We’ve all heard about the importance of stretching to keep your body loose and limber. But did you know that there’s a difference between the types of stretches that should be done in a warmup versus those that should be done to cool down after exercise?
Prior to working out, warming up the muscles is important to prevent injury and prime muscles for more strenuous movement. After working out, stretching is important to help with muscle repair and recovery, as well as to increase flexibility. And different types of movements accomplish each of these goals.
Warmups should consist of dynamic stretching, which means the stretches are not held; instead, they’re done in fluid movements to warm up the muscles, tendons and joints for activity. A cool-down, on the other hand, focuses on static stretches; capitalizing on the warm muscles that allow your joints to move through a fuller range of motion with less effort. This is accomplished by holding stretches for a longer amount of time, and slowly easing your body into a deeper stretch each time, increasing flexibility.
There are tons of dynamic and static stretches that you can string together to create an effective warmup and cool-down routine. To get you started, we created these two simple sequences, which pay special attention to those muscles utilized during running. Starting and ending your jog with these moves will improve your running game, reduce the risk of injury, and help you recover more quickly.
The warmup stretches outlined below can be performed before a variety of workouts — whether you’re beginning a treadmill workout or hitting the pool to swim some laps. But they are especially great to prime your body for a run. In fact, these stretches are specifically designed to warm up the major muscles used for running or speed-walking, like the muscles of the legs, the hip flexors and core.
This is the first dynamic stretch to kick off your warmup. Stand with your left foot forward and your right foot back and bend into a lunge to stretch the right hip flexor. Hold for one deep inhale, and then exhale as you straighten the right leg while bending forward at the waist to stretch the left hamstring. Be sure to keep the hips square to the front. Repeat this 5 times, and then switch to the other leg.
Standing upright, kick your right leg forward in front of you and reach for it with your left hand. Keep your right hand on your hip to stabilize your body. You can swing the foot back to the starting position and then in front of you again 4 or 5 times. This helps to loosen up the hip flexors and hip joint, which will help with your running or walking stride. Then switch to the left leg and repeat 4 or 5 times.
Standing with your feet wider than your hips, bend the right knee into a side lunge, keeping the left leg straight as you stretch the left groin and inner thigh. Then come through center and bend the left leg, as you straighten the right leg and stretch the right inner thigh and groin. Repeat 5 times on each side.
Repeat the standing side lunge above, but this time as you bend the right knee place the left hand or fingertips onto the ground and twist your torso to the right. Reach the right hand up towards the sky, and then come back through center. Bend the left knee, place the right hand or fingertips on the ground and twist the torso to the left, reaching the left arm up. Repeat this 5 times on each side.
Standing with your feet hip distance apart and your knees slightly bent, simply twist your torso to the right and then to the left. Rotate at your waist to loosen up the torso, spine, core, shoulders and arms, being sure to keep your lower body still.
Cool-down stretches are meant to be static and held for longer than five seconds at a time. These should be performed once you’re done with your workout and off of any equipment. Of course, the use of props (like yoga straps, blocks, bands or a foam roller) can be useful if you’d like to expand upon the cool-down routine we’re outlining here. These cool-down stretches specifically stretch the muscles that are primarily used in running.
Standing with your left foot forward and right foot back, bend the left knee into a lunge position, reaching both arms up towards the sky. This will stretch the right hip flexor. Pull the abs in to make the stretch more intense, and if you are flexible and can use a deeper stretch, lower the hands onto the ground inside the right knee to come down further into the stretch. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch sides.
With the feet hip-distance apart, hinge forward at your waist and come into a forward fold. Bend one knee and then bend the other knee, and feel a stretch in the back of the legs (in the hamstrings). Hold for 30 seconds total if you keep both legs straight, or 15 seconds per leg if you bend each knee.
This is one of the most basic stretches that you may remember from PE in grade school. Standing straight, grab your right ankle pulling it in towards your glute with your right hand, stretching the right quad. Keep the right leg parallel to the left as you reach the knee towards the ground. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Standing with feet hips-distance apart, cross the right ankle over the left knee, creating the number "4" with your lower body. Sink down so that you feel a stretch in the right glute. Hold for 20 seconds and then switch to the other side. (This can also be done seated for a modification.)
Step your feet wider than your hips, and clasp your hands behind your back. Then fold forward to feel a stretch in your chest and also your inner thighs. Hold for 30 seconds as you slowly breathe in and out. On the exhale, feel yourself lowering closer to the ground. Release the arms up toward the sky before coming back up to standing.
Standing with your feet hip-distance apart, clasp your hands up over head and then reach over to the right side. Feel a stretch in the left side of your waist, and hold for 15 seconds. Relax the shoulders and breathe. Come up through center and reach over to the left for 15 seconds.
Stephanie Mansour is a health and fitness expert and weight-loss coach for women. She is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and Pilates instructor, and host of “Step It Up with Steph” on American Public Television.