At the end of a workout, the last thing most of us want to do is spend extra time stretching and cooling down. However, dedicating some time to post-workout stretches can relieve tightness, help your muscles return to a neutral position, reduce soreness and even help prevent injury.
Which stretches are best after a workout?
There are different types of stretching techniques that can be used before, during and after a workout. Static stretching (holding a position) and dynamic stretching (moving quickly through positions) are the most popular.
Dynamic stretching is best before a workout, as focusing on quick movements will increase body temperature and heart rate as you prepare for a workout. While static stretching isn’t so beneficial prior to a workout, holding stretches for a longer period of time (25 to 30 seconds) is most beneficial after a workout. Focus on stretching the muscles that are particularly tight from your workout or from daily posture.
Here are six stretches to include in your post-workout cool down:
Hamstring stretch. Sit on the ground and extend your left leg straight out in front of you, with the heel of the right leg against the side of your left knee. Lean forward, reaching for your toes with both hands. If you can’t reach your foot, reach as far down your shin as possible. Hold for 25 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Glutes/IT-band stretch. Lying on your back, bend your right knee, keeping your foot flat on the floor. Cross your left leg over your right thigh, resting your left ankle on your right knee. Hold onto the back of your right thigh with both hands and pull both legs toward you. Hold for 25 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Calf stretch. While sitting with one leg out in front of you, reach for your toes and gently pull the toes backward until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle. If you cannot reach your toes, use a towel to pull your toes back. Hold for 25 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Low-back stretch. Lying in the same position as for the glute/IT-band stretch, bend both knees, pulling them toward your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in your lower back. Hold for 25 to 30 seconds.
Posterior shoulder stretch. Bring your right arm across your body and grab your right elbow with your left hand, pulling your elbow in as far as you can so your right fingers can reach your upper back. Hold for 25 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Front shoulder and chest stretch. While standing, grab onto a pole or door frame at shoulder height with one arm. While keeping the arm straight, turn your body to the opposite direction until you feel a stretch. Hold for 25 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
While stretching after a workout is beneficial, it is only one piece of the post-workout cool down. After exercise, take a light walk and add in some foam rolling in addition to your stretches. Giving your body adequate time to lower your heart rate and cool down is the best way to reduce post-workout soreness and stiffness.
Remember: Stretching should not be painful. If a stretch hurts, you are going too far. Build slowly to increase flexibility. You should feel a light stretch that you can hold without extreme pain. Always breathe through your stretches to help you relax and deepen the stretch.
If you experience significant pain while working out or stretching, see your doctor.