There’s an art to athletic recovery. At some point, you have to stop and wait for your legs to recover, and for your body to feel sharp and responsive. Recovery balances the immune and hormonal systems, aids digestion and facilitates the removal of cellular debris.

In order to perform at your best, it’s important to develop a sound strategy for recovery. No athlete can achieve peak fitness all the time, so an effective recovery plan is just as important as a proper training plan.

Stretching and improving circulation through the lymphatic system, located in the inner leg and groin area, will help accelerate the recovery process. Although there are powerful muscles in the inner legs, the focus of these stretches is on the lymphatic system.

The lymph system needs movement, stretching and gravity in order to circulate properly. An imbalance in the lymph drainage will cause swelling due to fluid accumulation, which will prevent the return of proteins and vitamins to the cells. In addition, lymph nodes are an important part of the immune system.

Lymph stretches

This series of stretches improve overall lymphatic functioning and focuses on:

  • Releasing the powerful leg muscles to access the lymph duct.
  • Decongesting the lymph nodes by opening the inner legs — this position facilitates the process.
  • Relaxing and lengthening the inner-leg muscles and using gravity to flush out accumulated fluid.

Perform the stretches in order to gain the greatest benefits.

Passive lunge

Picture of a passive lunge stretch

Relieving tension from the front (quads) and the inner-leg (adductors) muscles helps lymph circulation. The passive lunge accesses a number of powerful leg muscles. It should always feel good and shouldn’t require extra energy.

  • Step forward with your right foot, the left foot remains behind.
  • The ball or top of the back foot can be on the ground.
  • Lower your left knee, padding it with a towel or cushion. Allow your left hip to drop toward the floor.
  • Place your hands on the ground on the inside of your front foot.
  • Remain in this position for seven to 10 breaths. Focus on relaxing your left hip towards the ground.

Slightly rotate the back leg in or out and stretch different areas of the inner leg, find the tight areas.Next, lean your weight forward as if you’re sliding the left knee on the floor. This will stretch or pull the skin of the thigh. Then relax the hip and breathe easy. For a stronger effect, put your elbows on the floor. Another option is to do this stretch with your front leg on a chair; your back knee will be off the ground.

Repeat this series on the other side with your left foot forward, right knee on the floor behind.

Open hips on wall

This stretch promotes relaxation and recovery. Lying on your back automatically relaxes you, and by directly stretching the lymph nodes, you’ll accelerate recovery. In this move, the inner legs stretch without supporting the weight of the torso.

Picture of open hips on wall stretch

The most common stretching injury occurs when the inner leg is isolated, lengthened and required to support weight.

  • Lie on your back while resting the weight of your legs on the wall (if done without a wall, hold your shins).
  • Let your heels slide down the wall toward each other until the bottom of your feet touch.
  • Move your knees away from each other.
  • Place the palms of your hands on the inside of your knees.
  • Hold for seven to 10 breaths.

If you’re tight, start with your hips farther from the wall. Let the heels move away from the hips/pelvic girdle. You should feel relaxed — if you don’t, change your position. This stretch helps promote recovery of the lymph nodes at the upper leg/lower pelvic area. Never push this stretch — simply spending time in this position will give you the benefits.

Inner-leg lengthener

This stretch may be challenging for some athletes, so if it’s difficult for you, go slowly. Begin by separating your legs until you feel a light stretch. Wait and allow gravity to aid circulation. Weight on the sacrum will decrease nerve tension in the lower legs and invigorate circulation of the cerebral spinal fluid.

Picture of inner-leg lengthener stretch

  • Lie on the floor while resting the weight of your legs on the wall (if done without a wall, hold onto the inner legs).
  • Place the outside edges of your feet on the wall. Keep your knees bent and your ankles straight above the knees, perpendicular to the floor.
  • Support the inside of the knees with your hands.
  • Focus on moving your toes toward the shins and your heels away from your hips.
  • Bring your chin towards the chest and elongate the neck.
  • Hold this position for seven to 10 breaths.

This position should feel good — relax. Bring your legs closer together to feel more comfortable — find a position that doesn’t challenge you. Implement steps 4, 5 and 6. As you inhale, expand your chest; when you exhale, move the lower abdomen toward the floor. This will elongate the over-worked lower-back muscles.Your legs will become more flexible as you use these stretches. The power of movement is dependent upon recovery, and slow recovery can prevent you from reaching your goals. Relax, recover and race and train forever.

Brian Dorfman
May 30, 2006