Make these post-workout stretches a non-negotiable part of your fitness routine.

By Mary Anderson
October 04, 2019

These days, regeneration takes many forms, from active (stretching, foam rolling, yoga, myofascial release) to passive (compression boots, infrared saunas, massage, cold dunks).

“All of these enhance blood flow, which delivers more oxygen to speed up the recovery of muscles and other soft tissues,” says Michele Olson, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at Huntingdon College in Alabama and a Shape Brain Trust member. “Such recovery also increases our natural level of pain relievers, the beta-endorphins.” Bottom line: Give your body the recovery it needs, and you’ll work out harder and smarter.

That said, new gadgets and hack-y techniques can be fun, but the best post-workout Rx is simple: stretch.

Doing post-workout stretches while your muscles are still warm not only helps extend your range of movement, it helps your body de-stress, too. A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that doing static stretches after a weight-machine routine (three sets of 10 reps) brought blood pressure down more quickly.

“I make sure to get at least 10 minutes of stretching a day,” says fitness pro Charlee Atkins, the creator of the Le Stretch class. And we could all benefit from adding more stretching time to our daily routine. “The most overused muscles are the hips. Any exercises that bring the knee toward the hip—like lunges, squats, and cycling—work the hip flexors,” she says. “And sitting all day keeps hips in that flexed position.”

Wondering how long you should hold each stretch? Use ten seconds as your base and build from there. According to fitness guidelines, there’s no added perk to going longer than 30 seconds.

“Do flexibility moves at least twice a week, either after exercise or solo,” Olson says. “It’s the key to preventing stiffness and improving your joints’ range of motion.” And if you can swing some daily stretches? Even better.

Here, Atkins shares her favorite moves. Incorporate them into your post-workout cool down routine, or do them in the morning to wake everything up.

6 Post-Workout Stretches to Try

Some of these post-workout stretches might already be your faves, while others might bring some newness to your routine—like the idea of CARS, which is short for controlled articular rotations. Basically, they're super-slow rotations through the entire range of motion of a joint, where you try to get into every degree of movement.

How it works: Do the following routine post-workout or when you feel tight. You'll do each stretch for 2 minutes.

You'll need: No equipment.

Cat-cow

A. Start on hands and knees with shoulders over wrists and hips over knees.

B. Inhale and drop your belly and lift the tailbone to lower into cow pose, pulling shoulder blades together and gazing up if it's comfortable.

C. Exhale to drop your head and tailbone and round the spine toward the ceiling for cat pose.

Repeat for 2 minutes.

Neck CARS

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and extend arms by sides, keeping them engaged, making fists with both hands.

B. Slowly turn head to face the left, then drop chin towards chest. Keep rolling head to face the right, then lift chin to roll head from right to left to complete the circle.

C. Continue rotating the head very slowly through the entire range of motion.

Repeat for 2 minutes. Switch directions; repeat.

Shoulder CARS

A. Start standing with feet hip width apart and arms by sides.

B. Slowly lift the left arm (straight with fingers engaged) forward in front of body, thumb facing up. Once it's extended straight overhead, rotate palm to face away from the body and keep rotating arm back and down.

C. Keep rotating the arm and palm until the palm faces the ceiling, trying to rotate until the thumb points up and palm up faces away from the body.

D. Pause, then reverse the direction to slowly return to start.

Repeat for 2 minutes per arm.

World's Greatest Stretch

A. From a high plank position, step the left foot forward outside of left hand for a low lunge. Inhale to spiral chest open to the left, reaching left arm towards the ceiling to start.

B. Exhale and lower the left elbow toward the floor, reaching between the left foot and right palm. Only go as low as is comfortable.

C. Extend the left hand toward the ceiling to return to start.

Repeat for 2 minutes. Switch sides; repeat.

Standing Straddle

A. Stand with feet wide and hands on hips, legs are straight but not locked.

B. Hinge at the hips with a flat back, lowering until torso is about parallel to the ground.

C. Breathe slowly, trying to lower torso on each exhale.

Hold for 2 minutes.

90-90

A. Sit on the floor with the right leg bent at a 90-degree angle, the outside of the right leg on the floor and thigh extending straight forward from right hip. Position the left thigh at a 90-degree angle from the right thigh, pointing straight to the left, with knee bent at a 90-degree angle and inside of the leg on the floor.

B. Placing hands lightly on the floor on either side of the right leg, gently lean forward over right leg. Hold for 2 seconds.

C. Sit up straight then lean back, placing hands lightly on the floor behind hips. Lean back on glutes to flip legs over to the other side, so the left leg is in a 90-degree angle in front of the body and the right leg is in a 90-degree angle extending out to the side.

D. Placing hands lightly on the floor on either side of the left leg, and gently lean forward over. Hold for 2 seconds.

Repeat for 2 minutes.

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