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You finish your final rep on the bench press, rack the bar back in the pins, puff your chest out feeling pleased with yourself and make your way out to the parking lot. While this may seem the most natural thing to do after your session, by not having a post workout ritual, you’re setting yourself up for failure and denying yourself the chance of some impressive muscle gains and awesome fat loss.
The Mental Cooldown
No matter what type of workout it’s been, we always either feel it went well, or it wasn't so great. Instead of just riding high on your achievements, or brushing your failures under the carpet, it’s worth taking the time to evaluate how your session went.
If something went well – you hit a personal best, discovered a new exercise, or really felt that you pushed yourself harder than usual then try to think why that was. Did you eat a different pre-workout meal, drink more water during the workout, get more sleep the night before? And what about your attitude – perhaps you went into the workout in a really positive mood, got more sleep the night before or listened to motivational music while you were training.
All of these factors matter enormously. You want to have great workouts all the time as the better you feel, the harder you train and the greater your results. Try to analyze exactly what you did right to make this session so good.
The same applies if your session was mediocre or just downright sucked. Everyone has awful workouts from time to time, but getting better is all about learning from your mistakes.
You can do this mental cooldown while you’re stretching.
Yep, that’s right – stretching. You hardly ever see anyone stretch in the gym anymore as people are generally too carried away working out on all the new equipment and playing with fancy fitness gizmos or eager to rush back to work, get home to cook dinner or dash off for a social meeting to bother about stretching.
Yet it’s absolutely critical. The idea that stretching reduces post workout soreness is debatable – some say it’s essential if you don’t want to be walking like John Wayne the day after a heavy leg session, others say it has no bearing on how your muscles feel whatsoever.
That aside, stretching is important when it comes to improving mobility and tissue quality and reducing injuries. If you’ve got tight muscles (and chances are you do!) the only way to loosen them up is to stretch. For anyone working an office job or who spends a lot of time in the car, it’s highly likely your hips flexors, pecs and shoulders, quads and calf muscles are tight as they spend all their time in a shortened position. Tight muscles puts you at greater risk of injury and when you’re injured you can’t train, can’t burn fat and definitely can’t build muscle.
While stretching’s relationship with soreness can’t be proved one way or the other, one thing that is certain is that stretching helps to gradually redistribute blood back around the body, which causes a steady release of nutrients into the muscle tissues, priming them for growth. Furthermore, intense stretching can increase the size of the fascia surrounding the muscle tissue which in turn leads to a greater potential for muscle gains.