Perhaps you're familiar with the practice of stretching out your hamstrings or releasing your hip flexors after exercise, however not all of us know how important it is to stretch after a workout and we've probably all been guilty of occasionally skipping this step if short on time.
Stretching is not always awarded the same level of importance as cardio sessions or resistance training, but with many cited benefits including greater flexibility, improved muscle recovery and even a mood-boosting endorphin release, it's a crucial step not to miss.
This article discusses the benefits of stretching after exercise, with a few quick and easy stretches to try after your next workout.
What Are The Benefits Of Stretching After A Workout?
Stretching helps relax and relieve muscular tension, and targeted stretching can help release tightness in specific body areas, leading to better long-term flexibility. Here is why stretching after a workout can benefit you.
The main reason many of us choose to stretch is to maintain, or improve, our flexibility. With many of us working in sedentary jobs and spending much of the day sitting at a desk, it's crucial to fit in regular stretching to improve our posture and core strength.
Tight muscles and poor posture are a common cause of chronic back and shoulder pain, primarily through tightness in the glutes, hips and leg muscles, which can often be attributed to sitting for long periods while at work.
If you've been for a long run or even a short HIIT, chances are your muscles will feel more tender if you don't take the time to stretch. When working out, lactic acid builds up in muscle tissue, which is what causes those day-after aches and pains.
Stretching helps to stimulate circulation and introduces more oxygen to your muscles, which can help to manage the build up of lactic acid after a workout.
A word of caution – stretching should be avoided on damaged muscles, as this can often do more harm than good. A small amount of lactic acid buildup and next-day discomfort is quite normal; if you're in more pain than this, then it's better to let the muscles rest and recover naturally.
Stretching out after a workout can help to lower the heart rate and return your mind to focus. It's a great way to bring the mind and body back to a more restful state.
Stretching Releases Endorphins
Stretching makes you feel good! When we stretch, our body releases endorphins which create a natural, feel-good 'high'. Endorphins interact with brain receptors, reducing the perception of pain and functioning as neurotransmitters that alleviate symptoms of stress and discomfort.
Studies have revealed that stretching helps increase blood flow and improve circulation. When you stretch, your heart starts pumping more blood to that muscle group and around your body.
This increase in heart rate is also accompanied by deeper breaths, allowing more oxygen to the body and cleansing metabolic waste — another reason why stretching feels good.
9 Easy Stretches For After A Workout
Short on time and in need of a relaxing stretch? Here are nine static stretches for after a workout to loosen the muscles in your arms, legs and back.
1. Child's pose / lumbar stretch
Hours sitting at a desk is how many of us spend our working days, but unfortunately, this is not the way to a healthy posture. Taking a break? Try fitting in a quick child's pose stretch — a great move to open up the lower back and release tension in the back muscles, particularly those that impact the lumbar area.
2. Lunging hip flexor stretch
Stretching the hips and thighs can also positively impact your back and posture, as many back-related issues are often linked to tight leg muscles. A hip flexor lunge is perfect for this. To try this stretch, kneel on the floor and bring one leg forward into a lunge position. Bend forward into your front leg, feeling a slight pull in your back thigh. Keep moving forward until you feel the stretch and hold for a moment.
3. Shoulder crossbody stretch
Moving to the upper body, bring one arm straight horizontally across the body, pulling it towards you with your other arm. You'll feel a slight stretch in your shoulders and upper arm.
4. Forward lunge
Our calf muscles get a lot of use in day to day life and when we exercise, so it's essential to look after them by stretching out after a workout. To target the calves, bend forward into a gentle lunge, feeling the pull down the back of your leg.
5. Side stretch
Bringing both arms straight above your head, lean over to the side to feel a gentle stretch in your sides.
6. Side of neck (scapulae) stretch
Tilt your head over to one side (towards your shoulder). Lift your arm over your head, placing your hand on the opposite side of your face and pull to ease into the stretch gently. You should feel a slight pull in the muscles on the side of your neck.
7. Hand and wrist stretch
Push your palms and fingertips backwards with the opposite hand to feel a slight stretch in your fingers. Typing at your desk for a long time? This is a great one to relax tension in the hands.
8. Cross-over / lower back (piriformis) stretch
Sitting on the group with both legs straight, fold one leg and bring it over the other, bringing the foot to the other side of your thigh. You should feel a stretch across the top of your glute muscles - this is your piriformis muscle and connects your spine to the upper part of your legs (and often a troubled spot for those who suffer from lower back pain). If you spend a long time sitting, this muscle stretch is excellent for releasing tension in the lower back.
9. Overhead tricep stretch
We love this stretch after a resistance workout to release tension in the tricep muscles. Bring one arm over your head and fold your palm down in between your shoulder blades. Use your other hand to grab your elbow and pull down slightly - you should feel a gentle stretch.
Exercise Equipment for Stretching and Muscle Tension
Sometimes a little help can go a long way - and that's certainly the case with accessories designed to help with stretching.
Spiky massage balls work into the myofascial tissue — the thin layer of connective tissue surrounding our muscles that often becomes tight during a workout. Working into the muscle by massaging with pressure, either by pushing or leaning into the spiky ball, tension is released, aiding your stretch and muscle recovery.
Many stretches mean time spent on the ground, so it's important to cushion your surface with either a rubber yoga mat or a cork yoga mat. Non-slip and cushioned, this will protect you from slips, add comfort and prevent injury.