After a solid workout, whether a run, a dance class, or strength training session, stretching properly is one of the best things you can do to avoid soreness and help your muscles work their best.
“A joint works optimally when it has as much flexibility as possible around it,” explains Mahri Relin, creator of Body Conceptions, a full-body, dynamic dance workout. “Stretching is really good after a workout because you’ve just tightened and worked all these muscles and you don’t want to get into a situation where it effects your ability to move freely in the joints and your posture after a workout if you become overly tight,” adds Relin, whose previous experience includes working as a trainer with Tracy Anderson and as creative director in FlyBarre’s beginning stages.
There are two different types of stretches: dynamic and static. Dynamic involves movement—warming up by slowly going through similar motions to what you’ll be doing in the workout. Static is when you hold one position for about 30 seconds. Relin notes some controversy around stretching. “Research has shown that doing static stretching too much in the beginning of a workout is not as helpful and can actually reduce your power potential,” she says, so as a general rule, always stick to dynamic stretching before, static after.
After a sweat sesh, your muscles are warm, which is the best time to stretch them and increase their flexibility. “The more flexible you can be the better your posture can be, and the better your freedom of movement,” notes Relin. But just make sure you are not over stretching. Pay attention to any signals your body is sending: “You can push each stretch, but do not ever push them to the point of sharp pain,” she says. Always remember to keep breathing to oxegenate the muscles and encourage circulation. If you can, try to hold the more difficult stretches for longer to help increase your flexibility. And never bounce into a stretch, always ease into it.
Try this stretch sequence after your next workout for optimal muscle function and increased flexibility.
Start standing up straight with legs a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Slowly roll your upper body down as you also reach your arms down to the ground. Don’t lock your knees—keep them slightly bent and relaxed, and let the weight of your upper body hang over and gently stretch the back of your legs. You can simply hang there, or grab your opposite elbows and gently swing your upper body from side to side. Continue for 30 seconds.
2Hips, Lower Back, Hamstrings, Adductors
Start standing up with legs shoulder-width apart. Bend forward toward the ground. Keep your left knee straight and bend your right knee, and reach your hands toward your left foot. You should feel the stretch in your groin and hips, and even the left hamstring and right lower back. Hold for 15 seconds. Switch and repeat on the opposite side.
Related: Got Tight Hips? Try These Stretches
With your right leg, step back into a deep lunge, placing your hands on the ground on each side of the left foot. “Make sure the left knee stays aligned over the ankle and does not rock forward over your toes,” Relin says. You should feel this stretch in the right hip flexor. Hold for 15 seconds. Switch and repeat on the opposite side.
4Spinal TwistSpinal Twist
Tuck your left leg behind your right, and then sit down so that you’re sitting on the ground with your right leg crossed over the left. Wrap your left arm around your bent right leg, and twist to the right toward the back wall. “Try to stay as tall as possible in your spine,” Relin notes. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds.
Do not switch sides right away—instead, stay in this position to go into the next stretch…
After you do the spinal twist to your right, keep your legs crossed, face forward and lean forward over your legs. You should feel the stretch in the outside of your hips. “If this position is too difficult and you need something less intense, you can uncross your knees a bit or even lean back onto your hands and cross your right foot over your left knee,” Relin says. For more of a challenge, stack your knees as much as possible in your cross-legged position before leaning forward. Hold this for 15 seconds.
When you’re done, switch legs and repeat the spinal twist and then this outer hip stretch consecutively on the opposite leg.
Sit on the ground in a straddle position, legs opened as wide as you can to each side. Slowly reach your arms forward along the ground and lower your upper body down as far as you can. “Lengthen the spine as you reach forward,” Relin says. And prevent your shoulders from hunching forward. You may need to bend your knees a bit and not go as low if the stretch is too intense for you.
If you need to bend your knees a little bit to reach down further to the ground, that’s OK. It’s more important to reach out as close to the ground as you can.
7Anterior Shoulders and Arms
Get into a comfortable seated position with your legs crossed. Reach both arms behind your back, clasp your hands, and pull arms straight. “To intensify the stretch, try leaning your body forward toward the ground while lifting your arms up and forward.” Hold for 15 seconds.