Posted on 01 April 2018
When it comes to exercising, whether you're a gym bunny or a professional athlete, you know that you should warm up and cool down either side of your activity and stretch at the same time. You may avoid it, but deep down you know you need to.
To get the most out of your exercise routine, focusing on the preparation and consolidating the gains you’ve made is just as important as the session itself. We all know that we need to get enough sleep and drink enough water in order to benefit to the max from our workout, but how many of us know that we need to stretch out every muscle group after we've hit the gym, the track or the ring (we don’t mean doughnut rings, sorry!)? If you haven't stretched sufficiently after your workout, you'll be sore the next day and unable to go for a PB in your next workout.
Post-workout stretches aid muscle mobility and flexibility and there are very few athletes who would say no to gaining more of these two components of fitness! You can stretch on a mat, with a bar, using a foam roller or with special equipment or fun alternatives. The most important thing is that you do it. Using a foam roller post-exercise is an effective way to release the connective tissue, or fascia, which surrounds your muscles, for example. All we can say is: feel the burn, girl and breathe through that pain.
Once you've cooled down after your session (you have cooled down, haven't you?), don't be tempted to skip the stretches you know you should be doing. If you do, you'll be at a higher risk of tearing a muscle. By giving your muscles the chance to stretch out while you're still warm, the range of movement in your joints will be improved so that you are likely to stay injury-free.
If you're short on time, remember to factor in more time for your session and just target your major groups of muscles such as your core, shoulders, hamstrings, glutes and hips. Aim to hold each stretch on each side of your body for between 30 and 60 seconds without bouncing. Most importantly, don't forget to breathe at the same time. If you’ve skipped it, perhaps dedicate a session a week to an in-depth, rehabilitation stretch session.
There are plenty of guides online for just about every fitness activity from gym recovery to weightlifting, so check out a few of your favourite magazines to see what they have to say on the subject.
There are many different types of stretching (some of which have strange names, such as Happy Baby!) so you'll want to make sure that you're doing the right ones in the right way. Try some of these for size: spinal twist, lunge hold, lateral lunge, standing hip circle, leg swing, piriformis stretch, hamstring stretch and child's pose.
Why Should You Stretch?
While you're stretching, you focus on your body rather than what's happening elsewhere, or that PWO snack (you know who you are!) and the endorphins which are released at the same time will make you feel good too. By stretching out your tight muscles, you'll be increasing the blood flow to your muscles, which in turn helps to raise your energy levels, assists in preventing soreness and speeds up your overall recovery process.
Your posture will improve too as your muscles become longer and leaner (and your sore shoulders and back from sitting at a desk all day are likely to become a thing of the past) so you'll see a difference in the mirror as well as in your performance. Bigger muscles mean a higher metabolic rate so you may even lose weight simply by stretching.
For more help and advice on stretching, fitness, nutrition and activewear, check out our blog.