After a grueling workout, the last thing most people want to do is stretch, especially if they have stretched before their workout. Stretching before you exercise may feel good, but it is actually counterproductive. Instead, you should warm up first to raise your heart rate and allow your body to intake more oxygen. Sufficient oxygen levels will protect your muscle tissues, tendons, and joints from tearing or rupturing. A good way to warm up before you work out is to walk, slow jog, swim, jump rope, or cycle for 10 minutes. Afterward, you should stretch for 10 minutes in a stretch/hold/relax repetition without any bouncing. If you have not incorporated stretching into your after workout routine, the following five reasons should give you the incentive to do so:
Decreased Stiffness and Soreness
As you exercise, your muscles contract. This tightening of the muscles places them in a shortened state. Many people experience muscle soreness and tightness after working out and just want to relax or eat, but stretching helps your body restore its muscles to their natural position. Taking 10 minutes to stretch after you exercise will reduce stiffness, increase your flexibility, and prevent future injury.
Helps Prevent Foot Injuries
Most athletes take their feet for granted. Keeping your feet healthy and fit is vital because they stabilize the body and provide mobility. In fact, neglecting to stretch your feet after your workout places your legs in jeopardy. Since the muscles in your feet work with the muscles in your legs, stretching your legs and not your feet is as if you did not stretch that area of your body at all. To reduce the muscle tension in your feet after exercising, try this simple toe stretch exercise: Sit in a straight back chair, and place your feet on the floor; slowly spread your toes apart for a few seconds, then release. You should also consider using custom orthotics to protect your feet and prevent injury.
Increases Range of Motion
Stretching before your workout causes your Central Nervous System (CNS) to fatigue and weakens your body’s natural stretch reflex ability. Your CNS controls all of your physical and mental feelings, so stretching before you work out sends signals to the CNS that activity has started. The result is that the muscles do not tone-up as well when you actually start exercising, and the body’s automatic defense to overextension and overexertion is jeopardized. To increase your workout’s effectiveness and your range of motion, stretch after so that your body will continue to think it is in workout mode.
Increases Circulation of Body Fluids
As you work out lactic acid builds up in your muscles, increasing the chance of cramping and muscle fatigue. Stretching afterward helps your body fluids circulate evenly throughout your system, improving flexibility and reducing your chances of catching a “charley horse,” a muscle spasm, or a cramp.
Reduces Risk of Muscle Tears
Stretching a cold muscle increases the possibility of minor strains, which results in actual tears after repeated straining. Stretching your muscles before you lift weights is especially hazardous because your muscles are straining to support the weight that you think you can lift, which slows down muscle gain. To speed up your body’s recovery after a demanding workout, stretch afterward to realign and restore muscle fibers.
Overall, stretching after a workout aids in your physical and mental recovery. Not only will it restore your normal heart rate and increase your flexibility but also help you relax and focus on any aches and pains you may need to address.
Informational credit to The Foot Clinic.