When you perform any kind of cardiovascular exercise or resistance training, your muscles tighten due to the contraction. If you do not take the time to stretch out your muscles at the end of your workout, your muscles will gradually shorte over time.
Therefore, it is very important to spend five minutes stretching the muscles you trained at the end of your workout. You can also stretch the muscles at the end of each set if performing weight lifting. Unlike the dynamic movements of a warm-up, these stretches should be static and held for 20-30 seconds.
For the lower body, be sure to stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteal muscles, hip flexors and calves.
To stretch the hamstrings while standing, straighten one leg and flex the foot. Place your hands on the quadricep of your bent knee and lean forward, feeling the stretch in the back of your leg.
You can also stretch the hamstrings by lying on your back, pulling one leg towards your head while keeping the other leg flat and straight along the floor. Another stretch is to sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you and reach towards your toes.
To stretch your quadriceps, take one foot behind you and bring it as close to your backside as possible while keeping your knees together. To deepen the stretch, you can also perform it while lying either face down or on the side.
There are a few different stretches you can perform to target your gluteus muscles including yoga’s pigeon pose and side lying twist, however the stretch demonstrated above is the most basic. Lie on your back crossing one ankle over the opposite knee. Wrap your hands around your extended leg and gently pull it towards you.
The hip flexors are an often overlooked body part that everyone could benefit from stretching more frequently. From a kneeling position, take one foot forward and push your hips forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your back leg. To deepen the stretch, either raise the same arm as your back leg overhead, or reach back to lift the foot off the ground.
Step one foot forward, bending your front knee while leaning forward and keeping your back leg straight. For a deeper stretch, place your hands on a wall for support. You can also perform this stretch seated or lying, using a towel or band to pull your toes backwards.
To stretch out your upper body, make sure you target your chest, back, shoulders, triceps and biceps.
To stretch your chest, place one hand on a wall and turn your body away from your hand to feel a deep pectoral stretch. You can also clasp your hands behind your back, or get someone to gently pull your arms backwards.
There are a large number of exercises you can perform to stretch your lower back. Make sure you stretch your back both by arching and rounding, as well as twisting. A great lower back stretch is child’s pose as pictured above, or simply lying on your back while hugging both knees into your chest.
Another great stretch is to assume an all-fours position, and alternate between looking up while arching your spine, and looking down and hunching your back. Again, the side lying twist is an excellent way to relieve tension – lie on your back and take your legs to one side while looking away from your legs.
To stretch your shoulders, take one arm straight across your body. Use your other hand to pull your arm backwards slightly by applying pressure to the area just above your elbow.
In order to stretch your triceps, take one arm straight overhead and then bend it behind your head. Use your other hand to gently pull your bent arm slightly back and to the side.
Finally, to stretch your biceps, extend one arm straight in front of you with your fingers facing downwards. Use your other hand to pull your fingers back towards you.
As you perform these stretches, ensure you are breathing slowly and deeply into your stomach. This relaxes your body, which both lowers your heart rate after exercise and allows you to take each stretch through a deeper range of motion.
In addition to the 5-10 minutes you spend cooling down after each workout, you should be setting aside around 20 minutes to stretch two to three days per week. Concentrated stretching sessions improve flexibility, reduce stress and reduce muscle soreness. These sessions can be done as part of a yoga class, or individual stretching covering the major muscle groups as discussed above. For these longer sessions, stretches should be held for 30 seconds to one minute.