We're all busy. We're all guilty of skipping a warm down after a run or other exercise. Maybe you don't have time, maybe you want to eat, maybe you just can't be bothered. But without a doubt you will find yourself regretting that decision once the calves start aching.
The thing is, stretching is actually a part of the workout. Without it you're pretty much just cheating yourself. I want you help you make the most of your workouts, by including a quick (and effective) warm down program that will only take you five minutes. (For a longer version of this post, including photos to demonstrate the correct stretch, click here)
5 minute warm-down (to optimise your time, all these stretches are done standing):
- First, grab hold of something for balance and give one leg at a time a swing back and forwards, as if you're pretending to do a massive kick of a ball, big wind up, big follow through. Start with smaller movements, and over a course of 30 seconds, increase the amplitude to get a good swing.
- Second, make your hamstrings a priority. Pop your heel on something nearby that's up to a few feet off the ground. If there isn't anything around, just pop your heel out in front of your body on the ground. While in this position, you want to take your chest forwards, and UPWARDS at the same time. As you drive your chest up and forwards, you will roll your pelvis forward you’ll feel an excellent stretch onto your hamstring. 30 seconds each leg.
- Quad stretching. Hold onto something if you need to, and then just bend your knee, bringing your foot up to your buttocks and grab the foot. If you want to get best bang for your buck with this exercise, you have to do a few extra things. One, make sure your knees are parallel. Next, you need to tuck your buttocks under you further. As you squeeze your gluts on to do this movement, you will give the quad an extra stretch. 30 seconds each side again should be enough for your bare minimum.
- Calves. We use them, a LOT. Be kind to your calves, and give them a stretch. Go stand near something solid, put your hands out and push on the object. One leg is straight, and out behind you, the other leg is bent and forward of your pelvis, so you're in a lunge stance. Keep your foot straight, keep your heel flat on the ground, and then lunge forward taking your weight with your hands and other leg. It is an easy one, but an effective one. You guessed it, another 30 seconds each side.
- Gluts are the last thing for a quick essential group of stretches. Holding on to something, pop one knee onto the other while in a semi squat with the other leg. Take your chest up and forwards as you did for your hamstrings, and gently lower your body. This will give you a stretch in your glut on the leg with the foot on the knee. Again, 30 seconds each side.
If you want a better warm down (and you have some extra time), just add another 30 seconds to each stretch.
A bit of a bonus stretch that won’t add any time to your 5 minutes, is to get a shoulder stretch done whilst doing your hamstrings... put one elbow in the other, grab the hands, depress the shoulder blades and lift the elbows gently. This one can be aggressive, and tight people can struggle with it. Be gentle, and if you can’t do it this way, do it without grabbing the hands and just pull your elbow close in to your chest.
My top tip for finding the time for a warm down is simply to factor it into your exercise time before you even begin! Put this into practice next time you do any exercise, your muscle will thank you!
For those who'd like to see an extended version (with photos showing the correct stretch) you can click here.