(Article by Kari Fry with Louise Henderson)
Have you ever been tempted to skip those post workout stretches? Wondering which stretches are best for each area of your body after a workout? We spoke to Study Active Assessor and Personal Trainer Louise Henderson to talk us through the importance of stretches and some of her favourites.
IMPORTANT: The ideas in this article are the views of the interviewee and are intended purely for information only – they are not intended as bespoke exercise advice. Please do not start an exercise programme until you have completed a PAR-Q and if necessary, received medical clearance. Always warm up and cool down and never do any exercise that you are unsure of without the support of a qualified professional.
Why are post workout stretches so important?
In my opinion, two very important reasons to stretch after a workout are –
- to reduce the accumulation of lactic acid
- to aid flexibility which overtime can reduce the risk of injury.
When you exercise your body produces lactic acid. This can cause the muscle to feel sore a day or two after exercise. But stretching after a workout can reduce the accumulation of lactic acid, resulting in less muscle soreness.
Muscles that remain tight after a workout are at a higher risk of injury. This is because tight muscles pull on the joints which can cause poor posture and incorrect movement. So, stretching after a workout can reduce this risk.
What would happen if you did not incorporate full body post workout stretches into your routine?
We need flexibility in our muscles to maintain a good range of motion in our joints. Without flexibility our muscles become tight. This is because the facia (connective tissue, like webbing) that surrounds the muscles becomes tighter and begins to restrict the movement in the muscles and prevents the muscle from functioning correctly. Stretching the muscles and mobilising the joints can promote healthy facia.
Could you take us through examples for each area for a post workout cooldown
Post workout leg stretches
Being a Yoga teacher, I love a downward facing dog to stretch the backs of the legs (hamstrings, calves) This stretch will also target the lower back. It’s a great stretch after doing exercises such as deadlifts, RDLs and leg curls. It is important that the spine remains lengthened, not arching or dipping the upper/mid back. Another good tip is that your heels do not have to touch the floor but do take care to relax the neck and keep the arms extended whist pushing through the heel of the hands and keeping the fingertips grounded. If you are just starting out with your flexibility plan, I would recommend holding post workout stretches for around 30 second and working up to 1 minute+ as your flexibility improves and your body adapts to the stretches.
Post workout back stretches
I believe it is important to ensure your spine is mobile and a great stretch to mobilise the spine is a twist. You can complete a spinal twist both seated and laying down. It’s personal preference. It is important to go into and out of the stretch slowly and with control. When performing a spinal twist, you may also feel your hips and glutes being stretched too.
Post workout shoulder stretches
A simple but effective stretch for the shoulder is ‘across- the chest stretch’. This stretch will increase range of motions and flexibility in the shoulder and surrounding muscles such as the upper back.
Post workout arm stretches
According to prevention.com (July 29, 2022), incorporating arm stretches into your routine is a fantastic way improving your posture. Not only can arm stretches help sore muscles recover faster, but they can also improve shoulder joints’ flexibility, mobility, and range of motion. An overhead tricep stretch is a great way to stretch the back of the arm and the front of the shoulder. If you are not able to reach overhead for the elbow, the stretch can be easily adapted by gently pushing on the arm instead.
Post workout upper body stretches
I really find an L stretch beneficial for tight shoulders and upper body muscles. Performing this stretch will allow any overhead movements to become easier. When creating the ‘upside down L’ shape, try to push your chest and head closer to the floor.
Post workout lower body stretches
It is very important to keep the glutes from becoming too tight. Tight glutes can cause pain in the lower back so whether you are an avid exerciser or sit at a desk all day I recommend stretching the glute (bum) muscles regularly. I really like a standing figure 4 stretch or standing pigeon pose. Because of the standing element your will also target your balance and stability. This stretch can easily be modified in a seated or laying position.
Conclusion - Post Workout Stretches
Thank you, Louise for taking the time to talk us through some excellent stretches that target different areas of the body. These would be a great addition to any post workout stretching routine. When time is at a premium it can be tempting to overlook this aspect of your workout, but, as Louise has reminded us, post workout stretches are important for reducing risk and soreness and improving flexibility.