With the beginning of the new year and new decade, you are probably among the countless others of us who have made a resolution to go back to the gym and get healthy. This time of year is a wonderful time to make new goals and focus on personal wellness. After your exercise routine, you might find yourself exhausted, sweaty, and just wanting to go home. However, even if you are tired after your workout, it is important to remember to cool down and stretch as part of your routine. While your workout in and of itself is an important part of your health, it is equally important to remember that stretches are also part of your overall fitness. Stretching has a number of health benefits beyond just helping you cool down after a tough workout. 

You probably know that stretching can increase your range of motion and flexibility, but did you know that it can also shorten your recovery time between workouts? Daily stretching can also help support healthy joints, better your posture, and increase blood flow, all of which are especially important in our increasingly desk-bound lives. Studies show that it can also help to lower stress levels and help you to increase your quality of sleep. 

Hamstring Stretch

From a standing position, bend one leg and raise the toes of the straight leg while keeping your heel on the floor. You may also do this while sitting on a chair. Reach towards your toes and hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This stretch helps to reduce tightness in the pelvis, which will help support the back and hips. This will help prevent future strain and injury when doing back, core, and leg exercises, as well as any activities that require frequent bending and lifting.

Cat Stretch

With all fours on the ground, arch your back like a cat and let your head and neck fall between your arms to deepen the stretch. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and remember to breathe normally. This stretches and strengthens the hips, back and neck and reduces stress in the low back. If you spend all day at a desk like many of us, this stretch is quickly going to become a favorite of yours!

Chest Stretch

With your hands clasped behind your back, gently lift your arms until you feel a stretch in your pectorals. Be careful not to hyperextend your joints! Only lift your arms as high as is comfortable for you. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds. This helps loosen the pectoral muscles, which helps maintain proper posture. This also helps maintain mobility of the pectorals, which assist with pushing, pulling and lifting activities.

Overhead Tricep Stretch

Bend your arm behind your head, gently press down on your elbow with your other hand. If you would like to deepen the stretch, bend to the same side of your raised arm. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat this stretch on the other side. As the name suggests, the tricep stretch helps loosen the tricep muscle, but also stretches the latissmus dorsi and teres major, which are the muscles that support your back and shoulders. This will help to prevent upper back and shoulder pain and maintain the mobility of your arms and shoulders. 

Neck Stretch

Gently tilt your head to the right side until your ear touches your shoulder. To deepen the stretch, press your right hand to your left temple and extend your left arm. Gently roll your head to the other side and repeat the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat three times on each side. This stretch targets the upper trapezius muscles and helps loosen the neck and shoulder muscles. Keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed will help to prevent stiffness and injury, as well as prevent tension headaches and correct poor posture.

To maximize the effectiveness of your stretching, try to remember to breathe deeply as you go through each pose. Take slow and steady breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. In addition, remember to use proper posture as you stretch. This will help your body learn good habits as you establish stretching as part of your routine. It is also important to remember to only stretch as far as you are comfortable. If you have a previous injury, chronic pain, or other muscle or joint complications, consult with your doctor on what would be best for you. In addition, don’t bounce during your stretches. This is known as ballistic stretching. While it can be beneficial for athletes in training, this can actually lead to injury if not utilized properly. The bouncing can put excess stress on ligaments and tendons, which can then lead to tendonitis and limit your mobility. 

The body is a machine that will function at full capacity when each part is cared for and maintained. Remember that a good workout is great for your body, but your cooldown and stretch routine is just as important. Stretching is helpful for preventing injury and will help maintain mobility in your joints. This is especially important as we age so we can live life to the fullest and continue to be active well into our old age. Women are especially susceptible to osteoporosis, which can be prevented through regular exercise, stretching, and of course, a good diet. Remember to stretch even after an exhausting workout to cool down. Even if it doesn’t seem as exciting as your regular workout, it will help prevent injury and make you better able to strengthen your muscles. While these are great stretches for a post workout routine, you can try them anytime! Make them part of a morning or night time routine to help maintain joint and muscle health. They are also a wonderful way to take a break during the work day. Try taking a break from your desk and going through these stretches to help maintain your joint health and blood circulation.

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