“When you lift a weight your muscles contract. After the workout, the muscles remain contracted for some time. Until the muscle has restored its length, it has not recovered. Hence he who does not stretch his muscles slows down the recuperation process and retards his gains.” Alexander Faleev, Russian powerlifter
For professional athletes, a well-designed post-workout cool-down is non-negotiable, so why don’t we hold ourselves to the same standards? If I don’t stretch out properly after a hard session, I feel stiff and achey the next day and I’m much more likely to skip my workout, or at least, take it easy. And when I do buckle down and release the muscles I’ve been working, I notice a significant reduction in soreness and exponentially faster recovery. And those are just the short-term benefits. Consistent post-workout stretching will enhance your performance, keep you feeling supple and help to ward off muscular imbalances.
BENEFITS OF A YOGA COOL-DOWN
A traditional post-workout stretch routine can be highly effective but why not supercharge your results by bringing in some simple yoga poses and techniques? These are some are some of the additional benefits:
- Yoga poses are typically more varied than athletic stretches, targeting each muscle from multiple different angles.
- Focusing on your breath (specifically, extending your exhalations) relaxes the muscles, allowing for a deeper release of tension.
- Paying attention to your alignment (and, where necessary, the appropriate use of yoga props) maximises the efficiency of the stretches.
- Working skilfully with your breath will help you to avoid the temptation to force your muscles to lengthen, which can be counter-productive at the very least, and potentially lead to sprains and tears.
- Developing awareness of how the poses feel in your body can help to prevent the onset of over-training or repetitive use injuries.
10-POSE POST-WORKOUT SEQUENCE
So if you’re not already at the beach, kick off your shoes and follow this 10-pose total body yoga cool-down after your next workout. Tune in closely to the changes in your physiology as you return to baseline. Notice as your heart rate and breathing slow down. How your body temperature and energy levels change. Pay close attention to all the ways in which your body and mind transition into that optimal state of repair and restoration.
1. CHILD’S POSE
First, come down into Child’s pose. Bring your arms back beside you or reach them out in front. If you have props nearby, you can put a bolster (or a couple of pillows) between your hamstrings and calves and under your forehead.
Allow your breath to come and go naturally. You don’t need to control it in anyway. Follow each breath all the way from the beginning of the inhalation, all the way through to the end of the exhalation. Stay in Child’s pose for a minute or so.
Come up to all fours to transition into a gentle twist. Inhale, sweep your right hand up to the sky. Exhale, thread your right hand under your left shoulder and bring your head down to rest on the mat.
If it feels comfortable, you can extend your left hand forward. Start to draw out your exhalations, letting go of tension and dropping deeper into the pose on every exhalation. Stay in Thread-The-Needle for a minute or so before switching to the other side.
3. SCREAMING TOE
Come back to all fours, tuck your toes under and sit back on your heels in Screaming Toe pose. Bring your palms together at your chest, sit up tall and draw your shoulders back.
Reconnect your mind and body with a few moments of breath meditation. Try to stay focused on your inhalations and exhalations, avoiding the temptation to get lost in thought. Aim to keep your inhalations and exhalations roughly the same length. Making the breath audible can help with concentration.
4. DOWNWARD DOG
Come back to all fours, walk your hands forward, tuck your toes and lift your hips up into Downward Dog. Spread your fingers wide, bend your knees and drop your chest back towards your thighs.
Slowly walk out your feet to stretch the backs of your legs—your ankles, calves and hamstrings. Be careful not to let your lower back round. Seal your lips and breathe in and out through your nose. Hold the pose for 3-5 slow breaths.
Walk your hands all the way back to your feet for Ragdoll. Take hold of opposite elbows and relax into the pose. Sway gently from side to side. Keep your knees bent to allow your lower back to release.
Seal your lips and take long, slow and even breaths. Try to let go of tension on every exhalation, allowing the weight of your upper body to do the work. Even if you’re a super yogi, keep your knees bent to take pressure off your lower back.
6. CRESCENT LUNGE
Bring your hands back down to the mat and walk them forward into Downward Dog. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, step your left foot in between your hands, drop your right knee and release your back foot.
You can keep your hands on the mat in Low Lunge—or, inhale, sweep your arms out and up into Crescent Lunge. Exhale, relax into the pose. The aim of this pose is to deeply and safely stretch your hip flexors. Extend your exhalations—relaxing deeper into the pose on every breath. Hold for 3-5 breaths before switching sides.
7. WIDE-LEGGED STANDING FORWARD BEND
From Downward Dog, step your left foot forward and swivel both feet to the right for Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend. Option to interlace your hands behind your back to add in a shoulder opener.
Bend your knees as much as you need to and bring your hands to blocks if you have some at hand. Be careful not to try to use force to increase the intensity of the pose. Instead, try to let go of any areas of tension and use your breath to drop deeper into the pose. Stay for 3-5 breaths.
Step back to Downward Dog. Inhale, sweep your right leg up. Exhale, bring your right knee forward behind your right wrist and position your left foot under your left hip.
You can stay up on the palms of your hands for an active version of the pose or drop down into Sleeping Pigeon. You may want to put a bolster or a couple of cushions under the hip of your bent leg to keep your hips level. Keep using your breath to drop deeper into the pose. Stay for a minute or so on each side.
9. WILD THING
If you are super supple, you can come into Wild Thing. Come forward into Side Plank on your right hand. Inhale, step your left foot back, lift your hips up. Exhale, relax into the pose. Hold for 2-3 breaths on each side.
If Wild Thing is not yet in your yoga repertoire, you can drop down onto your knees, sweep both feet to the left, sit back and bring both feet out in front of you flat on the mat. Inhale, sit up tall. Exhale, lower down slowly onto your back for Bridge pose. Hold for 3-5 breaths, in and out through your nose.
10. RECLINING BUTTERFLY
We’ll finish in Reclining Butterfly to open up the hips and stretch the chest, shoulders and triceps. Close your eyes and spend a few moments allowing all your hard work to sink in.
Instead of using the time to plan the rest of your day, try to keep your mind and body connected by focusing on the sensations of yourbreath—either at your belly or your chest. And when you’re ready, gently bring yourself up to sitting. Now you can move back into your day.
Let me know if you have any questions about the sequence and share it with any of your friends you think might be skimping on a really thorough, restorative cool-down.
Photo credit: Maria Revelj, Bali