Before you rush off to the shower and then conquer the rest of your to-do list, take a few minutes to cool-down with these simple post-exercise stretches. According to the fitness trainer Chiara Lewis, they’re non-negotiable.
Cooling down after an intense workout is just as important as warming up. Yet, just like we know we should spray our mats down after every single workout, we tend to blow them off.
But dedicating just a few minutes lowering your heart rate before darting to the next thing on our never-ending ‘to-do’ list, can actually enhance your recovery.
“Our routines have become extraordinarily sedentary now that we’ve been forced into our homes by the pandemic,” says personal trainer and founder of Totalbody Studio, Chiara Lewis.
“This has translated into hours of sitting in front of the laptop, television, phone or some other sort of screen. When we are in a seated position, our glutes and back muscles are constantly stretching, elongating the muscle fibres. Whereas the counterparts on the front of the body – quads, hip flexors and pectorals – are always flexed. This is why we might feel that ‘our hip flexors are tight’. They are actually shortening.”
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“Tight muscles can cause poor posture,” she continues. “Stretching before and after a workout is paramount not only for the sake of the cool down, but also to counteract the ‘bad habits’ of our sedentary lifestyle: increasing mobility, range of motion, and flexibility for better posture. This also includes reducing muscular tension and enhancing performance in everyday movements, while decreasing the chance of injuries.”
The general rule of thumb? “Use static stretches for the front body, and dynamic stretches for the back body,” she says.
Here are Lewis’ top five cool-down stretches that are perfect after any workout.
Kneeling Quad Stretch
- Kneel on the mat with your right leg forward, foot flat on the floor and your knee in line with your ankle to form a 90-degree angle.
- Flatten out your lower back and tuck your pelvis under, forming a rounded shape.
- Relax your shoulders down and away from the ears and tuck your chin to the chest to gently stretch your neck at the same time.
Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then change sides.
Banded Pectoral Stretch
- For this stretch, you can use a band, a towel or a yoga strap.
- Grab the band so your hands are shoulder-width apart and stretch your arms long above your head.
- Bend your elbows, placing them on either side of your body and then lifting them to your shoulder height to form two 90 degree angles.
Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
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Cat and Cow
“Mobilising your back is paramount for good spine health and this exercise is perfect to do that,” says Lewis.
- Get on your mat with your palms directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Firmly press onto your palms and curve your spine one vertebrae at a time until you are tucking your chin to your chest (Cat).
- Gently reverse the movement in the opposite direction by arching your lower back, broadening your collarbones and looking up towards the high diagonal (Cow).
Repeat the movement for eight to ten repetitions using your breath: inhale as you curve exhale as you arch.
“This is a great one to stretch the front of the body while engaging the muscles in the back body (specifically our glute muscles),” says Lewis.
- Lie on your back with your feet hip-width apart.
- Pressing firmly on both feet, press your hips up towards the ceiling.
- Keep your abdominals engaged so that you are not arching your back and putting pressure on the lumbar spine.
Contract your glutes and hold the position for 30 seconds.
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Quadruped T-Spine Rotation
“The T-spine is the hardest part of the spine to mobilise, yet very important when it comes to our posture,” says Lewis. “Hence, I really recommend this simple yet efficient dynamic stretch.”
- Get on your mat with your palms directly underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips – with your spine in a neutral position.
- Place one hand on your upper back or back of the neck.
- Do not pull down or put pressure on your neck with your hand.
- Rotate your head and shoulder as far as possible down toward your supporting arm.
- Reverse the motion by rotating upwards as far as possible without moving your weight back.
- Maintain the position of your opposite arm with your elbow extended while moving in both directions.
- Keep your lumbar, thoracic and cervical aligned.
Repeat for six to eight reps on one side and then swap sides.
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Images: Chiara Lewis & GETTY
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