Whether you’ve been on your fitness journey for a while, or have just committed to being more active, you’re in a great place. You probably know a lot of fitness tips and tricks already, like that HIIT blasts calories, weight training builds muscles, and dance classes lead to better body coordination. But what about the crucial fitness element that most of us forget about or skip? We’re talking, of course, about stretching!
Most of us know that stretching improves flexibility, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Stretching can help with your training, as well as aid in recovery! The actual physiology is quite simple and clear: as you exercise, your muscles contract and shorten. After you finish exercising, those tissues are still tense and tight, and they are at risk of strains, sprains, and the development of inflammatory pain. Post-workout stretches relax the tissues, help them resume their former length, and reduce the threat of post-workout damage.
“A well-stretched muscle more easily achieves its full range of motion,” according to Harvard Medical School. Lengthened and stretched muscles can both improve your athletic performance and help you with functional daily tasks, such as reaching or bending.
Physiotherapists and trainers are convinced that the benefits of stretching as an essential part of a healthy lifestyle are universal for all genders, ages, and fitness levels. In addition to improving performance, stretching tones up joint mobility, increases blood flow, boosts oxygen level, speeds up the delivery of nutrients to muscles, removes metabolic waste, helps to avoid soreness after workout, and, last but not least, gradually and gently brings your vital signs back down to their normal ranges.
Safety tips you need to know
- Stretching is the only ideal way to finish any cardio or strength training. Remember to slow your pulse before you start; try walking slowly for a few minutes while taking deep breaths.
- Make sure to stretch all muscle groups. There’s no stretching order that’s better than others, so you can follow any sequence of moves.
- The target muscles must be completely relaxed before stretching, so make sure you are breathing into the sensation and doing your best to release any tension.
- Exhale as your make your way into the pose, and slowly stretch the muscle until you feel slight discomfort (but not pain!). Hold the position for 10-20 seconds. If you want to deepen your stretch and improve flexibility, you can hold each pose for 45-60 seconds.
- Stretching is performed statically, so do not swing or press on the muscle.
- Focus on even and deep breaths. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and enter the stretch position as you exhale.
- Use a yoga mat or other cushioned surface that can reduce the pressure on your joints and make your stretches more comfortable.
- Don’t forget that the mirror is your friend when it comes to stretching! Do your routine in front of it to keep tabs on your technique.
We know how tempting it is to rush off post-workout, hit the shower, and then treat yourself with a delicious snack, but trust us: a well-rounded 10-minute stretching cool down really helps you get the most out of your workouts. It might even become one of your favorite daily rituals!
We’ve put together a sequence of 20 simple but effective stretching exercises that will help you feel good after any workout, no matter how tough.
Smoothly tilt your head to the sides, gently increasing the pressure with your palm.
Smoothly tilt your head forward, gently increasing the pressure with your palm.
Extend your arm parallel to the floor (right – to the left, left – to the right), and gently press on the elbow area with the other hand.
Stretch your hand forward, turn it palm up, and press your fingers downward with your other hand to stretch your palm, forearm, and whole arm.
Bend your arm at the elbow and place it behind your back. Stretch your fingers down along the spine, and lightly press on your elbow with the other hand to stretch your tricep.
Take your hands back, interlace your fingers, and reach up.
Back and spine stretches
Stand on your hands and knees and bend the spine up (like a cat) and then curve it downward (so your stomach hangs to the floor, like a cow).
Put your feet shoulder-width apart, bend them slightly, then stretch your body down and reach your hands to your toes, trying to touch them.
Sit with your buttocks on your heels, with your knees slightly apart. Stretch your arms forward and bend over, placing your torso between your thighs.
Lie on a mat on your stomach, rest your hands in front of you, and lift your upper body up.
Raise your right hand, tilt your body to the left, stretch to the left. Repeat with the other hand.
Lunge forward, tilt your torso toward the knee of your supporting leg. Keep the working leg straight to stretch the calf and hamstrings.
Sit on the floor, stretch one leg forward, bend the other at the knee and place the foot next to the pelvis. Bend over to a straight leg, grasp the foot with your hands and pull the fingers towards you.
Lie on the floor, leave one leg straight on the floor, lift the other. Grasp the foot with your hands (you may use an expander if needed) and pull the leg towards you.
Take a deep lunge, raise your arms up to stretch your groin muscles.
Bend your knee, take it back and grasp the foot with your hands. Press your foot against your buttock to stretch your quadriceps.
Lie on the floor on your stomach, spread your knees to the sides and bend your legs at right angles. Try to put your pelvis on the floor.
Sit on the floor, spread your straight legs wider, and then bend forward. Do not bend your knees and try to put your stomach on the floor.
Hips and glutes stretches
Bend your knee, lift it up and press the thigh to your stomach. Use your hands to apply pressure to your lower leg to stretch your hamstrings and glutes.
Take the starting position of a deep lunge. Next, lower the shin of the front leg and unfold so that the foot is under the opposite side of the pelvis. Lower your back leg as well, leaving it straight.
Full body stretch
Spread your legs wider than your shoulders, spread your arms to the sides, bend forward and alternately touch your feet with your fingers – or reach for them if you cannot touch them yet.
And that’s it – your post-workout stretching session is completed! You enjoyed it, didn’t you?!
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