By now you’ve learned the importance of spending a few minutes before every sweat sesh preparing your muscles with dynamic stretches—but what about after you’re done working out? Taking the time to loosen your muscles after an intense exercise is equally as important as warming them up before you begin. When you stretch after cycling, swimming, barre, Pilates, boxing, running, or even just walking, you enable your muscles to relax and recover faster.
So, instead of skipping out of the studio as fast as physically possible following your workout, take a few minutes to really make the most of your sweat. To help you do so, ahead you’ll find four basic stretches that are guaranteed to help you recover faster. Do these and you’ll thank me in two days when you’re not sore AF.
The back of your thigh, otherwise known as your hamstring, is notorious for getting tight and tense without proper TLC. That’s why Laurie Benenati, owner of the fitness studio Lagree NY, believes hamstring stretches are an absolute must.
To tend to the muscle, Benenati says to sit down on the floor and extend your right leg fully while bending the left leg so that the bottom of your foot rests against the right thigh just above the knee. “Inhale and exhale to hinge forward at the hips while keeping your butt on the floor,” Benenati explains. “Reach for the toes of the extended leg and stay there for at least 30 seconds before switching sides.
Another option is to take the stretch onto the megaformer. “Bring the left knee down to the carriage, the right heel of the foot onto the platform, and send the carriage backwards,” Benenati instructs. “Inhale to bring your shoulders back and then exhale to hinge at the hips reaching towards the left toes. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.” She notes that this same move can also be done on the floor.
This classic stretch targets the small muscle located within the hips and butt. “It aids in external rotation of the hip joint,” Benenati explains. When you incorporate a lot of leg and booty work into your routine, this muscle can become very tight, which is why stretching it out after each and every workout is so essential to prevent spasms, tightness, and sciatic pain.
To successfully stretch out the muscle, lay flat on your back and extend both legs upward. “Bend the left knee out towards the side and cross the left ankle over the right thigh,” Benenati instructs. “Ensure the ankle rests above the knee and take both hands behind the right thigh and gently bring it in towards your chest.” Breathe here for 30 seconds before standing up and locating something sturdy to hold onto. This time, sit back into a squat position with your left knee bent out to the side with your left ankle crossed over your right thigh. Again, breathe through the stretch and sink as low as you comfortably can to help release any tension or pressure.
Spinal twist stretch
“I love doing this before I go to sleep,” Benenati says. “It stretches and releases the muscles in the lower back, obliques, hips, and glutes.” In other words, it’s a seriously relaxing stretch that helps eliminate the day’s physical stress. “While lying flat on your back, bring your knees into your chest as you inhale, sinking your shoulders into the ground (or bed) and letting your knees fall to the side,” Benenati explains. “Ensure that the opposite shoulder stays down and you can look over it. Inhale and bring your knees back to center, exhale and drop them (gently) to the other side.” Make sure to hold for at least 30 seconds on each side when executing this stretch. Most likely, after experiencing how serene it feels, you’ll want to hold it for even longer.
Another way to perform a spinal twist is by sitting on the floor. Sit down with your right leg outstretched and the left bent at the knee. Hook your right elbow over your left knee, outstretch your arm, and twist to the left for a delightful spine stretch.
Sitting at your desk all day and curling up on the couch all night can make for pretty pitiful posture. Luckily this stretch can help with that. According to Benemati, it can be done one of two ways: sitting or standing. “Think of lifting the crown of the head to the ceiling as you clasp your hands behind your back,” she says. “Open your chest and draw your shoulder blades together down the back. Inhale and exhale as your pull your hands away from your back [for a little more intensity].” Hold here for 30 seconds and enjoy.
If you don’t have the flexibility to move your arms in this way, start by using a towel or resistance band. Hold one end in each hand and work your hands as close together as possible. The more you perform this exercise, the closer you’ll be able to reach your ends—until one day you won’t need a towel or band at all.
While stretching is top of mind, consider this move to stretch and strengthen your shoulders at the same time; or this foam rolling technique that an orthopedic surgeon swears by.
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