Stretching regularly is important for preventing injuries and improving — or maintaining — flexibility. Making a habit of stretching after intense workouts will help your muscles recover and grow evenly, preparing you for your next sweat sesh.
Benefits of stretching
Why is this important? Well, every time you do a strength workout, little tears form in your muscles. If you don’t smooth the muscles out with stretches or foam rolling, they could grow unevenly and cause you trouble down the line. Stretching keeps your muscles smooth and close to their original length (i.e. long and lean), which in addition to helping them grown evenly, helps you increase the range of motion in your joints.
Other benefits of stretching — anytime, not just after workouts — include:
- Better posture
- Improved range of motion
- Increase flexibility
Great post-workout stretches
Lying hamstring stretch
Lay on your back with one leg extended on the floor and the other extended straight up above the hip joint, toes pulled towards the chin. Grab your raised thigh with your hands and pull it towards your chest. Breathe slowly while keeping your core engaged and extend the stretch deeper with every exhale. Hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds then repeat with the other leg.
Benefits: Keeps the back of your thigh and calve muscles long and stretches your lower back. To make this stretch easier, allow the extended leg to have a slight bend. To make the stretch harder, keep the leg straight and pull your thigh closer to your chest.
Ankle to knee (i.e., Figure-4)
Lay on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place the ankle of one foot on opposite knee and flex that foot. Grab the back of the thigh on the leg with the foot on the floor and pull it towards your chest. Push the knee of your bent leg out to extend the stretch. Breathe deeply and hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds, then repeat with other leg.
Benefits: This stretch targets your glutes for a deeper stretch and releases tension from the lower back too. Push gently on your bent knee for maximal benefits.
Lying torso twist
Lay on your back with legs extended straight. Bring your left knee towards your chest, then guide it across your body to the right with help from your right hand placed outside of left knee. Stretch your left arm out to the side and look towards your left hand. Breathe slowly and deepen the stretch with every exhale. Hold stretch for at least 20 seconds and repeat with right knee.
Benefits: The lying torso twist stretches your hips, groin, and lower back muscles, increasing mid-back mobility while opening chest.
Begin on your hands and knees with shoulders directly above your wrists and hips directly above your knees, and spine neutral (tabletop position). Spread your fingers wide, distribute your weight evenly throughout the knuckles and palms. Tuck your toes under, lift your knees off the floor and raise your hips to the sky. Gently straighten your legs, but don’t lock your knees. Press away from the floor to lengthen the spine into an inverted “V” shape. Press your arm bones straight so they align by your ears and allow your head to relax (but not dangle). Hold the position for 20 seconds, breathing deeply. To release, exhale and gently return to tabletop position.
Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings and calves as well as your back and shoulders. Releases pressure in the neck. Press your weight equally through your heels and the palms of your hands for maximum benefits.
Place your hands on the floor directly underneath your shoulders, legs straight behind, feet together and toes curled under. Tense every muscle to keep the body in a straight line from the head through the top of your heels and parallel to the floor. Hold the pose for at least 20 seconds.
Benefits: Recruits every muscle of your body to maximize time under tension. Breathe slowly and steadily, don’t hold your breath for best results.
Lay face-down on the floor with legs extended behind you and rest the tops of your feet on the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders with fingers pointing forward and press your elbows into the sides of your body. As you inhale, press down through the tops of your feet and pubic bone, gently lifting your head and chest off the floor. Draw your shoulders back and away from your ears and don’t tense your neck.
Benefits: This stretch increases the flexibility of your spine. It also stretches your chest while strengthening your shoulders. You’ll notice that it firms and tones your shoulders, abdomen, and buttocks too.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hands by your sides. Step forward with one leg and bend your knee (90°) to drop hips. Descend until the rear knee is close to the floor and front knee is directly above the ankle. Tilt your pelvis forward and squeeze your glutes. Breathe deeply and hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds. Drive through the heel of your lead foot and push off the rear foot to return to start position.
Benefits: This stretch targets your hip flexors. It’s a complete stretch of your legs and works to open and aligns your hips.
Start on all-fours, bring right knee forward and place it behind right wrist. Place your right ankle in front of the left hip. Slide your left leg back, straightening the knee and pointing the toes. Keep your hips square and gently lower them down (use some support from a pillow or yoga block under the right buttock if needed). If you can, lower your upper body to the floor and rest your forearms and/or forehead on the floor. Breath and maintain stretch for at least 20 seconds. On an exhale, try to release tension in the right hip. Come out of the pose by pushing in the hands, lifting the hips up and returning to all-fours.
Benefits: Opens the hips and uses core strength to keep the hips square. Also stretches the thighs, psoas, and groin too.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, raise both shoulders up, back and down. Raise one arm up to shoulder height, thumbs down. Keeping shoulders back, pull the raised arm across your chest. Use the opposite hand to push arm into the body to create tension. Breathe deeply and hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds.
Benefits: This stretch reduces stress and tension in shoulders and upper back. It also encourages shoulder flexibility and can reduce signs of pain or shoulder fatigue.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, reach one arm to the sky and bend at the elbow. Let your hand drop to the middle of your back, palm facing your back. Grab your elbow with the opposite hand and gently pull your elbow down to deepen the stretch. Breathe deeply, relax your neck and shoulders and hold for at least 20 seconds before repeating with the other arm.
Benefits: Improves the flexibility of your triceps and range of motion of the shoulders.
Stand feet hip-width apart. Exhale as you bend forward at the hips (not from the waist), leading with your chest. Keep your legs straight but knees soft. Cross your forearms and hold your elbows while rocking slowly back and forth. Let the crown of your head hang down and breathe deeply for 20 seconds. To get out of the stretch, keep your back straight (don’t roll the spine).
Begin on your hands and knees. Spread your knees apart (wider than your hips), bring your big toes to touch, and sit on your heels. Sit up straight to lengthen your spine before bending forward. Rest your chest between (or on top of) your thighs and rest your forehead on the floor. Bring your arms back alongside your legs with palms facing up. Breath and relax for at least 20 seconds. To release the pose, gently use your hands to walk your torso upright and sit back on your heels.
Benefits: Helps soften and relax your lower back. Allows tension in the shoulders, arms, and neck to go away. Relaxes the muscles of the front of your body while passively stretching the muscles of your back.
Stretching is a great way to cool down after an intense workout, but can also give your body a quick boost of energy. When we stretch, we stimulate blood circulation throughout our body and this flood of oxygenated blood makes us feel energized.