Last week, we covered warm-up stretching for exercise and workouts, but there's one more important idea and goal when stretching - proper and safe cool down stretches to promote flexibility, avoid injury, and improve fitness.
There is no doubt that time spent on cool down stretching will improve an athlete's level of performance and accelerate the recovery process after training. As a result, the cool down stretching period must be seen as an essential part of both the training session and general fitness itself.
Static stretches are more appropriate to the cool down as they help muscles to relax, strengthen and lengthen muscles, and re-establish their normal range of movement. Static stretches - literally, non-movement based stretches - help promote a host of health outcomes like decreasing body temperature, stretching and calming muscles, and improving flexibility immediately after the stresses of a workout.
Unlike before a workout, where movement-based stretches and dynamic activity is important to warm up muscles and get the body ready for movement, post-workout stretching is more focused on static, non-movement stretching in order to help the body cool down, and it's a difference to be noted; after a workout, focus more on flexibility and slow, controlled hang and hold stretches to promote flexibility and protect the muscles from injury.
These static stretches are simple - think about hamstring stretches on the ground, with your legs straight in front of you, and lightly reaching as far as you are comfortable towards your toes to loosen up the muscles in the back of your legs - and depending on comfort level and feeling, you can hold them typically anywhere between 10 and 30 seconds at a time, without moving.
For many it goes without saying, but remember to focus on symmetry - stretch both arms and both legs equally, instead of focusing on one side of the body. Symmetry will promote true flexibility across your entire body and help muscle growth and avoiding soreness.
By the end of a strenuous workout, you've earned the feeling and worked hard to get to that point, so it's important to remember to enjoy it - use the 5 or 10 minutes after the workout to focus on stretching, relax your mind, and finish the workout in a strong, but calm way.
Even though it's only 5 or 10 minutes at the end of a workout, stretching can be the hardest thing to focus on if you're anxious to move on to the rest of your day; don't fall in to the trap of rushing through one of the most important parts of exercising. Finish strong, focused, and healthy by stretching those muscles!
About the author: Bobby DeMuro is the Founder of No Fizz America, a non-profit dedicated to health and fitness. He is also the founder FusionSouth, a sports conditioning firm. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook .
You can listen to Bobby on his weekly radio show on Radio Exiles.