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.
Below is a slightly expanded version of my stretching blog. I'm hoping for those who wanted a little bit more of the 'how' or the 'why', this can give you a bit more information to help you get the best from a short, but effective stretch session.
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, but over a course of 30 seconds, increase the amplitude to get a good swing.
It doesn't particularly matter what exercise you've done, from a swim to a run or anything in the middle, not many exercises actually use the FULL range of motion in that plane of movement. This is the bare minimum of a warm down. If you do this on each leg at least you have given a few of your major muscle groups a quick loosener.
Second, make your hamstrings a priority. The hamstring is a very important major muscle group that if not working well, can cause problems during sport or throughout the rest of your day, and the pain caused by overtight hamstrings doesn't necessarily have to be in the hamstrings, it can cause pain in the knees, lower back or your buttock region, so get these guys stretched after exercise as often as you can.
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 anyways. Now, don't try and touch your toe... A really easy way to think you're getting a good hammy stretch when you're not, is to dive forwards with your hand and try and get hold of the foot. Instead, while in this upright position, you want to take your sternum (chest bone) forwards, and UPWARDS at the same time. As you drive your chest up and forwards, you will pull your pelvis into 'anterior pelvic tilt', which will put a good stretch onto your hamstrings.
Now, if you can touch your toes while doing this movement, then that is fine... but most people cant. When you take the chest in that direction, concentrate on 'folding' at the pelvis rather than just letting your back bend. If you keep your lower back straight, and drive that chest upwards as you move forwards, you're gonna give the hamstring an excellent quality stretch. 30 seconds on each leg.
Quad stretching, with the correct technique is also a great one to get another major muscle group, and if you do it well, you can sneak a tiny bit of hip flexors into the stretch too.
Hold onto something if you need to, and then just bend your knee, bringing your foot up to your glut and grab the foot. The classic quad stretch. Simple. Too simple... If you want to get best bang for your buck with this exercise, you have to do a few extra things.
One, is make sure your knees are parallel. Not next to each other, but parallel. You cant have the knee pointing on a diagonal away from the body, or you'll be neglecting the outer quad, so make sure you get this part spot on. Next, you need to tuck your buttocks under you further. A couple of ways to visualise this is to imagine a pole going from one hip bone through to the other side, and on that axis of rotation you want to bring the front of your pelvis up, and tuck your bottom underneath you. 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 minimum. If you need, you can practice the pelvic tilting/tucking in a normal standing position if you're having trouble with it.
Calves. We use them, a LOT. Be kind to your calves, and give them a stretch. Its simple and super effective at avoiding issues around your achilles or your plantar fascia.
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 almost. Keep your foot straight (it often wants to point diagonally away from your body), keep your heel flat on the ground, and then lunge forward taking your weight with your hands and other leg. Don't bend at the hips, that's cheating, rather your hips should move closer to the wall.
If you don't feel this in your calf, set yourself up again and then try. It is an easy one, but an effective one. And you guessed it, another 30 seconds each side.
Gluts are last. Standing with something to hold onto, you bend one knee slightly as you lower your bottom to the ground. From there, place your outer aspect of your ankle on the top of your bent knee. From here you want to do what you did with your hamstring stretch and drive that sternum up and forwards. It will pull you into anterior pelvic tilt again, and pull on your gluteal.
The more you drive that chest up and forwards, combined with you dropping a bit closer to the ground, will give you more of a stretch. This stretch, is just that. It is not a single leg squat, and as such you shouldn't get too much fatigue in your quad of the leg you're standing on. If you are, don't go quite as deep, and instead work on driving that sternum up and forwards.
- If you want a better warm down, just add another 30 seconds to each stretch
- And a good way to always find the time for a warm down?? Factor it into your exercise time before you even begin!
- A shoulder stretch can be done with your hamstring stretch without adding any time to your stretch regime. Regardless of if you have been just running, or doing something a lot more upper body sensitive, this is something I always do as part of my warm down. If your rotator cuff are tight, it can cause many issues, so I encourage you to make a habit of this one as well. Cross your elbows into one another, then grab your hands. From there, depress your shoulder blades, and while keeping your hands in front of you, lift your elbows up gently. This is a tough stretch, and people that are tight will struggle to do this properly (and therefore safely). If you cant do this one, or it is extremely tight, you might want to tone it down to a more traditional stretch. Take one arm across the body and use the other arm to pull your elbow in to your chest. Work up to the hand holding one as you get looser over time. And of course, do 30 seconds per side to fit it in with your hamstring stretch without adding any time to your regime.
- If you've gotten to the end of this, chances are reading it would have taken just as long to do everything I've just spoken about. Put this into practice next time you do any exercise, and if you don't have time, make time!