By: Emily Coyle | May 25, 2014
Everyone knows that it’s important to stretch after exercising, but not all gym goers heed trainers’ stretching advice. After a long workout, the stretching mat is the last place most people want to be, but it’s still good to dedicate at least a couple minutes of gym-time to stretching at the end in order to release the tension of your muscles and return them to a relaxed state. Stretching the main muscle groups increases blood flow and circulation to reduce muscle soreness and also helps you attain better posture and alignment. What’s more, failing to stretch can cause soreness and impingements that can hinder the effectiveness of your next workout, as well as lead to injuries down the line.
Most trainers recommend that you stretch for at least 10 minutes at the end of a workout, and today we’re giving you the best stretches to make that recovery period count. Rounded up from a variety of sources, we’ve compiled a list of seven popular stretches that fitness experts deem important, and we even explain how and why they are valuable. So sit down and stretch it out. We’re about to make the post-workout recovery period a little more fun.
1. Swan stretch
The first stretch we’re highlighting today is the swan stretch. Given a couple of different names, this stretch isn’t only for yogis, as it effectively stretches anyone’s shoulders, chest, back, and abs. Self.com helps explain how one should go about mastering this stretch. It says to lie facedown on the floor with your hands in front of shoulders, fingers facing forward, legs together and extended behind you. Press into your hands to lift belly off floor, and then as you keep your abs engaged, shoulders down and pelvis grounded, lengthen your upper body away from mat, and reach out and up from the top of your head. Then draw your shoulder blades together and open your chest. Ideally, you should hold the stretch for 30 to 45 second, release, and then do it four times over, for a combined five sets.
2. Runners lunge
Next up is the runners lunge, for runners and non-runners alike. After you’ve released your swan stretch, stand up, find a wall, and prepare to stretch your hamstrings and calves. Health.com says to stand 10 inches away from a wall, place palms on it, and then step back with one foot. Bend the opposite knee, keeping the other heel down, hold and feel the stretch in your calves. Repeat on opposite side. When you do this stretch, make sure you keep your forward (lunging) knee in line with that ankle, toes pointing forward, hips square, and torso centered. You want to keep your balance so you can achieve the full stretch.
Up at No. 3 is the good old butterfly, a stretch we all have done at least once in our grade school gym classes. As it turns out, there’s a reason we were all stretching the same way back in the good old days, because the butterfly actually provides a significantly valuable stretch, as it effectively stretches your neck, back, glutes, hamstrings, and thighs. If you forget how to shape yourself into a butterfly, Fit Day reminds us that we should begin by sitting on the ground with your knees out to your side, with each knee bent so that the soles of your feet are touching each other. Grasp feet with hands and slowly lower body toward feet, going only as far as comfortable, and then holding there for 45 seconds to two minutes. Slowly release. Relax your shoulders and take five slow breaths before straightening back up into a seated position.
4. Calf raises
Still focusing on the legs we come to calf raises, the stretch that works your calves and releases some of the tension in the muscles post-workout. For this stretch, you need to find a raised platform, such as a step, and stand on the balls of your feet on it. Exhale, slowly drop your heels towards the floor, and expect your toes to naturally lift off the platform at the same time. Either stretching one leg at a time or the two together, hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. This stretch will also help strengthen your ankle and heel joints.
5. Hamstring stretch
Now for the hamstrings, a group of tendons important to take care of as many athletes suffer a variety of hamstring injuries. To ensure your hamstrings are in the best shape possible, make sure you stretch them religiously after every workout for at least three sets of 30 seconds each for both legs. U.S. News provides an easy way to do so. It says to lie down with the small of your back against the floor, and then bend your left knee to 90 degrees to stabilize your hips. After you’ve done that, slowly raise your right leg off the ground with the knee as straight as possible. Your right hip should not rise off the floor, and the motion should come only from your hip. As you continue raising your foot and it approaches vertical, you will feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold that leg in this raised position for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, relax your knee, and then repeat three times before switching to the left leg.
6. Standing triceps stretch
But it’s also not all about the legs — the arms are important to stretch, too, and that’s where this standing triceps stretch comes in. To practice this stretch that stretches your neck, shoulders, back, abs, and triceps, stand tall with feet hip-width apart, arms extended overhead, and bend your right elbow so your right palm is touching your upper back. Then reach your left hand over to grasp just below right elbow. Gently pull elbow back and toward head, holding that for about 45 seconds. Switch arms and repeat.
7. Shoulder stretch
Lastly, time to give some much-deserved attention to your shoulders. Enter: shoulder stretch. This one is super simple, but U.S. News still breaks it down for us. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and raise your right arm up to shoulder height, moving it across the front of your body. With your left arm, pull the right arm as close to your chest as possible, and hold it for 30 seconds. You’ll be able to feel the stretch across the back of your shoulder. Repeat this four times, then switch to the left side.