Prevent Injuries With The Best 4 After Exercise Stretches
The latest talk is all about dynamic versus static stretching and I am certainly on the bandwagon for dynamic stretches in a warm up for sport or exercise however, it's crucial we don’t forget the importance of static stretching post exercise.
In my opinion it doesn’t matter whether it happens post exercise or a deliberate session of stretching on a different day, but if you continue to work your muscles hard they will slowly tighten up and without release they do start to pull on their attachments (your bones and muscles) in ways that they shouldn’t which can lead to injury.
For example if you like to run a lot or have just added sprinting into your HIIT workout, your calves will naturally become tighter and tighter. Your calf muscles combine and attach together as a tendon (known as our achilles) onto the back of the heel. If you overload your calf, or ignore post exercise stretching, the calf muscle will become shortened and pull on its attachment leading to either heel pain where the tendon inserts or can present as achilles pain itself.
These are the best simple stretches that as a Physio I find are the best for my patients for the most common muscle groups contributing to easily preventable injuries from exercising.
1. Calf Stretching
Lean into a wall with the back leg straight and then repeat with it bent. Complete twice each side and hold for at least 30 seconds.
For a stronger version of this stretch complete off the back of a step, again with the back leg straight and then bent. The change in angle at the knee ensures both parts of the calf muscles are included (soleus and gastrocnemius).
2. Hip Flexors
The hip flexors are commonly very tight in any desk based worker as the sitting position puts them in a shortened position all day. This is another reason why getting up from your desk for little breaks is a good idea.
Hip flexors are also attached to the front of the spine so when they get tight they can cause back pain. If you combine a desk based job creating naturally tight hip flexors with exercises using lots of hip flexor activity (sprinting, abdominal leg raises, mountain climbers, burpees etc) you can be sure your are at risk of hip flexor injuries, back injuries and hip injuries.
This can be avoided by making sure you stretch the hip flexors by tucking the pelvis backwards and then slowly lean forward. You should feel the stretch through the front of the hip. For a stronger stretch reach the arm from the same side as the stretching leg over your head.
3. Glute Stretch
The glutes (your buttocks) often get tight from all those squats and lunges and they are the powerhouse for any jumping or explosive running/impact exercises.
They are another common pre-disposer to injury as lack of stretching can lead to the hip being pulled in a different position leading to back and or hip pain. A really tight gluteal muscle also affects its ability to work so its ability to shock absorb and create power is reduced.
There are many different positions for stretching the glutes, but my favourite is where your lying on your back with your ankle positioned on in a right angle on your knee. This can also be completed seating on a chair, which is great for desk workers.
4. Pec Stretch
Many bootcamp type classes or HIIT workouts tend to involve a lot of chest (pec) exercises, potentially without you realising it. Anything where you are in a plank type position working on shoulders/abs or especially push ups create a lot of tension in your pecs.
This can pull on their attachment (the front of the shoulder) and effectively pull it forward. This can lead to many different shoulder injuries but the most common is shoulder bursitis or shoulder impingement. Completing this simple stretch is often all it takes to prevent these nasty injuries.
Using a door frame or wall is the easiest way. For a stronger stretch do one arm at a time and turn your body further away from the hand.