According to pros: A lot. "It is important to stretch after a workout to cool the body, reduce stiffness and shortening in the muscles that were working, increase blood flow, and to assist in clearing waste by-products that accumulate while we work out," says Corrine Croce, physical therapist and founder of Body Evolved in New York City.
And even though those few minutes after class may not feel as effective, as, say, a full hour's worth of yoga, stretching is still important. "The 5-minute stretches post workout classes helps decrease tension and the muscle shortening that occurred from the repetitive contractions that occurred throughout the workout," says Croce. "The post class stretch is making a different in stretching out your muscle when compared to not stretching post workout. This post class stretch is even more important as a cool down tool that is very healthy for the body post workout."
Giving your body a chance to loosen up is critical for transitioning from your workout into the rest of your day. It's not good for your body to go straight from an intense sweat session to a complete stop—you need the time in between for your systems to switch back into normal mode. "Exercise is a stress to our body and highly sympathetic nervous driver, if we do not take a few minutes post workout to restore homeostasis and return to a parasympathetic state we are increasing the stress to our bodies which not only can have counter productive results for our workout goals but is not healthy overall," explains Croce, noting that the stretch is great for cooling your body down, restoring homeostasis, and decreasing tension.
If you've ever wondered how your trainer really feels when they see you shuffling toward the showers the minute the music shifts to a slow song, the answer is not great. "As the owner of a fitness studio, it kills me to see half the class leave before the stretch," says Amanda Freeman, Founder and CEO of SLT and co-founder and CEO of Stretch*d. "Leaving out recovery from your workout routine is ill advised. Working out will cause your muscles to fatigue and shorten, and without addressing this and allowing them to stay tight you’ll be more prone to injury. When a muscle is constantly tight the circulation is compromised and other muscles will be forced to compensate. Over time, poor circulation and mobility often lead to injury."
As you could probably guess, though, those few minutes during the cool down aren't enough to totally get the job done. You should supplement those in-class calf and shoulder stretches with some at-home foam rolling, additional stretches, and mobility drills "The more we work out the more work we need to do to recover. Daily consistent work goes a long way," says Croce, who suggests starting out by adding in 10 to 15 minutes of stretching per night. Ugh, fiiiiiine. Now, who's going to tell my boss I'm going to be 5-minutes later to work from now on?
Ed Note: Zoe, please stretch. All good.
Recovery is a whole lot more important than most of us give it credit for—especially if you're trying to get stronger (... consider this your permission to take the day off). Plus, the best foam rolling exercises for every workout,
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