Don’t underestimate the power of the cool-down at the end of your workout.
We may often make the excuse that we have no time to stretch and cool off, but your body goes through a lot of stressful processes during exercise – muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments are pulled all over the place, and waste products build up in your body causing painful lactic acid, so it’s important that you make the cool-down just as important as the workout itself to you avoid injuries that could result in long term damage.
The aim of the cool-down is to promote recovery and return the body to its pre-exercise state. Performed properly it will aide your bodies recovery and ensure the ache from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is lessened dramatically.
After all, you’ve worked hard to get to this moment, so sit back relax and take a few minutes to stretch out all of the major muscle groups that will have no doubt taken a bit of a battering during your workout.
As much as we all believe in ‘No Pain No Gain’, the opposite can safely be said for injury, so follow these simple cool-down stretches for the major muscle groups to give your body the best opportunity to recover, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Lying on your right side, pull the left heel into the left glute to feel the stretch in the front of the thigh. Repeat with the right leg and try if possible to do this for two rounds.
Quadriceps injuries are most commonly found in football players or those that take part in a sport, as the muscle is pulled too quickly when the body accelerates. Warm up before any type of sport to ensure the muscles are ready to move.
Lying on your back, lift and straighten one leg above the hips, holding the calf or thigh.
Press your heel towards the ceiling as you pull your leg back towards your chest. Repeat with the other leg.
Hamstrings are notorious for tightening if you begin to take part in many cardio activities such as running or even dance.
Combining cool-down exercises with regular massages can ensure that the tightness does not result in injury. However in some cases strong hamstrings can put the front leg under pressure from shin splints, so when it comes to leg day, don’t forget to work the entire leg rather than just the hamstrings.
Lying on your back, cross your right leg over then bend your left knee. Bring the left knee to chest, holding onto the back of your thigh, gently pressing the right knee wide. Change on to your other leg and hold.
The glutes get a lot of attention in the gym and on the tracks, so give them a little TLC back for all their hard work, because glute injuries can make even the day job painful.
Stand straight, interlace your fingers behind your back, and as you straighten out your arms lift your chin to the ceiling. This will certainly give those tightened muscles a release, and as weight lifting is now becoming a popular form of exercise, this cool-down method should help to maintain your flexibility in the area.
Take one arm over your head, bend at elbow joint and extend the palm down the center of your back, gently pulling your elbow with the opposite hand. Take the same arm across the chest, and gently pull at the elbow joint to extend through the shoulder.
Although a simple exercise you’ll be releasing a lot of built up tension in your shoulder area, which you’ll be thankful for when it comes to washing your hair.
One all fours, round out your back like a cat, and then invert it, making a C-shape with your spine. Repeat three or four times for maximum results to ensure your back and core have been fully stretched. As your back it such a precious area, this can be a good one for doing at home after you’ve been sat at a desk all day.
These key stretches may seem simple, but you don’t have to go to great lengths to ensure that your body can recover effectively.
If you begin to suffer with injuries despite taking the time to stretch visit your GP or try a sports massage to combat any particular areas that you are suffering with.
Remember that rest days are just as important as exercise, so find some balance and you’ll be able to keep going for even longer.
Ben Barker (Aston villa Physio)