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The Best Post Workout Stretches

Woman stretching on a mat in the gymIt’s really important to stretch your muscles as part of cooling down after a workout. Stretching helps boost your flexibility, reduces the muscle tension you have worked up during exercise, and minimises the risk of injury. It can also help to improve your performance on your next session.

It’s all too easy for many of us to skip this important period between finishing our last set and heading for the shower, especially when time is against you – it’s often just easier to miss it out completely. But it doesn’t need to take long and you can even find some time-saving shortcuts by stretching several muscles at once.

So what are the best post workout stretches to save you time and ensure you keep your body in tip-top condition and fully primed for your next workout?

Stretching After Your Workout – The Benefits

Stretching has many key benefits. As well as improving your flexibility – a key factor of fitness, it can also help to improve your posture, reduce stress and muscle aches and pains, and more. Here are some of the most important reasons why stretching can benefit you.

It improves your blood flow

Stretching has been shown to improve your circulation. Sending an increased flow of blood to your muscles enables them to heal faster after your workout, and also helps to prevent muscle soreness and stiffness in-between gym sessions.

It improves your posture and helps prevent back pain

When your muscles are tight they can force your body to tense up which in turn can impact on good posture. Without realising it, we spend a lot of our time sitting or standing incorrectly which often puts added pressure and strain on our muscles. This can then lead to back pain and other types of musculoskeletal pain. In an article from the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, a study carried out in 2015 showed that combining stretching exercises with a strength training routine can help ease both back and shoulder pain. Because stretching also encourages correct alignment, it also helps to improve your posture.

If you’re someone that suffers from existing back pain through injury, regular stretching could help, and it will also help to safeguard you from further back injuries in the future.

It provides better flexibility and range of motion

Stretching can help increase flexibility in your joints. The more flexibility you have the more easily you can move around and the better your range of motion (how far you can move a particular joint in a normal direction before it stops) will be.

It can decrease muscle tension and lower stress levels

It’s generally accepted that stress is a part of everyday life for most of us, but sometimes it can feel a little too much. If your stress levels are high then it can cause your muscles to tense, which in turn can make you feel like you’re carrying that stress throughout your body.

By stretching tense and tight muscles, you can help to relieve this built-up tension and relax them. This may, in turn, help lower your stress levels and promote a greater feeling of calm.

Did you know there are two types of stretches?

You would be forgiven for thinking that stretching is purely a static activity to help lengthen the muscles, but there’s another element of stretching that you may not be consciously aware of. Stretching can include both static and dynamic movements.

Static stretching involves holding a muscle stretch in place for a certain period of time (typically 20-60 seconds) and you remain still while performing them. The most commonly performed type of stretch, static stretches are typically done at the end of the workout when your muscles are warmer and more relaxed and I’ll be focusing on static stretching throughout the rest of this article.

Dynamic stretches include active movements where you move your joints and muscles through a full range of motion and they don’t generally provide the same level of deep stretch to your muscles and joints as static stretches do. Dynamic stretching is usually performed before a workout to help warm-up your muscles and prepare them for the work ahead, as well as increasing your heart rate to get the blood flowing into your tissues and joints. An example would be a runner jogging on the spot or pumping their legs before they race.

The Best Post Workout Stretches To Try

Here are my top post-workout static stretches for you to try. When stretching after your workout, try to focus on the muscles you worked during your exercise. These can all be performed without equipment, however you may want to consider a gym or yoga mat or other soft surface to reduce pressure on your joints and limit any discomfort a hard floor can give you.

The Cat Cow Stretch

A woman performing the cat cow stretch on a purple mat
Muscles Targeted: Upper and lower back

How to perform it: Start by placing your hands and knees on the floor, keeping your spine neutral and aligned. Allow your belly to sink towards the floor and press your chest forward as you inhale. Then round your upper back slowly bringing your tailbone in and relaxing your head toward the floor on your exhale. Repeat this movement eight to 10 times for 60 seconds.

The Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch

A person performing a lunging hip flexor stretch with a mat underneath them
Muscles targeted: Hips, quads and glutes

How to perform it: Take a kneeling position on your right knee with your left foot flat on the floor in front of you. Then lean forward and stretch your right hip towards the floor. Hold this stretch for between 30 and 60 seconds and then switch sides and repeat.

The Standing Calf Stretch

A man leaning against a white wall performing the standing calf stretch
Muscles targeted: The calf muscles

How to perform it: Grab yourself a chair, or use a wall for support with this one and place one foot in front of the other with your front knee slightly bent. Keeping your back knee straight and both heels flat on the ground, lean forward towards the chair or wall until you feel a stretch along the calf muscle of your back leg. Hold this stretch for between 20 to 30 seconds then switch legs and repeat on the other side. Try and perform two to three repetitions of this stretch on both legs.

The Overhead Triceps Stretch

A person performing an overhead triceps stretch

Muscles targeted: Triceps and shoulders

How to perform it: Standing with your feet apart at roughly hip-width, begin by rolling your shoulders back and downwards to release any built-up tension. Reach your right arm upwards and then bend your elbow to bring the palm of your right hand down towards the centre of your back. Now, either bring your left hand up and gently pull your right elbow down, or, if you’re already quite flexible, you could bring your left hand up your back until you can touch your right hand and feel the stretch that way (see picture). For a more intense stretch, try and bring the hands closer together. Hold this stretch for between 20 to 30 seconds and then switch arms. Try and perform two to three repetitions of the stretch on both sides and aim for a deeper stretch each time.

The Piriformis Stretch

A woman in grey sportswear seated on the floor performing a piriformis stretch

Muscles targeted: The Piriformis (this runs from the base of your spine to your thigh-bone)

How to perform it: Begin by sitting on the floor and placing your legs out in front of you. Keep your right leg flat on the floor and lift your left leg to place your left ankle on your right knee. Arch your back slightly and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your glutes. Hold this stretch in place for around 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side with your right leg on your left knee. Try and perform two to three repetitions on each side.

The Standing Bicep Stretch

A woman performing the standing bicep stretch

Muscles targeted: Biceps, chest and shoulders

How to perform it: Start by standing up straight and placing both hands behind your back. Now interlock your hands and rest them at the base of your lower back. Straighten out your arms and turn your palms so they are facing downwards. Next, begin to raise your arms as high as you are able until you feel a stretch in your biceps and shoulders. Hold this stretch for between 30 to 40 seconds before repeating another two or three times.

A few things to consider for your safety

When performing these, or any type of stretches, its worth following these few safety tips:

Start slow: If you’re new to stretching out after exercise then it’s best to begin with just a few stretches and gradually add more repetitions as you get used to them. Don’t try and do too much first time around.

Be mindful of your posture: Keep an eye on your posture as you stretch. Try to keep your chin up, spine straight and your core tight. Your shoulders should also be aligned with your hips.

Remember to breathe: Breathing not only helps you relieve tension and stress in your muscles, but it can also help to improve the quality of the stretch, and enable you to hold the stretch for longer.

Avoid stretching to the point of pain: You only want to feel mild tension when you stretch out your muscles, it shouldn’t be painful. If you feel pain, stop and dial it back a little – focusing on a lighter stretch.

Reap The Rewards

By incorporating stretching into your post workout routine you can really reap the benefits. Stretching your muscles will help fire up your recovery whilst relieving stress and tension and boost your joint flexibility. If you’re unsure about performing stretches safely then always speak to a qualified professional who can show you how. Likewise, if you suffer from injury or have a medical condition that limits how active you can be, speak with a healthcare professional and get advice before you start.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and if you didn’t stretch before you are now considering adding it into your gym routine. A few minutes post workout will pay dividends and help increase your overall performance over time.

Do you stretch before of after your workout? If so do you use any of the stretches I’ve included above or do you swear by others? Please feel free to comment underneath, I’d love to know!

 

6 Comments

  1. Hello, Just went through your blog post “The Best Post Workout Stretches”. You have mentioned all the benefits of post exercise very well. till today I doing stretches before exercise. I was not aware about dynamic stretches and static stretches. The exercise poses you mentioned here are something new to me. But, quite interesting to try. Thanks for sharing such valuable content.

    • Thanks for your feedback. It’s good to stretch before exercise as well in order to increase blood flow to your muscles, so dynamic stretching is important, but don’t forget to use static stretches after your workout to prevent injury. Give some of these a try and let me know how you get on and see if, over time, it improves your performance . If you have any further questions or need more advice let me know!

  2. Hi and thanks for this very convincing article. I have a difficult relationship with exercise in general as I have gone through various situations and routines and then thinking back, something happened to throw me off and it has been back to square one. I recently started doing morning yoga exercises again and that is going very well. I have a number of challenges. Chronic lower back issues stemming from herniated discs. I have chiro every two weeks and that just about keeps it in check with the daily morning yoga. I also have very bad knees – one total replacement and the other is just starting arthritis now too. All these issues compound each other. The frustrating thing is I can think back just a few years ago before I had the knee surgery I was doing vigorous morning gym every day in my basement. Then because of my weak knee, I injured my foot and it all fell apart. No exercise, then the back pain came back and I put my back out. And all downhill from there. I just want to say for anyone reading this to take care of all of themselves because if one part goes there can be a chain reaction. Thanks for a great article. Best regards, Andy 

    • Really sound advice Andy, thank you! Yes it’s important, especially if you have pre-existing injuries or health problems, to get advice from a qualified health professional before you start any new form of exercise. It sounds like you’ve been through the mill a bit with your health but you seem to be staying as active as you can – I really hope the yoga helps, it sounds like it does? 

  3. I am currently 69 years old and I usually play tennis.
    As an athlete or, better said, a sports fan, I have gotten used to warming up and stretching before and after practicing my favorite sport. I can not speak of training since I do not participate in competitions.
    I have read the proposed routine carefully and there are at least two exercises that I normally do, which does not prevent me from adding other exercises to my routine.
    Thanks for delivery.

    • Hopefully it’s given you some more ideas to incorporate further stretches into your routine Marco. Even during your ‘rest days’ you can use these exercises to help keep your muscles and joints supple. Do try some of the others out after sport and see how you get on, and if you need any further help or advice just let me know!

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