Stretching after your workout helps keep your knees and other joints happy and healthy. Consider adding these three effective moves into your cooldown mix.
Warming up before a workout is always a sensible idea, since it helps prepare your body for the activity to come. But planning for some cooldown time after your workout is a smart strategy too.
Not only does stretching give you some time to get your heart rate back to normal, it’s also beneficial for your muscles and joints, including your hardworking knees.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), cooldowns are especially important for older adults because they allow the body to downshift after a higher-impact workout like a brisk walk or a set of intervals on a stationary bike. Cooldowns are also key for people with chronic health conditions who may need more time to adjust to increasing or decreasing intensity.
ACE adds that cooldowns also enhance your flexibility, which is an important part of maintaining a wider range of motion. Better flexibility can lead to a keener sense of balance and a lower risk for falls. According to the National Institute on Aging, more than one in four people aged 65 years or older fall each year.
Stretching after a workout is also an easy way to prevent knee pain because it can address the muscular imbalances that can make your knees hurt. Stretching and strengthening the lower body — especially the hips, quads, and hamstrings — allows your core, hips, and legs to work more effectively together. This reduces strain on the knee joints. With that in mind, consider including these three moves into your post-workout cooldown. Your muscles and joints will thank you.
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How to Use These Exercises to Prevent Knee Pain
As always, safety is key. Get your doctor’s OK before beginning a new exercise program, especially if you have any chronic conditions, including osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, or joint issues.
Try these moves as a cooldown sequence after any cardio or strength-training workout. You may also want to use them as a mid-day movement snack — or even as part of your pre-bedtime routine. Perform each move for about 20 seconds before moving on to the next.
What you need:
Recommended reading: Knee Pain Causes and Treatments
1. Single-Leg Reach
This exercise pulls triple-duty: It strengthens the muscles above and below the knee to help shore up support for your knee. It also stretches the back of the leg and knee. Finally, it serves as a balance exercise to help guard against falls.
How to do it:
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hands on your hips. If needed, hold the back of your chair for support.
- Shift your weight to one leg, allowing that knee to bend slightly.
- From here, reach your non–weight bearing leg out in front of you, as if you were about to walk down a step.
- Bend your standing knee a little bit more if you can, reaching your extended leg out and down as you do. If your knee starts to cave in, you’ve gone too far.
- Bring your leg back into the starting position. That’s one rep.
- Do 10 to 12 reps on each side.
2. Seated Figure-4 Stretch
Tight glute muscles send more pressure to your knees. This stretch can help.
How to do it:
- Sit tall in a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor.
- Cross your left ankle over your right thigh. (Be sure it’s on your thigh and not your knee.)
- Gently press your left knee down toward the floor, allowing your torso to lean forward slightly as you do.
- You should feel a stretch in your left hip and glute.
- Keep your chest lifted.
- Hold here for a few seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
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3. Seated Hamstring Stretch
Releasing tension in the hamstrings can ease tightness in the knees (and lower back) to help alleviate pain.
How to do it:
- Sit tall and shift your weight to your right leg.
- Extend your left leg in front of you with your toes up and your heel on the ground.
- Keep a slight bend in your right knee, and place your hands on your right thigh or your hips.
- From here, keep your chest lifted as you hinge forward slightly at your hips to feel a stretch in the back of your left thigh.
- Hold here, and then repeat on the other side.
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