Why stretching after a workout is important

Written By UK Fitness Events

When exercising, you will have heard of warming up and cooling down before and after your exercise. These are a range of set exercises and stretches to either warm up the body and get the heart pumping or to help us slow down, stretch the muscles we’ve been using during our workout and slow down our heart rate comfortably.

Stretching post workout helps with injury prevention, enhances your flexibility and keeps up your range of motion allowing you to keep pushing yourself during exercise. If you do workouts at home, online or in-person at a gym, you will more than likely spend five minutes after the class has ended to do a series of stretches designed to help the body recover properly. It’s a great idea to have a cool-down routine that involves a variety of stretches as well as a full-body stretch to really get you all relaxed and ready to get on with your day. 

We’ll run through some classic post-workout stretches, why it helps and how to make it a habit, even if you’re doing a solo workout or a run/cycle.

Benefits of post-workout stretches 

There are numerous benefits to getting into a stretching routine after a strenuous workout. Not least because you’ll feel better cooling your body down and bringing your heart rate back down to a resting level, but also because it helps you in everyday life;

  • Increased flexibility
  • Improved blood flow and eliminates excess lactic acid
  • Reduces painful or inflamed muscles and risk of injury

Increased flexibility

Stretching after a workout will allow those tight, sore muscles you’ve been using to go back to a more comfortable relaxed, released state. Continually stretching after your workout will give you more flexibility so that you can eventually move on to harder exercises and you’ll find it easier to bend, squat and lunge.

For runners and cyclists, doing leg stretches after a run can help increase the muscular power and endurance in your legs.

Improved blood flow and eliminates excess lactic acid

When taking part in a workout of any kind, your heart will beat faster and pump blood around the body quicker, this will help to burn calories and fat.

After a workout, help to bring the heart rate down and get it back to normal is helped by doing stretches. Doing some static stretches after a workout will help repair your muscles, bringing your heart rate to its original resting rate at a pace that is best suited for your body. This will improve your blood circulation, and this will help with exercising in the future, your breathing, posture and overall health.

Do you know the feeling you get when you’ve potentially overdone it on a workout, and you get cramp? That’s a buildup of lactic acid and it can be quite painful. Doing stretches after your run, cycle or gym class can reduce this build up of lactic acid, relaxing tight muscles and reducing the risk of cramps.

Reduces painful or inflamed muscles and risk of injury

Working your muscles hard during a workout can mean that they become sore or inflamed after you’ve finished. Doing a proper cool down after you’ve exercised is going to reduce the risk of those aches and pains staying around. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a very real problem among those who don’t stretch properly after exercising and it can cause longer lasting issues and injuries. Remember if you’ve done a workout that has exercised a few different muscle groups, that you stretch all those muscle groups out to ensure they are all relaxed. 

Create a habit 

An advantage of a complete workout routine is knowing that you can do a warmup, regular exercise and cool down within a certain time frame and you don’t need to worry about needing extra time to wrap it up or begin. Remember that you want to cool down your body and reduce your heart rate, you can do that by just waiting it out after an intense workout but by doing some regular stretches and releasing those tense muscles, you’ll feel so much better and be in relaxation mode much quicker. 

6 Best stretches for post-workout 

We’ve looked at some of the benefits of stretching, but what is a good post-workout stretch to do? We’ve got 6 of the best that you can mix and match to cool down.

The important thing to remember about these stretches is that they are static, that is to say, you stay still when completing. Dynamic stretches (where you may move your body to get it warmed up) are used in your warm up, but not your cool down. We want to relax the body, so deep breaths, calm and relaxed. Take thirty seconds to a minute on each one and remember that you’re cooling the body down so rest for 15-25 seconds in between each stretch. 

There are apps you can get for stretching as well as plenty of YouTube videos or there may be a video on one of your home workouts that you do there are many different types of stretches so it may take a little bit of time to find the right post-workout stretching routine for future workouts. Most well-known apps will have warm up and cool down videos separate from the normal workouts.

Hamstring stretch

In a standing position, lean one leg forward and straighten while bending the other slightly at the knee. You can hold onto your toes or ankle of the leg pointing forward. This will stretch the hamstring and calves and you should feel a nice pull on your leg as you stretch. Do this for 30 seconds on one side before switching legs.

Arm stretches

There are a few different arm stretches you can do. You can hold one arm in front of you and pull the hand down with your other hand to stretch the arm and wrist. Alternatively, you can lift and bend one arm behind your head and hold onto your elbow with the other hand.

These two stretches are great for working those arm and wrist muscles which are often forgotten about after a workout – especially a run or bike ride.

Child’s pose

On a mat, you should rest your bum on your feet, knees and legs flat on the floor. Lean over and stretch your arms out above your head. This will get your back and arms to stretch out, deep breaths are great for this one. We like to do this one last as it’s a really nice one to end with and you’ll feel all calm and relaxed and probably be happy that you’re partially lying down!

Cobra pose

This one uses a mat again, lay face down on the floor and bring your arms level with your chest. Bring yourself up slightly so your arms are straight but not locked. Left your head and chest up and stretch out. This gets your abs stretching as well as your lower back.

Butterfly stretch

You can do this lying down or sitting against a wall, whichever you prefer. If lying down, use a mat and lie on your back with your legs bent at the knee. To get the butterfly stretch, lower your legs to the side and put your feet together. If you are sat up, do the same but you might not be able to lower your knees all the way to the floor. Remember, these stretches should still be comfortable! Breathe slowly and deeply for 30 seconds.

Standing quadriceps stretch

The runner’s favourite. You’ll often see a runner who has just completed a run, stood holding onto whatever they can get their hands on, holding onto one leg behind them. This stretch will help the quadricep recover, especially after a long run where you’ve possibly gone a little quicker than usual. Hold for 30 seconds before switching leg. You can hold onto something (or someone) for balance!