You’ve probably heard a lot of mixed information about stretching. Most commonly, you’ve probably heard to stretch before and after every workout to prevent injuries. However, another source may have told you that stretching doesn’t do anything to prevent injuries and might actually hurt your performance. So, what is the truth about post-workout stretches?
Ultimately, adding the right gym stretches after a workout is a great habit and can help keep your muscles loose. We recommend starting with 12 after-workout stretches to boost your routine.
IS IT NECESSARY TO STRETCH AFTER A WORKOUT?
Many of us grew up with gym teachers and coaches telling us how important it is to stretch. As it turns out, they had a point. Stretching is a healthy habit to build after any physical activity—especially if you don’t want to feel the effects of your workout for days after. Stretching after exercise can help loosen up your muscles to keep them feeling fresh. In fact, many personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts support regular stretching to help improve your physical health.
- Less stiffness in your muscles and joints
- Lower risk for injury
- Improved blood circulation to support bringing nutrients to the muscles
- Less lactic acid build-up in the muscles, which could potentially reduce soreness
Performing stretches after lifting may even help improve your muscle gains and support better workout performance by promoting flexibility. On top of it all, post-workout stretching is simply a healthy habit to add to the back end of your routine, as it helps you wind down physically and mentally after your activity.
WHEN SHOULD YOU STRETCH AFTER A WORKOUT?
Stretching is a good idea both before and after a workout. Static stretching—holding a stretched position for about 30 seconds—right after a workout may be useful in loosening up tense muscles and preventing injury. Even just a few minutes of stretches after lifting or cardio can help you recharge your muscles.
Before your workout, focus on a gentle warm-up that includes motion-oriented dynamic stretching. This warm-up will help lengthen your muscles, get your heart rate up, and prepare your body for the primary activity. Your warmup should activate the muscle groups you plan to hit during your workout. Good warm-up options include a walk or jog around the block and dynamic motion-oriented stretches. Dynamic stretches include movements like lunges, shoulder swings, high-knees, and butt-kickers.
To help your body power down after your workouts, incorporate a short cool-down routine with after-workout stretches. This cooldown will help bring your heart rate down slowly and loosen up your tense muscles. A cooldown might be a few laps of walking the track, slow cycling, or an easy row.
Once your breathing is under control, add some static stretches. Finally, finish your cooldown routine by rolling out your muscles with a foam roller to stimulate blood flow, release muscle knots, and massage the muscle to assist in recovery after your workout.
WHAT ARE THE BEST STRETCHES TO DO AFTER A WORKOUT?
We encourage you to stretch all your major muscle groups after a workout, but if you need to speed things up, focus on the muscles you exercised during your activity. Here is a short list of our favorite after-workout stretches—many of these can be performed as static or dynamic stretches by adding a little movement.
1. TOE TOUCHES
Toe touches make for a great lower back and hamstring stretch after lifting or cardio. From a sitting position, straighten your legs in front of you. Reach forward and try to touch your toes. This stretch will help increase the flexibility of tight hamstrings and lower back. You can also do this from a standing position.
2. STANDING QUADRICEPS STRETCH
Your quadriceps are one of the largest muscle groups in your body, so this is a crucial leg stretch after a workout. While standing, bend one leg up behind you and hold your foot. Gently pull your leg back toward your glutes until you feel a nice stretch along your quad.
3. HIP OPENER
This is great for tight hip flexors. Start on a bent knee like you’re about to propose. Gently straighten out the leg that is along the floor behind you as much as possible. Push forward and down to open up the front of your hip. Switch sides.
4. BUTTERFLY STRETCH
The butterfly is another stretch that’s great for tight hip flexors. Sitting on the floor, open your legs and bring the soles of your feet together. Gently bend forward while trying to keep your knees down. This is the perfect stretch for your adductors, or inner thighs, which are notoriously tight. You’ll also get a nice stretch in your lower back.
5. IRON CROSS
Start on your back with your straight arms out, like a T (or a cross). Lift up one leg and cross it over your body, rotating your hip and lower back. Try to get your toe to touch the floor while keeping your other leg stationary. Enjoy the stretch in your lower back and the side of your glute, and don’t be surprised if you hear a few gentle pops in your lower back. Switch sides and perform with the other leg.
6. ARM & WRIST STRETCH
The arm and wrist stretch is one of the most overlooked arm stretches after a workout, as your wrists play an important part in supporting your workouts. Extend your right arm straight in front of you with your palm facing up. Using your other arm, grab the fingers on your right hand and pull them towards you until you feel a stretch in your wrist and forearm. Then, switch sides to stretch the other wrist.
7. CALF STRETCH
Start positioned on all fours, with your hands and toes planted on the ground. Keep your shoulders and wrists aligned, and gently push one heel toward the floor at a time. If you don’t feel a stretch in your calf, position your legs farther out behind you.
8. CHILD’S POSE
The child’s pose should be familiar if you’ve taken a yoga class. Start by sitting on your knees, then sink your hips back and allow the knees to fall apart as wide as you are comfortable while stretching your arms in front of you. This relaxing pose will help stretch the muscles in your lower and upper back, as well as your shoulders.
9. SEATED SPINAL TWIST
The seated spinal twist helps promote mobility in your spine while stretching the muscles in your back, all the way down to your glutes. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Lift your right leg over your left and plant your right foot on the outside of your left knee. Next, rotate at the hips, turning to the right while pushing your left arm into the outside of your right leg. Then, switch sides.
10. SHOULDER STRETCH
Don’t forget this arm stretch after your workout. Standing straight up, bring one arm across the front of your body at chest level, keeping it straight. Hook your other arm in front and pull the right arm close to your body until you feel a nice stretch in the shoulder and lat (upper back). Switch arms and repeat.
11. TRICEPS STRETCH
Raise one arm overhead, then bend your elbow so that your hand is now pointing toward or even touching your shoulder. Place the other hand on your elbow and gently push it backward. You should feel the stretch in the triceps (back of the arm). Switch arms and repeat.
12. SEATED NECK STRETCH
If you have a long commute or spend a lot of time looking at a screen, chances are you’ve got a lot of tension in your neck. In a seated position, bring one arm up and over your head, placing your hand on the other side of your head. Gently pull your head down toward your shoulder for a wonderful stretch down the side of your neck. Repeat with the other arm and gently pull your head to the other side.
POST-WORKOUT STRETCHES COMPLETE YOUR FITNESS ROUTINE
Post-workout stretches may feel like an extra chore, but adding the right type of warm-up and cooldown to each workout can help your body feel better and increase your flexibility over time. Incorporating arm and leg stretches after a workout can help your muscles stay fresh, especially in combination with a complete cooldown.
Not sure where to start? Consider signing up for a class at your local gym. At EōS Fitness, we offer many classes with a focus on stretching and improving flexibility, such as EōS Yoga, Power Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa “Flow” Yoga, and more.
For even more guidance, try out Personal Training at EōS Fitness. Your Trainer can help you develop an exercise plan and post-workout stretching routine that works for you. Find an EōS Fitness location near you to access a world of resources and reach your fitness goals.