second hold on each leg.
3. Standing Frog Pose
This pose is both a strengthener and will provide a good stretch. Place your feet so they’re about six to eight inches wider than shoulder-width. Turn your feet out about about 45 degrees and bend your knees until they’re at a 90 degree angle, just right above your ankles, and not further. Once your legs are in the correct position, contract your abdominal muscles and tuck your tailbone down slightly. This will keep your core activated and begin that deep groin and hip stretch. Hang in there as long as you can. In my advanced yoga classes, I instruct my students to hold this pose for 60 seconds.
3 Yoga Poses to Stretch Your Legs
1. Down Dog Split
This stretch is great for the hamstrings, and with a small adjustment, the calf and Achilles as well. Hopefully, you’ve learned a proper Downward Facing Dog pose. If not, go straight to Beachbody On Demand and begin our 3 Week Yoga Retreat!
If you’re already rocking Downward Facing Dog pose, lift your right leg high up to the sky. As you lift the right leg, push your left heel into the ground. Press your hands into the mat and lift your butt higher to increase the stretch in your left leg.
To take this stretch a little deeper and feel it in your calf and Achilles tendon, bend your left knee slightly. Lift your butt up again to intensify the stretch in the hamstring. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then switch sides.
2. Wide-Legged Forward Fold
This stretch is for the adductors or inner thighs. Place your feet so they are parallel to eat other and about two feet wider than shoulder-width. With your hands on your hips, slowly move your torso forward and down from the hips with a flat back. About halfway down, reach your fingers to the mat then allow the torso to completely fold forward. Some of you will be able to bring the top of the head to the floor, but that is not the goal. The goal here is to feel the inner thighs stretch and lengthen. Stay in the pose for 60-90 seconds taking deep, slow breaths.
Using your hands on the mat for stability, allow your body to relax and soften. I often encourage students to find what I call the “sweet spot of surrender.” It’s where you feel a bit of tension in the muscles, but you can still relax on some level and each breath allows you to go deeper into the stretch. It should feel great. If you’re very flexible and you don’t feel a stretch, shift your hips back slightly—that should do the trick.
3. Squat pose
Here, we are stretching the lower back, the quadriceps, the calf muscles, and even some of the Achilles tendons. Stand up with your hands on your waist and place your feet about shoulder-width apart. Keeping the spine straight, bend your knees completely and bring your butt down as far down toward the ground as possible. Make sure your knees track just above the toes.
This one can be tough. You may need to sit on a block, prop your heels up on a towel or a yoga mat, or turn your feet out slightly. If you’ve been wearing heels for a lot of your life, you might notice that you have tighter calves and that your heels don’t touch the ground.
While you’re in the squat position, see if you can lift up your upper body. This will allow you to sink deeper into the pose. Stay here for up to three minutes. As long as it doesn’t hurt your back, knees, or anywhere for that matter, you will get the benefits of the pose.
You’ve now stretched the inner thighs, the hamstrings, the lower back, the quads, calves, and Achilles. All that stretching will lead to more flexible legs. We’ve also strengthened our quads, glutes, and even added some poses to address the core and inner thigh muscles.
For more poses to strengthen your legs, check out 3 Week Yoga Retreat where I, along with three other yoga instructors, guide you through the foundations of yoga.