Why is Stretching Important After Exercise?

We all know that regular exercise is vital to our overall health. Post pandemic The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes (approximately 20 minutes per day) of moderate-intensity exercise for adults. However, stretching before and after exercise is also very important and very often under-prioritized. While most people understand the importance of warming up with stretches before a workout, stretching after exercise is often skipped due to time constraints. We are all busy, and this is understandable, but spending the extra time to stretch after exercise is important preventative maintenance for your body in the short and long term. Stretching after exercise can prevent injury, post-workout pain, and stiffness.  Stretching can be as simple as muscle static stretching to full body stretching muscles.  Now let’s discuss the benefits of stretching after exercise and what exercises one can do for relief.

5 Benefits of Stretching

  1. Improve Range of Motion – Stretching after working out will improve your range of motion. Advancing your Range of Motion improves overall strength, better form in exercise, and reduces the chance of injury and frozen/stiff joints. We are never too fit or too strong to focus on activities that contribute to a better Range of Motion.
  2. Boost Flexibility – Stretching after a workout will promote whole-body flexibility. While many of us aren’t naturally as flexible as we’d like to be, stretching can help. Flexibility can reduce the risk of injury and also promote a full range of motion. Additionally, the more flexible you are, the better your muscle blood flow will be. Your muscles can work better and, as a result, your overall fitness level will improve, as will performance in exercise and everyday life.
  3. Decrease Muscle Tension – Stretching after exercise while you are still warm decreases tense muscles that lead to soreness. Some studies report that stretching reduces lactic acid build-up and, in turn, reduces the potential for soreness.
  4. Reduction of Pain and Injuries – A good post-workout stretch will aid in recovery and reduce the chance of painful recovery and injuries. Much of this is contributed to increased flexibility and improved Range of Motion, as referenced above.
  5. Healthier Cool Down – When you take the time to stretch after exercising, you also give your heart rate a chance to come down gradually (as opposed to coming to a sudden stop). This approach to cooling down is thought to reduce lactic acid buildup, thus preventing stiffness and soreness.

Important Stretching Exercises

Calf Stretches –

Calf stretches are a great way to lengthen the muscle fibers in your legs. To perform a calf stretch. In fact, the calves can easily tighten up if they aren’t completing a full range of motion regularly. If you’ve ever been immobilized for a time, you likely know this. Wake your calves up and keep them at the ready with this simple stretch. 

Here’s how to do it: Stand near a wall and place the ball of your foot on the wall with your heel on the ground. Lean into the wall at a slow and controlled pace while your knee stays straight. You’ll feel this rewarding stretch in your calf. Hold this stretch until you feel comfortable. Switch to the other leg and repeat this process. You can also try calf stretches with the assistance of fitness bands and a foam roller. This is another great way to get an effective calf stretch.

Child’s Pose Stretches –

Child’s pose is a favorite and feels like a treat after a good sweat session! Child’s pose will stretch your legs, hips, and spine. It feels like a full-body stretch, and you can do several variations of this pose, depending on your needs. It also promotes overall relaxation—calming your mind and reducing any nervousness or lethargy. 

How to do it: Using the cushion of a mat or rug, kneel and sit back with your buttocks touching your heels. Lean forward and allow your forehead to gently rest on the mat or rug. Stretch your arms forward in front of you on the mat. Visualize making your fingers longer by 1” as you stretch and reach forward. You can also vary this move by leaving your arms at your sides, stacking your arms, or threading the needle while extending one arm out and threading the other through. 

Cat Cow Stretches –

This stretch is sometimes used as a warm-up as well and can feel like a treat for your whole body. It’s a great idea to use a cat cow at the end of your workout while your joints are still warm. This is also a cleansing stretch that you may do at any time to relax your muscles, joints, and mind. 

How to do it: Using your mat or another softer surface, get down on all fours. Your hands and knees should both be shoulder-width apart, allowing your body to be stable from neck to tail. Take a deep cleansing breath in and curve your lower back while tilting your pelvis up–visualize a cow’s back. Now, as you inhale again, transition into the cat pose. This is what you’d think of when a cat arches its back. Arch your back and get a deep stretch in. Repeat several times until you feel fully relaxed and rewarded by your stretch.

How Often Should you Stretch?

According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching should be done two to three times weekly for at least 10 minutes per session.  Getting into the habit of stretching each time after your workout will only benefit you in the long and short terms. As your agility improves and post-workout pain becomes less, your body will thank you! This is all extremely important as we age and mobility becomes an issue. Stretching and regular exercise will give your joints a better outlook in years to come. Post exercise stretching can be as simple as static stretches or a combination of static and body stretching. Static stretching involves moving a muscle as far as it can go without feeling any pain, then holding in that position for roughly 30-45 seconds. Where body stretching involves the stretches mentioned above and various other whole-body routines. 

Does Stretching After a Workout Prevent Muscle Growth?

Some people wonder if excessive stretching will compromise their gains. The short answer? No. Muscles are encased by a connective tissue called fascia. When you implement a stretching practice, the fascia expands, giving muscles room to expand and grow as well. 

Other Ways to Improve Physical Health

Now that you know the importance of getting in a good post-workout stretch, we hope you’ll try it! In addition to stretching, we strongly urge you to consider foam-rolling as part of your post-workout preventative maintenance. Foam rolling will release tight muscles and help you recover better and faster. As we age, flexibility and agility are critical to improving range of motion, muscle function, blood flow, and agility. This all becomes more important as we age. Implementing a strong stretching routine will only help you to provide pain relief and injuries as you age.