Do you stretch after every workout? A good, post-workout stretch session will increase flexibility and range of motion, and help prevent workout injuries. On the other hand, skipping your cool-down stretch sesh can cause a build up of tension, hurt your posture, and result in unnecessary stiffness.
Stretching after a gruelling workout may seem like a drag, but it is pretty important. Don’t just perform a few half-hearted toe touches, either; your stretches should be deep and focused on the muscles you just used during your workout.
Try some of these stretches to get started, and you’ll begin to notice the difference quickly.
Stretching For Post-Workout Recovery
Stretching particularly tight areas after your workout is a great way to recover, but it is only part of a complete workout recovery. You should also cool down by walking or moving in place. You want to let your heart rate decrease slowly and keep moving to prevent needless soreness. Instead of hitting the lockers immediately after stepping off the treadmill, walk a few laps around the gym, drink some water, do some stretches, and maybe even use a foam roller. An established post workout recovery strategy will help prevent injury and soreness.
Dynamic Post-Workout Stretches
These are exactly what they sound like: stretches that keep you in motion. Dynamic stretching wakes up your muscles, improves their range of motion, and improves performance in physical activity. Try some of these stretches to keep yourself limber after your workout.
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and back straight. Lift one knee up into the air so you’re standing on one foot, and grab the lifted leg by the shin for support. Bring your knee as close to your chest as you can, hold it for a second or two, then release it and lower your foot to the floor. Repeat with the other side.
Gentle Jump Squats
Begin by standing with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold your hands behind your head, then lower yourself into squat position. Jump upward explosively and land on your feet for one rep. This stretch will get blood flowing in your legs and lower body, and it is a great way to cool down. Just don’t overdo it. Rather than going quickly to accelerate your heart rate, do this one slowly, and really settle deep into the squat to emphasize the stretch.
Kneeling Lunge Stretch
Start by kneeling on the ground with one foot forward. Keeping your back straight, use one arm to grab your ankle and pull it up toward your back as far as you can, until you feel a good stretch. Hold it for a moment, then release. Switch legs and repeat.
Static Post-Workout Stretches
Of course, many of the best stretches are static. They usually involve holding a single position for 10 seconds or so, then releasing. These stretches will help lengthen your muscles and reduce soreness after a workout. Remember, static stretches are best done after a workout when your muscles are good and warm in order to avoid injury; never before.
Start by either standing upright or sitting upright on a chair or bench. Lift your elbow up above your head with your hand behind your back. Grab your elbow with your other hand and pull it in toward your head gently. Hold the position for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat on the other side.
Stand on the edge of a step or bench, with the balls of your feet on the edge. Carefully drop your heels down and hold the position for 10 seconds while maintaining balance. Return to the starting position and repeat. You may need to hold a railing or other support during this exercise for balance; just make sure you’re putting all your weight on your feet.
For this one you’ll need a yoga mat. Lie on your stomach with your toes extended out, and your hands flat on the mat next to your chest. Push through your hands and straighten your arms to lift your chest up as if you were a serpent. Your thighs and hips should also come off the floor, so your weight is resting on your hands and toes. Hold the position for 10 seconds, then lower yourself back to the ground.
This is about as simple as stretches come. Start by sitting on the floor or a mat with your feet together, extended out in front of you. Keep your back straight, and bend forward, reaching for your toes. If possible, grab your feet with your hands. If not, stretch as far as you can, and hold the position for 10 seconds before relaxing.
More Post-Workout Recovery Tips
After a workout, sometimes the last thing you want to do is hang around a gym and do post-exercise maintenance. However, putting the time in to properly cool down and stretch after a workout will go a long way toward reducing soreness, preventing injury, and increasing flexibility. Remember that you don’t have to do every stretch after every workout. Focus mainly on the major muscle groups you used, paying extra attention to muscles that are tight or sore. Don’t forget to indulge in other aspects of your post-workout routine as well: hydrate, mediate for a few minutes, consider rolling out sore muscles with a foam roller, and treat yourself to a hot steam shower or sauna. You will be glad you did.