Seven stretches to add to your cool-down routine
Accredited Exercise Physiologist - Sophie Pacek

Sophie Pacek

Exercise Physiologist, Healthy Connections

I returned to my gym last week for the first time since its COVID-19 closure. It was great to get back into exercises that I was unable to do at home. Returning to movements I had not performed for a while coupled with the cooler mornings that winter brings meant that my body felt quite stiff and sore in the days following my first gym session. Many of you may have experienced similar sensations as you return to Healthy Connections, so I have put together a list of stretches to add to your cool-down or perform of a morning to reduce soreness and enhance mobility.

What are the benefits of stretching?

Winter stiffness is a thing. It can be a result of the effect that cold temperatures have on our circulation. As we get colder, our circulation reduces which can cause lactic acid to be trapped within our muscles and the fluid that lubricates our joints to become stagnate. The change in barometric pressure associated with winter is also thought to play a role in creating an inflammatory response within joints (Arthritis Foundation of WA, 2017). This can explain why we sometimes feel like the tin man when he needs oiling! This is often accentuated in the morning after laying still during sleeping hours. Stretching our muscles (including those around joints) can alleviate this stiffness (“oiling” our joints) and improve our flexibility (Arthritis Foundation of WA, 2017).

Muscle soreness after unaccustomed exercise is also a common occurrence. The term we use to refer to this sensation is DOMS (or delayed onset muscle soreness). It is characterised by stiffness, achiness or soreness in our muscles 24-72 hours after exercise, especially if we perform exercises that overload our muscles (i.e. strength training) or an activity that is new or has not been done in a while (Ehrman et al., 2013). DOMS occurs due to the process of progressive overload – we ‘stress’ or ‘overload’ our muscles to a small degree which causes micro-tears. These micro-tears regenerate over 24-72 hours so that they are able to cope with that particular activity when it next arises (for more information, please see my previous blog).

There is a fine line between DOMS and muscle injury but there are some key differences:

Key differences between muscle injury and DOMS

Stretching after a strength workout can assist with reducing the intensity of DOMS as well as prevent future injury by ensuring tight / exercised muscles return to their normal resting length.

Stretching time!

Each stretch has three variations ranging in intensity. Please choose the variation that is safe and appropriate for you. Aim to perform each stretch for the specific time/number of reps listed below. Stretching should be slightly uncomfortable but not unbearable.

1. Spinal rotations

Perform 5 times each side.

Seated thoracic rotations

Spinal rotations - Seated thoracic rotations​

Sit on a chair with good posture, arms crossed over your chest. 

Spinal rotations - Seated thoracic rotations​

Keeping your hips still, twist your upper body to one side to the point of slight stretching/pulling.

Spinal rotations - Seated thoracic rotations​
Spinal rotations - Seated thoracic rotations​

Pause then slowly repeat on the other side.

Spinal rotations - knee rocks ​

Knee rocks

Lay on your back in the hook-lying position (knees bent with feet flat on floor). 

With ankles and knees together, rock your knees to one side, ensuring your shoulders remain on the floor. Pause then slowly repeat on the other side.

Spinal rotations - Cross-legged knee rocks ​

Cross-legged knee rocks

Lay on your back in the hook-lying position (knees bent with feet flat on floor). ‘With ankles and knees together, cross one leg over the other then drop to one side, ensuring your shoulders remain on the floor. Pause then slowly repeat on the other side.

2. Hamstring

Hold for 30 seconds, 1-2 times per side.

Seated hamstring (on chair)

Hamstring Stretch - Seated hamstring (on chair)​

Seat towards the front of a chair with good posture. Straighten one leg in front of you with toes pointing up. 

Hamstring Stretch - Seated hamstring (on chair)​

Keeping your back straight, bend forward at your hips and feel a stretch down the back of your leg. Hold this position.

Seated hamstring (on floor)

Hamstring Stretch - Seated hamstring (on floor)​

Sit upright on the floor with one leg straight and the other leg bent. Keeping your back relatively straight, bend forward at your hips and reach towards the toes of your straight leg. Hold this position.

Lying hamstring with strap

Hamstring Stretch - Lying hamstring with strap​

Lay on your back with your legs straight. Using a belt, rope, band or strap, wrap around the middle of one foot. 

Hamstring Stretch - Lying hamstring with strap​

Lift your leg using the strap and keep as straight as possible. Pull your leg towards you to the point of slight discomfort. Hold this position.

3. Gluteal

Hold for 30 seconds, 1-2 times per side.

Seated

Gluteal Stretch - Seated​

Sit on a chair with good posture. 

Gluteal Stretch - Seated​

Cross one leg over the other and pull the bent knee up towards your chest and opposite shoulder. Hold this position.

Gluteal Stretch - Pretzel (lying)​

Pretzel (lying)

Lay on your back and cross one leg over the other. Lift your other leg and hold behind your knee. Hold this position.

Pigeon pose

Gluteal Stretch - Pigeon pose​

On all-fours, straighten one leg and bring the other knee up towards your hands. If able, sit back onto the hip of the bent leg.

Gluteal Stretch - Pigeon pose​

For a more intense stretch, bend forward at your torso and lay over your knee. Hold this position.

4. Lats

Hold for 30 seconds, 1-2 times per side.

Lats Stretch - Standing side bend​

Standing side bend

Standing tall, lift one arm overhead and reach over to the opposite side, bending your torso. Hold this position.

Lats Stretch - Child’s pose ​

Child’s pose

On all-fours, sit back onto feet with arms outstretched in front of you. Hold this position.

Child’s pose palm up to the side

Lats Stretch - Child’s pose palm up to the side​

Assume child’s pose but place hands to one side as you sit back. 

Lats Stretch - Child’s pose palm up to the side​

Feel a stretch down one side of your body. Hold this position.

5. Hip flexor / Quad

Hold for 30 seconds, 1-2 times per side.

Standing hip flexor using bench

Hip flexor / Quad Stretch - Standing hip flexor using bench​

Place one knee on a bench or chair and step forward with your standing leg. Bring your hips forward and flatten your bottom.

Hip flexor / Quad Stretch - Standing hip flexor using bench​

Feel a stretch in the top part of the hip of the kneeling leg. Hold this position.

Hip flexor / Quad Stretch - Kneeling hip flexor​

Kneeling hip flexor

Assume a half-kneeling pose with good posture. Bring your hips forward and flatten your bottom. You should feel a stretch in the top part of the hip of the kneeling leg. Hold this position.

Kneeling hip flexor + heel grab with strap

Hip flexor / Quad Stretch - Kneeling hip flexor + heel grab with strap​

Assume a half-kneeling pose with good posture. Wrap a strap around your back ankle. Bring your hips forward and flatten your bottom whilst lifting your back leg up using the strap.

Hip flexor / Quad Stretch - Kneeling hip flexor + heel grab with strap​

Feel a stretch all the way down your front thigh of the kneeling leg. Hold this position.

6. Calf

Hold for 30 seconds, 1-2 times per side.

Standing calf​

Calf Stretch - Standing​​

Standing with your hands against a wall, stand with a split stance (one foot in front, one foot back). Bend your front knee while keeping your back leg straight and heel on the floor.

Calf Stretch - Standing​​

You should feel a stretch down the calf of your back leg. Hold this position.

Calf Stretch - Kneeling

Kneeling calf stretch

On all-fours, straighten one leg out and place toes on the floor. Try to pull your heel away from your knee to feel a stretch through your calf. Hold this position.

Downward dog calf stretch

Calf Stretch - Downward dog

On all-fours, lift your hips and knees off the floor into a downward facing dog pose (hips up with arms and legs straight).

Calf Stretch - Downward dog

Try to place your heels towards the floor to feel a stretch through your calves. Hold this position.

7. Chest

Hold for 30 seconds, 1-2 times per side.

Chest Stretch - Standing chest opener​

Standing chest opener

Stand with good posture. Interlock your fingers behind your back and broaden your chest. Feel a stretch across your chest. Hold this position.

Doorframe stretch

Chest Stretch - Doorframe stretch​

Using a doorframe, place forearm on the edge of the doorframe. Your elbow should be no higher than your shoulder.

Chest Stretch - Doorframe stretch​

Take a small step forward and lean forward and away from the doorframe. Feel a stretch across that side of your chest. Hold this position.

Chest Stretch - Lying chest over foam roller​

Lying chest over foam roller

Lay on your back with a foam roller or pool noodle along your spine and feet flat on the floor (remember to support your head with a rolled up towel). Lift your arms above you then lower towards your head. With elbows slightly bent, lower your arms down by your sides slowly, letting gravity press your elbows down towards the floor. Stop at a position where you feel a stretch across your whole chest. Hold this position.

If you have any questions about these stretches, please comment below or ask one of our exercise physiologists at Healthy Connections.

Thanks for reading, stay safe and keep moving (and stretching!).

Sophie

References:

If you have any questions or feedback for Sophie, comment below!