Why you shouldn't skimp on your post-workout stretch

August 1, 2018 Providence Health Team



Stretching after a workout can help you avoid injuries.

Stretching helps restore your body, posture, and muscles to their natural state.

Stretching reduces post-workout recovery time, stiffness and soreness.

If you've ever raced home right after a workout to start dinner, see your family or catch your favorite show you’re not alone. In today’s fast-paced world it’s easy to skip the oh-so-important cooldown and post-workout stretch, but you may be affecting your health more than you realize. People who do not routinely stretch properly for five to ten minutes after exercising are at an increased risk of injury, muscle strains, muscle spasms and lower back pain.

Why is stretching important after a workout?
The contractions that occur when you exercise cause your muscles to tighten and shorten, which reduces their flexibility. Stretching not only helps lengthen and restore your muscles to their natural position, it also helps them recover more quickly and prevent injuries. A good post-workout stretch practice increases blood flow, boosts oxygen levels, delivers nutrients to your muscles, and removes metabolic waste (e.g., carbon dioxide, ammonia and uric acid) from your body. Stretching also helps your joints move through their full range of motion and lessens your post-workout recovery time. Proper exercise and stretching techniques will enable your muscles to work effectively and improve your overall performance.

What are the benefits of stretching?
In addition to stretching after workouts, you may want to add a stretching session to your daily routine to help:

  • Move around more easily and with less pain
  • Achieve better form and deeper positions during your workouts
  • Avoid injuries
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve balance

Which stretches should I be doing?
There are many different stretches you can use to help restore your body post-workout. However, you should avoid any movements or positions that cause pain or discomfort. Here is a handy breakdown to help you target specific muscle groups:

  • Chest
    If your workout involved strength-training exercises like bench presses, dumbbell flys or pushups you’ll want to stretch your chest muscles to get every last bit out of your efforts. Start by standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms straight and interlock your fingers behind your back. Next, hold your back straight and shoulder blades together as you slowly lift your arms up until you feel a stretch in your pectoral (chest) muscles. Once your chest is engaged, hold for 30 seconds.
  • Back
    If your workout involved lat pulldowns, pull-ups, or rowing exercises restore your back muscles with a simple focused, stretch. Begin by laying on your back with your knees pulled in toward your chest. Place your hands on your knees and gently pull your thighs closer to your chest. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds. Next, place your hands at your sides and tilt your knees to one side, bringing them as close to the floor as you can and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. While tilting your knees to the side, be sure to keep the small of your back pressed against the floor to avoid injury.
  • Biceps
    After an intense arm workout with dumbbells, be sure to engage in a deep, slow stretch to help reduce post-workout stiffness and soreness. A good way to stretch your biceps is to sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat. Place your arms behind you (fingers facing away from your body) and slowly slide your bottom toward your feet until you feel a stretch in your biceps. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat at least twice.
  • Triceps and shoulders
    To keep your triceps and shoulders loose after a workout, stand with your back straight and raise your right arm over your head. Next, bend at the elbow so your right hand is resting between your shoulder blades, palm facing your back. Next, take your left hand, place it on your right elbow and gently pull it toward your left side until you feel a stretch in your tricep and shoulder. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat for the left.
  • Legs, hips, and buttocks
    Squats, lunges, and leg presses are great for strengthening your legs, hips, and buttocks, but these large muscle groups need a little TLC after a heavy workout. To give them the stretch they need, start in a seated position with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet touching each other. By leaning slightly forward this butterfly stretch opens your hips and stretches your thighs. Next, your thighs and buttocks can be easily stretched while in a seated twist position. Sit with your legs in front of you and bring your right knee toward your chest, leaving your foot on the ground. Next, place your right hand on the floor behind you for balance and your left hand on your right knee. Gently twist your back to the right until you feel a stretch in your right buttock. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Stretching is a great way to improve flexibility, range of motion and protect your body from injury. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program if your health is unstable or you have a chronic health condition like heart disease, diabetes or asthma. Find a skilled doctor near you.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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