ICYMI, stretching is one of the most important aspects of a well-rounded fitness routine. And yet, it’s still one of the most underrated and ignored areas of physical fitness. Not only does stretching help increase flexibility, promote better coordination, and prevent injury, but it can also quite simply make you a better athlete. “Effective stretching techniques will help to restore function and integrity to an athlete’s biomechanics,” says Aaptiv trainer Jennifer Giamo. “Stretching also helps athletes optimize movement patterns with more efficiency, power, and speed, which ultimately can lead to improved performance.”

Post-workout stretching, in particular, can make all the difference in your workouts and your progress. “After periods of intense or prolonged training, your mobility becomes restricted and limited as knots, adhesions, and scar tissue form on the soft tissue,” Giamo says. She explains that these are all normal parts of the body’s natural healing process, but can, of course, become uncomfortable and actually inhibit physical activity if not tended to. “Stretching helps get your body back to its pre-exercise state.”

If you still need convincing to spend some more time stretching on the mats, Giamo shares even more benefits of actively lengthening those muscles. Stretching helps:

  • Reduce muscle soreness
  • Speed or aid in recovery
  • Improve circulation, allowing blood to flow to damaged tissues and repair them
  • Promote relaxation and stress relief
  • Allow you time to reflect on the mental and physical impact of your workouts

To help you on your way, we asked Giamo to share some of her favorite post-workout stretches. Keep reading for a handful of movements and poses you can do anywhere — no equipment required. For more stretch combinations and to increase flexibility overall, check out Giamo’s new stretching program, “Touch Your Toes in 20 Days,” live in the Aaptiv app now!

Upper Body

neck stretch

1. Neck Rolls: Drop your right ear to your right shoulder, tucking your chin. Roll your chin to your chest and bring your head to your left shoulder. Continue to roll your head around in both directions for 30-45 seconds, making sure to keep shoulders down. You can even hold dumbbells to help do this.

2. Shoulder Rolls: Bring shoulders up, back, and down. Roll your shoulders backward for 30 seconds. Then, roll shoulders forward for 30 seconds.

3. Tricep Stretch: Lift your right arm overhead and bend the elbow. Use your left hand to pull down on your right elbow behind your neck. Use gentle pressure to stretch the tricep. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides. Be sure to keep your chin slightly lifted.

Trunk/Core

spinal rotation stretch

1. Thread the Needle: Start on your hands and knees with a flat back and your fingers pointing in toward each other. Lift the right arm straight out to the side, then bend the left elbow and thread the right arm underneath the left side. You should rotate the upper trunk while keeping the hips still. To increase the stretch, lower your right shoulder and ear to the floor. Hold this for 45 seconds or one minute on each side.

2. Spinal Rotation: Start on your back. Bend your right knee, keeping your left leg straight. Cross your right knee over your left leg. Your right hip and glute should come off the floor. Press down on the bent knee with your left arm and resist against the applied pressure. Hold 10 seconds and relax. Then, hold without resistance for 30 seconds. Switch sides.

3. Upward Dog: Start on your stomach. Place your hands under your shoulders and, pressing your hands into the floor, lift your chest. Drop your shoulders and keep pressing until you feel the stretch in your abdominals. You can keep your arms extended or slightly bent if needed. Be mindful of your lower back in this position and be sure it’s not compressing the lumbar spine. Bending your arms will alleviate this.

Lower Body

pigeon pose yoga

1. Modified Pigeon: Kneel on your mat. Bring your right leg behind you and lean your torso forward. Place your forearms on the mat. Bring your left knee outward to the side. Your left ankle might need to slide forward so that your pelvis can lower to the floor. Bend your elbows to deepen the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

2. Figure Four Stretch Against a Wall: Start on your back with legs stretched long. Cross your left foot over your right quadricep and bend your right knee. Press your right foot against the wall. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

Do you have a favorite post-workout stretch? Share it with us @Aaptiv and @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)