After a good workout, there’s nothing more beneficial than stretching. It’s the best thing you can do for your hard-working muscles because it helps them stay flexible and strong. It can also increase your mobility and range of motion, and improve your recovery time.
Experts agree that you should stretch even if you do not work out on a regular basis. Of course, it’s even more important if you’re regularly putting some strain on those muscles. Here are some of the most effective stretches you can do after any workout.
Standing Forward Fold
Any type of standing forward fold will be extremely effective after your workout as you’re using gravity to naturally stretch your legs and back. Unlike a seated or lying forward fold, there is no sign of force or pulling sensations. You’re literally “letting go,” and allowing gravity to do all the work for you.
Start in a standing position and bend forward, letting your arms reach toward the floor. Whether you touch the floor or not is not important. It’s about just letting your muscles stretch naturally. If your hands can not touch the floor, you can rest them on your knees or simply let them dangle, as you relax your entire upper body over your legs.
Keep your legs stretched out without locking them and allow for a slight bend in your knees. This will help you avoid overstraining the tendons behind your knees. Hold here for at least one minute, breathing fully and feeling the stretch in your hamstrings, calves, and lower back.
When you’re ready to exit the stretch, bend your knees and slowly roll back up to a standing position.
This incredible yoga pose stretches out your entire back, as well as your legs. It’s also accessible to anyone, from beginners to advanced fitness aficionados.
Start in a plank position, with your hands under your shoulders and your legs active. Pike up your hips and push them diagonally backward, straightening your legs. You should feel your entire spine stretch.
Send your shoulders away from your ears and feel your neck muscles relax as you push the ground away from you. Using your shoulders as leverage to stretch your back muscles even more.
You can hold here or “take your dog for a walk” by bending one leg, and then the other, and then alternate every few seconds. Hold your downward dog for at least one minute and take deep, long breaths you feel the stretch.
The Runner’s Lunge
Whether you just did some cardio, focused on squats, or played a game of tennis, it’s important to stretch out those leg muscles. A runner’s lunge is a highly efficient stretching exercise that tackles your hamstrings, calves, and hips. You can also get a deeper stretch with every breath.
Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Step one leg between your palms and stretch out the other behind you. You’ll activate your quadriceps as you lift your knee off the floor.
Using your palms and the ball of the foot behind you as leverage, push yourself off the ground and stretch deep. Maintain a straight spine and an open chest throughout as you hold the position for at least 30-60 seconds, and then switch legs.
You’ll feel the hamstring stretch in your front leg and the quadriceps and calf in your back leg. Take deep breaths in and out, and try to focus on stretching each leg as far as you can.
Hip Flexor Stretch
The hip flexors are the muscles at the very top of your quadriceps. They’re responsible for the flexion of your legs, meaning they help you lift your legs. Due to our modern, more sedentary lifestyles, our hip flexors tend to tighten up more than they should. This can cause your back to overcompensate, resulting in lower-back pain.
Most exercises — especially those you do on leg day — do not really work in their favor, either. In fact, those types of routines tend to stress out your hip flexors even more, without increasing their range of motion.
This is why adding a hip flexor stretch after your workout can be so effective. It can improve both the blood circulation to these muscles, as well as their function.
Start in a runner’s lunge, dropping your back knee to the floor. Lift your torso and put your hands on your front knee. Take a big inhale, and as you exhale slowly, let your hips drop downward, pushing your front knee away from you.
You should feel the stretch in your back hip flexor, as well as your quadriceps. The more you allow your hips to drop, the more intense the stretch will be. Hold for at least a minute, carefully lift your torso up to exit the pose, and then repeat with the other leg.
A Shoulder Stretch
No matter what type of workout you just did, your shoulders were most definitely involved. Stretching them out will help relieve any tension in your neck, the space between your shoulder blades, and your entire upper back.
Start in a standing or seated position, extend your arms in front of you, and then interlace your fingers. Take a big inhale, and then push your interlaced fingers away from you, stretching out your entire upper back.
You can let your head drop toward your chest to increase the stretch in your neck or simply gaze ahead. Hold for one minute, and then let your shoulders completely relax as you drop your arms back down to your sides.
Another important upper-body muscle group we often forget to stretch is our triceps. This variation will also help open your chest and stretch the entire front area of your body.
Start in a standing or seated position and lift one arm toward the ceiling. Bend your elbow and let your arm drop behind your head.
Bend your other elbow and bring it down behind your back, as you try to grab the fingers of your other hand. If your hands do not touch, you can grab your shirt or use a towel instead, as demonstrated in the video above.
Take a big inhale, and then, using the connection of your fingers or the force of grabbing your shirt, open your elbows and allow your chest to fully expand. Feel the stretch in your triceps and your entire chest as you exhale. Hold for at least 30-60 seconds.
If you’ve been working out for any length of time, you’ve heard how important it is to stretch those muscles afterwards. No matter what type of exercise routine you’ve just completed, these six basic positions will help your muscles recover so they can stay flexible and strong.