Admit it: You’ve skipped your postworkout stretching session a few times. After a grueling workout, it’s easy to neglect this cooldown time and quickly move on to your next daily task.
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But stretching is one of the most important parts of your workout. It helps prevent injuries, encourage flexibility and provide your mind and body a chance to relax.
Yes, stretching adds a bit more time to your fitness routine, but it's important to be aware that you're helping your body, muscles and mind become stronger every day. With that in mind, here are nine amazing postworkout stretches. Hold each of them for 20 to 30 seconds, remembering to breathe slowly and deeply.
1. Lateral Neck Stretch
This stretch — which you can do anytime and anywhere — helps relieve pressure in your neck and can also help ease the pain of headaches. An added bonus? Performing neck stretches after your workout eases any tension that’s hiding in your traps (shoulder muscles), which provide support during many workout moves like overhead presses and weighted squats.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Tilt your head to the left, bringing your left ear toward your left shoulder. Increase the stretch by bringing your hand to the top of your head and applying light pressure.
If you want to stretch the front and back of your neck, follow the same instructions, but tilt your head forward and then back. Repeat on the opposite side.
2. Chest and Shoulder Stretch
Your posture will thank you for this stretch. Opening up the chest and pulling your shoulders back will help you stand tall. And after a tough upper-body workout (we’re looking at you, push-ups), this stretch is a must.
HOW TO DO IT: Clasp your hands together behind your back and anchor your shoulder blades downward. Slowly raise your arms until you feel a stretch throughout your chest and shoulders. Try to keep good posture and a neutral spine.
3. Behind-the-Head Triceps Stretch
Lots of people want to tone their triceps, so it stands to reason that a little soreness there is a good thing, right? Sure it is, but you also need to keep the triceps muscle flexible if you want to continue to progress without injury.
HOW TO DO IT: Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, extend your left arm over your head. Bend your left elbow, bringing your palm as far down your back as you can. Grab your left hand with your right hand and gently pull it down until you feel a stretch. Repeat on the opposite side.
4. Kneeling Lat Stretch
Because back muscles aren’t the first thing you see in the mirror, they can get overlooked in a lot of stretching routines. But your back muscles support your entire body and keep you in balance.
Encouraging certain back muscles — like the lats — to be limber gives you an advantage in your training by providing extra support to execute moves like deadlifts and bent-over rows.
HOW TO DO IT: Kneeling on the floor in front of your chair (or bench), place your elbows up on the chair about shoulder-width apart. Make sure you’re back far enough that you have room to lean forward and drop your head between your elbows. Press your chest toward the ground and stop when you feel the stretch down your triceps and lats as well as through the middle of your back.
5. Supine Knee-to-Chest Stretch
The lower back needs TLC regularly because of the pressure placed on it from our fitness routines and daily tasks like sitting, standing, walking and bending over to pick up something. This is the perfect stretch to do that while also stretching the hips and glutes.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your legs extended. Bend your right leg, bringing your knee toward your chest. Grasp your shin with your right hand and pull your leg as far as it will comfortably go. Repeat on the other side.
6. Standing Abdominal Stretch
Because stretching lengthens muscles in order to increase flexibility, it make sense that you’d want to give some of that goodness to your abs. Stretching your abs on a regular basis (even if you didn’t specifically target them during your workout) can help you stand taller and relieve tension from your hip flexors.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Reach your arms above your head. Lean back and arch your spine to stretch your abdominal muscles and open your chest.
7. Standing Quad Stretch
Just finished a leg workout with lots of lunges and squats? Here’s the stretch your quads are probably screaming for. And if this standing quad stretch is tricky for your balance, steady yourself with a chair or other stable object.
HOW TO DO IT: Standing in place with good posture, bend your knee, grab the top of your foot or the front of your ankle and gently pull your heel toward your hamstring/glute area. Make sure you repeat on the other side.
8. Standing Hamstring Stretch
The hamstrings actually consist of three different muscles groups — semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris — and they all play a special part in our daily movements and workouts. From bending over to aiding the quads in flexion (going up the stairs), this trio needs special attention in the stretching department.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand up tall and step your right foot out a few inches and bend your left knee. Slowly fold forward from the hips, keeping your right leg straight. You can reach for your right foot with one hand if you want to increase the stretch. Switch legs and repeat on the left side.
9. Standing Calf Stretch
If you have knee pain, don’t forget to stretch your calves. It may seem strange, but tightness in your calves (or hips, for that matter) can inhibit the movement and flexibility of the knee. And even if you don’t have knee pain, this calf stretch will feel great after a lower-body workout or indoor-cycling class.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand facing a wall or chair about 12 inches away. Extend your arms in front of your shoulders until your hands are flat on the wall (or grab onto the back of a chair), keeping the elbows slightly bent. Place one foot a few feet in front of the other and lean slightly forward, bending your front knee. You should feel the stretch in your back leg. Repeat with the opposite leg in front.