Ayo Williams is a Personal Trainer / Strength & Conditioning Specialist with nearly 20 years’ experience of training individuals to performance and aesthetic goals. An accomplished sports massage therapist, his qualifications also include a Sports Science degree and CSCS certification, from the NSCA. He currently leads a team at Matt Roberts Personal Training, London. Read more articles like this in Totally Active Magazine.
Post-exercise stretching has been a controversial topic amongst researchers, producing conflicting results regarding its benefits. Most practitioners however agree that it delivers an increased range of motion at the joints and improves circulation (preventing pooling of blood at the extremities). Both coaches and physiotherapists advocate post-workout stretching to facilitate postural improvements and active stretching is still used today by top trainers as a constituent of the cooling-down process following training. Numerous independent studies indicate that there is no evidence to suggest that it has any preventative benefits regarding injury. Claims that post-exercise stretching has the effect of improving performance have similarly not been backed up by the research.
The measurable effects of stretching have been recorded both empirically through thematic research and anecdotally through the perceived feeling of well-being from most who perform it safely and correctly. Its effects have been difficult to study due to factors including the variances of the subjects, the different types of stretch you can perform, and quantifying the results. Therefore, although some of the evidence backing the benefits of correct post exercise stretching appears to be lacking, this does not necessarily mean that those benefits don’t exist.
You should add post-exercise stretching to your routine, if you don’t already include it, as it can help you achieve optimum range of motion at your joints and through your musculature. It can also, performed correctly, help correct bad posture. Whilst you shouldn’t expect it to improve your performance, reduce the sensation of DOMS (delayed onset of muscular soreness) or prevent injury, the following should be noted: after a tough workout it’ll help you cool down, improve your flexibility, start preparing you for your next workout and generally make you feel good.
Cooling down should form the last 10 to 15 minutes of any run or ride. This process reduces the demands on your system, returning the body gradually to pre-exercise levels. It allows you to get blood pumping through your system at a less intense rate, facilitating re-oxygenation and the flushing of lactate and other waste products from your muscles.
Once your cool down is complete, hold each of the stretches shown, in sequence, for 30 seconds. Hold each pose on both left and right sides of the body (where appropriate), at the point of ‘comfortable stretch’ but before the point of pain. Hold the position with a steady body, without bouncing or ballistic movements.
Although the ideal time to stretch is immediately post exercise, if you’re cold, wet, tired and muddy, you’re unlikely to do a decent job. Get warm, clean, fed and comfortable and then stretch. Even if you leave it until the evening when you’re sat in front of the TV, it’ll still do you some good.
Standing quadriceps stretch
- Stand tall on your left leg and hold the top of your right foot with your right hand.
- Hold a solid surface with your left hand, for stability.
- Push your hips forward and ensure that your torso is upright; you should feel the stretch down front of the thigh.
- Stand facing forwards, feet double your shoulder width apart.
- Shift your weight over to the left leg, placing your hands on your thigh as you bend the knee.
- Hold the position steady, as you feel the stretch on the inside of the right leg which should remain straight.
Half-kneeling hip-flexors stretch
- Place the left foot flat on the floor, with the right knee down, and behind (rather than directly under) the hips.
- With the left knee at 90 degrees, raise the right arm up to the vertical.
- Hold this position; you should feel a stretch across the front of the hips on the right side.
Prone crossover glute stretch
- Lie on your front, with your left leg trailing behind, and your weight on your forearms underneath your torso.
- Bring your right knee up and out to the side, with the lower leg aiming to be perpendicular to the thigh, across the groin.
- You should feel the stretch in the glutes and in some cases lower back on the right side.
Supine glute stretch
- Lie on your back and place your left ankle on your right knee.
- Pull your right knee towards you (or push your left knee away, depending on your flexibility) and keep your lower back on the floor.
- You can reach behind the right thigh with both hands to assist the stretch; you should feel it in the left glutes.
Supported single-leg Hamstring stretch
- Take your weight on you left leg and lean forward, bending the knee.
- Place both hands above the left knee and place the right foot forward.
- Lean in, hinging at the hip joint, to feel the stretch in the right hamstring.
- Pull the toes back towards you on the right foot to add a stretch for the calf muscle.
Lower body crossover stretch
- Lie supine, and pull your right knee over, across the line of the body, with your left hand.
- Whilst holding the knee down on the floor, bend the left leg up behind you, and hold it in position with your right hand.
- You should feel the stretch across the right hips and glutes, as well as your lower back.
- To increase the intensity, pull back gently with the right hand, whilst applying pressure with the left hand to move the right knee closer to the floor.
Thoracic spine stretch
- A standard foam roller is required for this stretch. Lie supine, and place the roller, perpendicular to the spine, just below the shoulder blades.
- Without rolling, and ensuring you keep your glutes in contact with the floor, place the hands together.
- Reach the hands back and over your head, getting as close to the floor as possible, before returning them back over to your chest. Repeat this movement slowly, ten times.
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