If you want to add a simple stretch you can do almost anywhere to your fitness routine, consider the butterfly stretch. When you perform this stretch correctly, you'll feel a pleasant release in your groin, along your inner thigh and across your lower back. As with any stretch, understanding which muscles you're targeting and using proper form will help you get the most out of the butterfly stretch.
The main release you feel in your groin and along your inner thigh in the butterfly stretch comes from stretching the adductor muscles in your inner thigh. This group of three muscles runs from your pelvis to the femur and allows you to swing the thigh inward and to flex and extend the thigh. You may also feel a stretch along your lower back and your buttocks while doing the butterfly stretch. This feeling comes from stretching the gluteal muscles, especially the gluteus maximus that runs from your lower back to your femur. Leaning forward during the stretch emphasizes this release of your lower back.
Before beginning the butterfly stretch, warm up your muscles with 10 minutes of light activity, or do the stretch after your workout when your muscles are already warm. Start the stretch by sitting on the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together to make your legs into a diamond shape. Rest your hands on your feet and sit up straight. For some people this may be enough of a stretch. If you want to stretch further, slowly bend forward at the waist. Keep your back straight as you lean forward; think of bringing your chest to your feet rather than hunching over. Lean forward until you feel tension, but not pain. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds and then return to the starting position.
Once your adductor muscles feel more flexible, you may want to try a couple variations on the butterfly stretch. In the first variation, you will increase the adductor stretch by holding your feet and using your elbows to press down on your knees. This opens the groin further and creates a deeper stretch along the inner thigh. You can also turn this static stretch into a dynamic stretch by holding the stretched position for only two seconds, returning to the start position and then stretching again. Repeat the stretch five to 10 times, making sure you make all of your motions slow and smooth so you aren't bouncing through the stretches.
Besides feeling good, the butterfly stretch helps prevent injury. Nearly all kicking and running sports use the adductor muscles, as do activities like dancing and tennis. Keeping the adductors and other muscle groups flexible can help improve your performance in these sports while reducing your chance of injury. When the gluteal muscles and adductor muscles lose flexibility, you risk injuring your lower back when performing lifting or twisting activities. Tight adductor muscles can also increase the risk of knee injuries, especially if other leg muscles are weak or inflexible.
- Anatomy & Physiology; Gary Thibodeau and Kevin Patton
- American Council on Exercise: Seated Butterfly Stretch
- ExRx.net: Common Orthopedic Inflexibilities
- Mayo Clinic: Stretching - Focus on Flexibility