You all know how important it is to exercise. Getting your heart rate up for some good, pumping cardio and working your muscles with some intense strength training are excellent ways to make yourself healthier. But many people forget about the whole cooling down and stretching part. If you skip these, you are missing out on some important body benefits.
When you finish your workout, you want to slowly bring your heart rate back down with a brief cool down. This doesn’t have to be super long, just five minutes of cooling down is enough. Do some easy movements that still keep you going for a little bit, but at a much lower pace and level. Some great cool down moves include marching in place, step touch, and toe taps. Basically, take whatever exercise you were doing, and do it at a lower level.
Once you have cooled your body down, it’s time to stretch out your muscles. Why? The simple answer is that it improves your flexibility. This is one exercise area that is so often neglected. Stretching helps your muscles recover so you have less soreness after a workout. It also lessens your chance of injuring yourself. The best part about stretching is that it just feels so good. After a tough workout, I love the way my muscles feel when I elongate them. When you take the time to stretch, you are also igniting that mind-body connection that can help you relax and let go for a few minutes. I am definitely not one of those people who can sit and meditate for any length of time, but my short post-workout stretching sessions are a nice little mental break.
If you don’t know how to stretch, the first thing you want to remember is not to rush. If you are just going to go through the stretches quickly, not really holding them long enough, then you are not going to feel the benefits. You need to take your time. Again, that doesn’t mean you have to spend a long time doing stretches, you just need to take your time with the ones you are going to do. Think about what muscles or parts of your body you just worked. Ideally, you want to stretch your whole body no matter what, but at least stretch the muscles you really worked in your exercise sessions. Hold each stretch for at least five long seconds or more. Focus on deep breathing during your stretches, slow inhales and exhales to bring your heart rate down even more and bring you to a relaxed state. You will feel so good after your stretching session, and hopefully you will prevent any muscle soreness from occurring.
Below are some stretches you can do after your workout. You don’t have to do them all every time. I include a description of which part of the body each one stretches so that you can choose which ones you want to do.
Upper Body Stretches
Bring arm across your chest, turning your head in the opposite direction. Stretches shoulders and upper back.
Bring arm forward and bend hand down. Stretches biceps.
Bring arm up over your head and gently press on the back of your elbow. Stretches triceps.
Clasp hands together in front, round your back and push out. Stretches back.
Clasp hands together behind you, push your chest out and press down. Stretches chest.
Lower Body Stretches
Bring one foot back, press your heel into the floor and lean forward. Stretches calf muscles.
Bring one foot in front, straighten leg and reach down. Stretches hamstrings.
Bring one foot behind you, grab it and flex. Stretches quads.
Cross one leg over in front, sit down and back. Stretches outer thighs, hips and glutes.
Step out to the side and bend your knee. Stretches inner thighs.
Full Body Stretch
Lie down and stretch your arms and legs as long as possible. Next, bring your knees over to one side, head and arms to the other. Switch sides.
On your knees, face the floor. Stretch your arms out long and sit your butt back on your feet.