The 7 Best Post Workout Stretches

Probably more often than many of us would like to admit, in the last few minutes of our workout, we start focusing on the next thing on our to-do list for the day, and often this involves a quick shower, a bite to eat, and then onto whatever is next.

However, one glaring step has been omitted from the workout routine—post workout stretches. We are all too quick to want to get on with the day after a hard workout and let’s face it, post-workout stretching just doesn’t have the allure and excitement of the workout itself. 

In fact, many runners and other exercisers would much prefer to tack on an extra mile to their run, spin another five minutes, or get in another few sets of squats rather than slow things down, roll out a yoga mat, and do some stretching after a workout.

However, there are many benefits of stretching after a workout, and doing just a few simple post workout stretches is often all you need to reap the benefits.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of stretching after a workout and will share the best post workout stretches that give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of efficiency, ensuring you get on with all the other awesome things you’re going to conquer in your day.

We will cover: 

  • Should You Stretch After a Workout?
  • What Are the Best Post Workout Stretches?
  • The 7 Best Post Workout Stretches

Let’s dive in! 

A quad stretch, a post workout stretch.

Should You Stretch After a Workout?

Stretching is actually a fairly hotly-debated topic in the fitness community. Some people say that stretching before a workout is problematic and actually can decrease performance, while others are big proponents of pre-workout stretches.

In this regard, the evidence for the benefits of pre-workout has been mixed, particularly if you are only considering static stretching, which is the type of stretching most people typically think of when they think of stretching: extending a muscle towards it and range of motion and then holding the position for 15 to 30 seconds or longer.

However, dynamic stretching before a workout has almost unilaterally been shown to be quite beneficial for both increasing range of motion and improving exercise performance.

Furthermore, the evidence demonstrating the benefits of stretching after a workout has also been almost entirely favorable; in this case, static stretching is quite appropriate and effective in the post-workout stretching routine.

For example, studies have found that static stretching can increase flexibility, reduce the risk of injuries, and can improve exercise performance.

Hamstring stretch.

What Are the Best Post Workout Stretches?

The best stretches to do after a workout depends on the type of exercise you performed, as well as any particular needs you might have.

In general, particularly if you are short on time and you want to maximize the effectiveness of your post workout stretching routine, it is most important to focus on stretching the primary muscles that you used during your workout.

For example, the best post workout stretches for runners are those that target the muscles in the lower body, such as the quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and other smaller muscles that stabilize and mobilize the hips.

On the other hand, the best post workout stretches for a swimmer, rower, or someone who just did an upper-body strength training workout, will target the muscles of the shoulders, arms, chest, and back.

Additionally, no matter what type of exercise you perform, if you have a particular muscle group that is tight or are experiencing stiffness or limited range of motion in a certain joint, it is important to include specific stretches after your workout that target these areas.

A chest stretch.

This will help increase flexibility and minimize any imbalances or deficits in your range of motion, which is especially important if there are differences in muscle stiffness from one side of the body relative to the other.

For example, even if you just did an indoor cycling workout, which is predominantly a lower-body exercise, but you have tightness latissimus dorsi muscle in the back (lats), it will behoove you to do a quick stretch for the upper and lower back to help alleviate this issue.

Similarly, if one of your Achilles tendons has been feeling stiff and tight, you should focus your efforts on making sure you get in a couple of good stretches for the calf and Achilles, particularly on that side of the body.

The 7 Best Post Workout Stretches

As just described, the best stretches to do after your workout will depend a little bit on the type of exercise you just did, but here are some of the best post workout stretches for most of the major muscle groups. 

You can pick a handful of these easy stretches to do after your workout based on the primary muscles you just worked.

Hamstring stretch.

#1: Standing Hamstring Stretch

The hamstrings are the muscles along the back of your leg. You can perform this stretch standing or seated with your legs stretched in front of you.

Instructions:

  1. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hinge at your hips and fold your body to reach down and touch your toes. Keep your very slight bend in your knees.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.

#2: Standing Quad Stretch

This is a great post workout stretch for the quads and hip flexors. 

Instructions:

  1. Stand upright with good posture.
  2. Lift one leg off the ground, bending your knee and bringing your heel to your butt.
  3. Pull your heel into your butt until you feel a good stretch in your quads.
  4. Push your hips forward to deepen the stretch in the hip flexors.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds, and then switch sides.
Glute stretch.

#3: Glutes/Piriformis Stretch

This is a great stretch for your glutes and piriformis, so it’s good for runners, cyclists, and after lower-body strength training.  

Instructions:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bring your left leg up so that your hip and knee are both at a 90-degree angle and your shin is parallel to the floor.
  3. Bring your right leg up to rest your right ankle on the left thigh, rotating your right hip outward as if sitting in a crisscross applesauce position.
  4. Place your left hand behind your left thigh, pulling your leg in towards your body while simultaneously using your right hand on your right knee to push your right knee away from you.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds, and then switch sides.
Butterfly stretch.

#4: Butterfly Stretch

This popular stretch helps open the hips and stretch the adductors, the muscles along your inner thighs that attach to the pubic bones. 

Instructions:

  1. Sit with the soles of your feet together and your knees out to the side towards the ground.
  2. If you need more of an intense stretch, gently press the knees down and lean forward.
  3. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

#5: Chest Stretch

This is a good stretch after a workout to stretch your pectoral muscles in the chest and the front of your shoulders.

Instructions:

  1. Stand facing a doorway with your arms out to the side so that your body forms a giant letter T.
  2. Step one foot far enough forward through the doorway so that your straightened arms catch on the sides of the doorway and you feel a nice stretch across your chest. 
  3. Keep your gaze forward and spine upright.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds, and then switch legs.
IT band stretch to the side.

#6: IT Band Stretch

Many athletes, particularly runners and cyclists, have tight iliotibial bands (the band of fibrous connective tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee).

This stretch targets your IT band but also stretches the hamstrings, lower back, glutes, and calves.

Instructions:

  1. Stand upright and cross your right leg over your left so that your right heel and ankle are planted to the outside of your left hip.
  2. Hinge at your hips and fold your body to reach down and touch your toes. Keep your left leg straight.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds, and then switch legs.
Calf stretch.

#7: Calf/Achilles Stretch

This is a great stretch for the lower legs, including the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the calves and the Achilles tendon, which attaches these muscles to the heel bone.

Instructions:

  1. Stand at the end of a stair or curb with your heels hanging off the back.
  2. Drop one or both heels down to feel a deep stretch in your calves. 
  3. Hold for 20 seconds.
  4. Bend your knees as you continue to hold the position to stretch the soleus and Achilles.
  5. Hold for 15 seconds.

A post-workout stretching routine doesn’t need to be particularly long and involved. Focus on performing a few static stretches to elongate the muscles you just worked and help your body cool down from your workout.

Now that you know what to do post-workout, what about pre-workout? For a list of pre-run dynamic stretches to get your body warmed up and ready to go, check out our guide: The 12 Best Pre-Run Stretches For Runners

Quad stretch in the snow.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

1 thought on “The 7 Best Post Workout Stretches”

  1. Amber

    I love this, “and let’s face it, post-workout stretching just doesn’t have the allure and excitement of the workout itself.” 100%. These days, my workouts are primarily strength based and after a long session, the last thing I want to do is stay at the gym to stretch. I know I should but I talk myself out of it on the way to the car.

    Keep writing and enjoy your holidays.
    Joe

    Reply

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