Warm-ups, AMRAPs, EMOMs, sets, reps, finishers and sprints: whatever your go-to workout, there’s a myriad of choices you can make when it comes to getting a sweat on. But, when you’ve eked out the last rep or sweated out the last calorie, what are you doing to bookend your session? If you’re dashing to the locker room and into the showers without an effective cooldown, you could be doing yourself – and your muscle groups – a disservice.
Don’t believe us? Try this on for size: A study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology discovered that intense stretching after a workout holds the potential to increase your muscle mass by a not-so-insignificant 318% in 28 days. “The nervous system loves tension, but sometimes a bit too much,” explains Third Space Elite Personal Trainer Stu Slater. “Unfortunately, it often holds onto too much of it even after we stop training. This is where stretching comes in.”
“Stretching has a number of positive physiological effects on our bodies. Everyone will likely know that it increases the flexibility of our muscles, and therefore a key component of joint mobility,” explains Slater. However, other less known effects include the ability to tap into our para-sympathetic nervous system, to induce calm and lead to heart Rate variability (HRV), a factor directly linked to reduced morbidity and stronger health; the ability to reduce nerve activity and pain and to help preserve muscle structure in people with serious or critical illness.”
“It’s generally accepted that a minimum of two minutes in a stretch is needed to induce long lasting elastic change to the muscle tissues,” Slater continues. “Greater flexibility means greater end ranges in our joints, which translates to greater options of movement.” With that in mind, we recruited the help of Slater to help you become au fait with the science of getting bendy.
- Begin on all fours.
- Rock back so you are sitting on your heels.
- Walk your hands forward whilst remaining seated on your heels to increase the stretch.
Why: “The child’s pose is a great option for any age and any level of mobility. It’s obvious connection to our fetal positioning in the womb holds the power to relax the nervous system and so is fitting following a hard workout,” says Slater.
Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
- Take a knee and rest the foot on your kneeling leg on a bench.
- Push your hips forward, ensuring you do not arch in the lower back.
- Place your hand behind your neck on the same side as the elevated foot.
- Bend sideways away from your hip and hold the stretch.
Why: “The hip flexors are both very superficial and extremely deep muscles prone to becoming nullified by the modern habit of sitting too much,” Slater explains. “The flexor stretch combats modern life as much as the workout itself!”
- Begin by sitting with both feet on the floor with the knees bent.
- Allow your knees to fall in the same direction, flattening the shins to the floor.
- Turn towards your outside knee and place your hands on the floor.
- Create a tall posture from your hip, then hinge from the waist to increase the stretch.
Why: “Rotation is a huge one when it comes to any joint health and functionality, and will be under high demand when it comes to any squat pattern,” says Slater. “Use the 90/90 to unload the hips following those heavy squat sessions.”
- Start by standing on a step or box.
- Begin by tucking your chin to your chest before rolling down your spine, segment by segment.
- Reach towards the floor, feeling the stretching through your lower back and hamstrings.
- Reverse the movement, segment by segment, until you are standing tall.
Why: “The posterior chain holds all the tension when it comes to stress and the Jefferson Curl is one of my go-to exercises to both inhibit and strengthen the backline,” says Slater.
Ankle PAILs RAILs
- Start in a kneeling lunge position, with your back knee resting on the ground.
- Lean into your front foot using the weight of your torso to stretch your achilles and calf.
- While keeping the heel on the ground, maintain a flat foot, push the ball of your foot into the ground to stimulate a contraction through the calf.
- While relaxing the calf, try to lift your toes off the ground contracting the dorsiflexors.
- Relax all muscles and your ankle range should be increased.