Cooling down and general flexibility

This is the second post in a series covering the importance of stretching. If you haven’t already, please check out part one to see which exercises you should be performing as part of your warm-up.

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.

standing_hamstring_stretchSource

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.

standing quadSource

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.

glute-stretchSource

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.

hip flexorSource

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.
gastroc_stretch220

Source

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.

chest stretchSource

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.

childs poseSource

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.

shoulder stretchSource

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.

tricep stretch

Source

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.

bicep stretchSource

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.

Advertisements

The importance of warming up

Stretching is an often overlooked component of exercise. Many people rush through their warm up or cool down, or skip these exercises altogether as they rush on with ‘more important’ aspects of exercise such as strength and cardiovascular training. And when it comes to static stretching on its own, the majority of people do not devote nearly enough time to improving their mobility and flexibility.

However, it is extremely important to work on these aspects of fitness. Without warming up properly before exercise, you put yourself at greater risk of injury and you will also not perform to your full potential. It is important to take your body through a full dynamic warm-up, which will elevate your heart rate, prepare your joints and actively stretch your m muscles. .

You should move through exercises quickly and avoid static stretching (as this can be too intense on a cool muscle).

Begin with exercises that get blood pumping to the entire body. Try inchworms, where you walk your hands forward into a plank position, and then slowly step your feet in to meet your hands. You can also add a push up when you reach the plank position for an added challenge.

inchwormSource

Next, try a walking lunge with a twist to warm up the legs, core and back. Take a big step forward with your left leg, and then rotate your torso to the left. Repeat on the right side.

lunge with rotation

Source

Perform leg swings by holding on to a stable surface and loosely extending your leg forwards and then relaxing it behind you. Keep your hips square and the movement controlled. Perform 15-20 swings on one side before switching legs.

leg swing

Source

Next, try some knee and quad pulls. You can either perform this standing or walking. For the former, pull your knee tightly into your chest and then release, alternating sides. For the latter, bend your foot behind you and bring your foot towards your backside. Hold each stretch very briefly, for one to two seconds.

knee pullsSource

quad stretchSource

It is also important to perform some glute activation exercises prior to training. This includes glute bridges, side lying clams and fire hydrants.

glute bridge

Glute bridge

Source

With the lying clam, keep the hips stacked and closed. Engage the rotation by squeezing the glutes, rather than the quadriceps.

clam

Side lying clam

Source

hydrant

Fire hydrant

Source

For the upper body, perform a thoracic extension and rotation on all fours. Place one hand on the side of your head, and twist up towards the ceiling. Keep the hips steady and just feel the upper back opening up.

rotationSource

Finish with some deep squats coming into a standing position. Bend and extend 8-10 times for a great final stretch.

squat to standSource

It is equally important to stretch after you finish your workout. Exercise actually tightens your muscles up and, without properly stretching your muscles out after using them, you will find your body becoming less limber over time. Although exercise has many benefits, it can therefore also make you feel even stiffer.

In the next post, we will cover what stretches are essential for post-workout, and why regularly setting aside time to stretch is beneficial.