Post-workout stretching can be a pain. Who wants to linger around the gym an extra 15-20 minutes after crushing a workout? You're tired, dripping sweat, and hankering for your post-workout meal. It's not exactly the time to stick around and do some silly stretches.
I understand where you're coming from, but reconsider. We all know the importance of warming up before a workout, but we often overlook the post-workout cooldown. Don't be that person. Overlooking a cooldown could mean missing the benefits that come with a good post-sweat stretch session.
I can hear you now. "Obi, I've stretched after a grueling workout, and my hamstrings are still sore." Well, that could be. While studies have shown that stretching has an insignificant effect on long-term muscle soreness, it does have other benefits that could help, especially when it comes to mobility. For example, post-workout stretching can help increase your range of motion. The greater your range of motion when lifting weights, the greater your ability to attack the body part you're training to the fullest.
It gets better. A better range of motion also makes for increased flexibility, which is what helps you maintain proper position in any exercise—and even helps when it comes to holding that deep squat.
Over time, stretching can also decrease your risk of tendon overload and injury.1 I have firsthand knowledge of this. As a former Division-I collegiate sprinter and fitness enthusiast, I can say that consistent post-workout stretching has helped me become more limber, which has helped to prevent long-term injuries, especially in sprinting, distance running, and lower-body movement. I've also experienced less cramping in my muscles when I've followed a rigorous cardio or weight-training session with a cooldown stretch.
I selected the stretches below because they target some of the most common workout injuries I see as a trainer in the shoulders, calves, lats, groin, and chest.
Chest and Anterior Deltoid Stretch
This stretch targets the chest and shoulders. Slowly clasp your hands together behind your back and gently raise your arms until you feel a stretch throughout your chest and shoulders. Hold that stretch for about 30 seconds. Do this 3-4 times.
Shoulder Joint Stretch
Give those shoulders a break from all those shrugs. Stretch them out by holding a towel tightly in front of you with both hands, and then slowly raise your hands with your arms straightened out until the towel ends up behind you. When holding the towel behind you, make sure your hands are close together. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds. Perform 3-4 times.
Put one arm behind your head and, while stretching your triceps, place your other arm on top of your elbow and gently apply pressure to the elbow to deepen the stretch. Perform this stretch for about 30 seconds, then switch arms and perform the same stretch. Do this 3 times.
In a sitting position, bring the heels and balls of your feet together. Sit up straight and gently press your knees toward the floor by bending forward and using your elbows to push down your knees. You should feel a deep stretch in your groin, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Do this about 3-4 times.
Standing in place, and using a chair for support, flex your knee, grab your right leg, and gently pull. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat. Do this 3-4 times.
Sit down on the ground with your legs spread apart in a V-shape. Grab your right foot and try drawing your chest down to meet your right leg. Hold for about 30 seconds, switch legs, and repeat. Make sure you're relaxed when performing these stretches. Do this 3 times.
Stand with your left foot in front of your right foot and grab onto a stationary object for support. With your left leg bent and your right leg straight, gently move your hips forward and keep your lower back flat. Stretch out your calf. Make sure the heel of the foot that's behind you—in this case, your right foot—is on the ground and that your toes are pointed straight ahead and slightly turned in. Gently hold this stretch for about 30 seconds, and then switch legs. Do this 3-4 times.
- International Sports Sciences Association: Fitness: The Complete Guide: Hatfield, C. Frederick, PhD
- R. D. Herbert, M. de Noronha, S. J. Kamper. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD004577. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3