10 best after-workout exercises
Stretching might not be the most exciting part of a workout, but it’s equally as important as cardio or strength training. Since the 1960s when it was first suggested that athletes should stretch after sport, there’s been plenty more evidence to support the theory and we personally never leave the gym without completing a thorough stretching routine.
If you’re wondering why do we stretch or you’re looking for after workout stretches that will target your entire body, keep reading…
Why Do We Stretch?
Both dynamic and static stretching exercises have many proven benefits. Research has shown that they can improve flexibility and range of motion, which, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) is essential to a well-rounded fitness program. Stretching after a workout can also promote strong reflex responses and enhanced relaxation.
However, contrary to popular belief, one study suggests that after workout stretches don’t do much for muscle soreness. If you’re in pain, try an icepack or some ibuprofen instead.
Stretching for Muscle Growth
A little-known effect of stretching is that doing it after a workout such as bodybuilding can actually help grow your muscles. The key is to stretch fascia, which is the tough connective tissue that holds your muscles in place in your body. Even if you’re eating right and working out, your fascia could prevent you from seeing decent gains by not allowing your muscles to expand. Weight-bearing areas such as your calves have lots of fasciae so if you’re struggling to build up this part of your body, you might simply need to stretch more.
It’s extremely beneficial to stretch after your workout when your muscles are fully pumped up. Stretching at this point massively increases the pressure on your fascia which can help it expand.
10 Best After Workout Stretches
Add these ten stretching exercises to your workout routine to grow muscle, prevent injury, and improve flexibility. There are many benefits of static stretching after exercise and as such, the majority of these stretches are static. We’ve given durations for each stretch but only hold them for as long as you’re able to.
This simple ear-to-shoulder stretch can ease neck tension and tightness caused by injury. It can also help improve your posture and increase your mobility.
- Sit on the ground with your legs crossed and your neck in the midline position. Make sure that your head is centered and isn’t tilting one way or the other.
- Slowly bend your neck to the left as if you’re trying to touch your left ear to your left shoulder.
- Stop and hold the position for 20 seconds when you feel a stretch in the right side of your neck.
- Return to the midline position, then repeat on your right side.
- Complete four cycles of this stretch.
You can add eyes to the sky and chin to chest stretches to your neck stretch routine if you feel particularly tight in that area. Start in the midline position and tip your head back so you’re looking up, then bring your head down as if you’re trying to rest your chin on your chest.
Supine Spinal Twist
This stretch feels great after a workout and is good for soothing your hard-working back muscles. It also realigns your spine and can be beneficial if you’ve suffered an injury to your knees, hips, or back.
- Lie on your back with your knees together. Your feet should be flat on the ground.
- Rotate your hips to the left until your legs are on the ground and you can feel a stretch in your back. Make sure your back is flat on the ground at all times.
- Hold the position for 15 seconds before returning to your starting position. Do this up to ten times.
- Repeat the process on your right side.
A folded towel under your bent knee will provide support if the stretch is painful, or you can rest a hand on it if you want a deeper stretch.
Overhead Triceps and Shoulder Stretch
This stretch works the large muscles at the back of your upper arms. These muscles are important for the development of upper body strength so it’s important to take care of them.
- Start by standing or sitting with good, tall posture.
- Bring one arm up over your head and drop your forearm behind to rest on your back between your shoulder blades.
- Use your other hand to grab that arm above your bent elbow. Pull it gently until you feel the stretch in your shoulder and the back of your arm.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds then repeat it on your other side.
Bicep and Chest Stretch
This simple stretch has some major benefits to your overall fitness and mobility. Biceps attach to the shoulder blades and the arm bones, so tightness can restrict movement and function. Keeping your chest open and well-stretched helps prevent upper back pain and allows you to take in more air to feed your muscles.
- Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat and together.
- Lean back and place your palms on the ground with your fingers pointing away from you.
- Slowly move your glutes away from your hands until you feel the stretch across your chest, shoulders, and biceps.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
Wrist Extension Stretch
Weight lifting, HIIT classes, and gym sessions all put a strain on your wrists, so it’s important to stretch them properly as a preventative measure for pain and injury. You can do this stretch sitting or standing.
- Extend one arm straight out in front of you at shoulder height or slightly below. Your fingers should be pointing to the ceiling.
- Use your opposite hand to grab your fingers just above your palm.
- Pull your hand so that your wrist bends upwards until you feel the stretch in your wrist and forearm.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds before repeating it on your other wrist.
If your wrists are feeling week or tight, add a wrist flexion into your after workout stretches. This time, extend one arm with your fingers pointing towards the floor. Use your opposite hand to bend your fingers down towards the ground until you feel it in the top of your forearm.
Arm and Oblique Stretch
This is an essential stretch for runners, but it feels great after any kind of workout. As well as providing a general stretch for your arms, your obliques (side abdominals) benefit too.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
- Raise your arms above your head while keeping your shoulders down.
- Use one hand to grab your opposite wrist and lean as far to the side of the ‘grabbing hand’ as you can without straining your back.
- Hold for 20 seconds then return to the center. Switch over your hands and repeat the stretch on your other side.
To protect your body, make sure you’re not twisting at the hip. Ideally, you should do this stretch in front of a mirror so you can check that your hips stay square.
This popular yoga position is one of the best after workout stretches for flexibility. It also stretches your lower spine, hips, back, and core, and it’s great for opening your chest to make breathing easier.
- Get on your hands and knees. Your hands should be below your shoulders and your knees should be below your hips. Start with your spine in a flat, neutral position.
- Take a deep breath in and arch your back while lifting your head and tailbone.
- As you breathe out, round your spine so it rises up. Tuck your chin and tailbone at the same time.
- Repeat this stretch for at least a minute, keeping your focus on your breath.
This classic stretch works your hips, glutes, thighs, and back. It’s great for increasing flexibility and is especially effective after running or field or court sports. If you have a history of groin injuries this stretch should be completed after every workout.
- Sit on the ground with a tall, straight spine. Put the soles of your feet together with your knees out to the side.
- Hold onto your ankles and lean forward with the aim of lowering your head to your feet.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds.
If leaning forward is painful or you’re not flexible enough, just press your knees down to get a good stretch.
Low Lunge Stretch
The many benefits of stretching legs include maintaining a full range of motion by avoiding tightness that can cause muscles to painfully pull on your joints. This stretch is great after any workout that requires your hip flexor muscles to lift your legs, such as running.
- Step into a deep lunge position with your toes straight forward and your upper body tall. Your back leg should be straight throughout this stretch.
- Put your hands on your hips and extend the hips forward until you feel the stretch throughout the front of your hip and the top of your thigh. Your front knee should never go further forward than your toes.
- Hold the stretch for up to a minute before switching sides and repeating.
If you want to add more to this stretch, throw in a spinal twist to make what’s known as the World’s Greatest Stretch. When your left leg is forward and bent, place your right hand on the ground and twist your upper body to the left to extend your left hand to the ceiling.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Hamstring tightness plagues many athletes and fitness fans, which can result in reduced mobility and the potential for back injuries. This standing hamstring stretch is a classic example of the effectiveness of static stretching. It’s quick and easy and thoroughly works both hamstrings at once.
- Stand tall and cross one foot in front of the other.
- Slowly bend from the waist as if you’re trying to touch your forehead to your knees.
- Keep both knees straight and hold the position for 30 seconds.
- Return to your starting position and switch your feet over. Repeat the stretch.
Adding a stretching routine to the end of your workout has a wide range of health benefits, and your body will feel the benefit of the stretches in our list. The only real disadvantages of stretching are the risks of injury if the moves are rushed or your posture is incorrect. Be sure to take your time to complete your stretch routine properly to protect your body.
As always, it’s important to monitor your body and be mindful of anything that doesn’t feel right. If you are suffering from pain or prolonged tightness, always see a medical professional.
Which of these after workout stretches do you do after a gym session? Let us know in the comments.