Sometimes we just don’t have time to stretch. We rush through our workout and tell ourselves that we’ll stretch later, and then later never comes. The best time to stretch is directly after a strenuous workout, when your muscles are warm and you’ll benefit from increased blood circulation.
When you stretch after a workout, you benefit both physiologically and psychologically. When you work out, lactic acid builds up in your muscles and this can lead to muscle fatigue and soreness. Stretching after a workout helps to reduce that soreness.
For the mind, stretching gives you a chance to tune into how your body is feeling. You breathe through a stretch and listen to your body. How am I feeling? Do I need to stretch a little further here or more there? The mind-body connection is important for stress relief and relaxation.
If you’re short on time, try these four stretches, and you will reap the rewards with a relaxed, injury-free body and a calm mind:
1. Lengthening Spine Stretch
This is a basic and effective stretch. Lie on your back with your arms stretched out overhead. Think of your head and toes as the two ends of a rubber band. Lengthen and extend from your fingertips to your toes, to create spaces between your intervertebral discs. This stretch lengthens and realigns the spine, increases flexibility in the hips and lower back, and stimulates the digestive system, leaving you feeling energized.
2. Hamstring Stretch
Stretching the hamstrings can reduce the stress felt in the lower back and aid in improving posture. Stay lying on your back with your legs extended and your back straight. Keep your hips level and your lower back down on the ground. Bend your right knee and place your right foot on the ground. Bend your left knee and draw it into your chest. Slowly straighten your left leg. Placing your hands on the back of your thigh or calf, pull your leg towards you gently while keeping both hips on the floor. Keep your head and neck relaxed on the ground.
If your flexibility allows, you can increase the intensity of the stretch, by straightening the knee of the leg on the ground. Inhale deeply and exhale, and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
3. Lying Prone Quadriceps Stretch
This stretch opens your hips, realigns posture, and increases flexibility. Lay face down (prone) on a mat or floor. Flex your left knee, attempting to touch your butt with your foot. Reach behind with your left hand and grasp your left foot. Pull your ankle or forefoot to your rear end. Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite side.
4. Hip Flexor Stretch
This stretch improves flexibility in the hips and quadriceps, and releases a group of muscles called the hip flexors. Come onto both knees and step your left foot forward. Keep your left knee over your heel and your right knee directly under your hip. Reach your right hand up toward the sky or ceiling, then reach slightly over to the left side and lean back slightly. Keep both hips facing forward and engage your glutes by tilting your pelvis forward. Stay tall by lifting up through the crown of the head.
Make sure you do at least these four stretches after your workout. Stretching will help your muscles to recover faster from a tough workout and prevent future injury. Take five minutes to relax the body and mind, and you will increase your flexibility, prevent injury, improve your posture, and feel relaxed and rejuvenated after your workout.
Photos courtesy of the author