K. Aleisha Fetters, a health and fitness writer, and a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the NSCA shared that you crossed the finish line, crushed your circuit routine or cranked out your last set at the squat rack — but you’re not done yet. For optimal health and exercise results, you need to cap off every sweat session with these five post-workout tasks.
1. STRETCH ANY MUSCLES YOU WORKED Static stretching (Think: bend and hold) is best reserved for after your workouts. A comprehensive review published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports concluded that pre-exercise static stretching can reduce levels of strength, power and explosive performance during the subsequent workout. When performed immediately after your workouts, however, static stretching can help you cool down, increase muscle relaxation and potentially get tight muscles back to their resting length.
“Many exercises shorten muscles and it is important to stretch them out after the workouts,” says Todd J. Sontag, a board-certified physician with Orlando Health Physician Associatesin Florida. “For example, runners typically will have tight hamstrings if they don’t consistently stretch after their long runs. The tighter the muscles get, the more likely they are to develop injuries and lose their speed.”
Immediately following your workouts, when your muscles are still warm, aim to spend 30 seconds to one minute stretching each muscle group that feels particularly tight.
2. WASH UP One study, by FitRated.com, found that free weights are covered in 362 times more bacteria than a toilet and a treadmill in 74 times more bacteria than a water faucet. Once trapped on your skin and in your workout clothes, those germs thrive in hot and sweaty environments.
The best way to nix them is to get those sweaty threads off ASAP and scrub up with an antibacterial wash, says Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at the NYU School of Medicine. While taking a shower right at the gym is your best bet for combating any viruses stuck on your skin and preventing yeast infections, it’s a good idea to keep shoes on your feet at all times, according to a position statement from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
If possible, keep your dirty workout wear separate from other belongings and wash them using your washing machine’s sanitize cycle (if it has one), hot water or (if you’re working with whites) bleach. The heat setting on your dryer can also help kill any germs that weren’t washed away.