You’re Cheating Yourself If You’re Not Cooling Down With These Stretches

Photo credit: FatCamera - Getty Images
Photo credit: FatCamera - Getty Images

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How many times have you gone straight from your workout to the shower? If you’re like me, the answer is “basically every time.” That instinct is totally understandable, and time is precious. With the rest of your busy schedule in the back of your mind, it’s tough not to rush straight from a sweat sesh to the next phase of your day—whether that’s going to work, picking up your kids from soccer practice, or socializing with friends.

But here’s the thing: Spending some extra time on cool-down exercises after your workout is totally worth it. Your body needs a gentle transition between your go-go-go sweat and regularly scheduled programming.

Meet the experts: Amanda Hudock, CPT, is a certified personal trainer and registered yoga teacher, who focuses on kettlebell strength training.

That's exactly where cool-down exercises come in. “I think the best reason for a cool-down—in terms of what your body needs—is the fact that the heart rate is starting to come back to normal,” says Amanda Hudock, CPT. Basically, she explains, cooling down helps bring your body (think: blood pressure, heart rate, temperature) back to its normal state. And BTW, she also says it helps her to feel calmer as she goes about the rest of her day.

Plus, tacking a cool-down onto your workout probably isn’t as big of a deal as you might think. Cool-down exercises don't have to be lengthy to be effective, Hudock says—even just three to six minutes will do the trick. “It could be something as simple as walking,” she explains, and adds that stretching (specifically, holding stretches for 30 to 60 seconds) can also be part of your cool-down. And the stretches or activity you choose can mimic your training that day, she notes.

Read on for more benefits of cooling down post-sesh, plus the best cool-down exercises to try after any workout and after running, straight from experts.

The Benefits Of Cool-Down Exercises & Stretches

In case you’re not yet convinced that cool-downs are worth the (minimal) time commitment, hear me out! Here are the main reasons to squeeze them in and benefits you'll get:

  1. Cool-downs ease your body back to its normal state. After a workout, your body temp is elevated, your heart is beating faster than usual, and your blood vessels are dilated, according to the American Heart Association. So, if you stop too suddenly, you might feel sick—or even pass out. Cooling down brings you back down gradually after being active, per the AHA.

  2. Cool-down exercises might help you avoid injury. While there isn't research to prove it, as Mayo Clinic points out, there’s not much downside to doing a proper cool-down. And according to a 2014 article from the American Council on Exercise, consistent static stretching as part of your cool-down improves your range of motion (mobility) over time—which might help ward off injuries.

  3. A cool-down sesh can reduce lactic acid buildup in your muscles, Hudock says. That’s important because lactic acid buildup can lead to muscle cramping and stiffness (no thanks!), according to the AHA. Stretching specifically helps to reduce that buildup and the ill effects that come along with it.

4 Cool-Down Exercises And Stretches For Any Workout

These are four cool-down exercises and stretches Hudock recommends after any type of workout. Follow her step-by-step instructions for each one to help calm your bod.

Child’s Pose

How to:

  1. Begin in a tabletop position with hands under shoulders and knees under hips.

  2. Bring your big toes together and shift knees wider than hips.

  3. Sit back into your hips so your glutes come to the top of your heels. Reach forward and fully extend your arms and rest your forehead on the ground.

  4. Continue to press your hips back and reach your fingertips forward to create a deeper stretch. Relax your shoulders and neck and take long, deep breaths to allow your heart rate to come down.

  5. Hold the pose for as long as you need.

Legs Up The Wall

Photo credit: Erin Warwood
Photo credit: Erin Warwood

How to:

  1. Lay on your back and scoot your glutes as close to the wall as you can.

  2. Lift your legs straight up the wall.

  3. Bring your arms to a goal post position to stretch your shoulders, back, and chest.

  4. Allow your body to release tension throughout your feet, legs, and upper body.

  5. Hold the position for 60 seconds or more and take long, deep breaths.

Half Frog With Thoracic Spine Stretch

Photo credit: Erin Warwood
Photo credit: Erin Warwood

How to:

  1. Start lying on a mat on your stomach with your legs together and straight and arms out in a T.

  2. Bend your left knee to 90 degrees so it lines up with your hip.

  3. Turn your head to the right, and rest on your left cheek.

  4. Press into your hip and press your hands down to the ground.

  5. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch sides.

Kettlebell Arm Bar

Photo credit: Amanda Hudock
Photo credit: Amanda Hudock

How to:

  1. Lie on your right side with a kettlebell next to you.

  2. Grip the KB with your right hand under the handle and your left hand over, then roll onto your back with both knees bent.

  3. Press the kettlebell up above you with both hands, then release your left hand so only your right arm is pressing the bell overhead. Keep your eyes on the KB throughout.

  4. Rest your left arm on the ground near your head and extend your left leg.

  5. Press into your foot on your bent leg to roll onto your left side with stacked shoulders and head resting on your left arm.

  6. Once your shoulder feels stable, shift your bent right knee over your body and onto the ground. Press your palm on your left arm and your hips into the ground.

  7. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds, creating and maintaining as much tension as possible through your arm, hips, and legs.

  8. Slowly reverse each step to return to the starting position on your back with the bell on the ground.

  9. Repeat on the opposite side.

4 Post-Run Cool-Down Exercises And Stretches

If you’re a runner looking for a way to cool down after logging some miles, Hudock’s got you covered! Read on for her suggested post-run moves and step-by-step instructions. (And remember, walking to cool down is always an option, too!)

Runner’s Lunge

Photo credit: Erin Warwood
Photo credit: Erin Warwood

How to:

  1. Begin in a downward dog pose.

  2. Step your right foot forward to rest outside of the right hand.

  3. Lower your left knee to the ground.

  4. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds.

  5. Step your foot back to your downward dog. Repeat with the other side.

Pro tip: Gently shift forward and backward if it feels good.

Supine Figure Four

Photo credit: Erin Warwood
Photo credit: Erin Warwood

How to:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the ground about hips-distance apart.

  2. Bring your right knee into your chest, and pull it toward you by grabbing your shin.

  3. Cross your left ankle over your right knee and reach through your legs to grab your hamstring and pull your legs closer to your chest.

  4. Use your elbow to press your left knee away from you to get a deep stretch through your crossed leg. Keep your feet flexed and press your low back into the ground.

  5. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Uncross your legs and switch sides.

Standing Quad Stretch

Photo credit: Erin Warwood
Photo credit: Erin Warwood

How to:

  1. Stand and hold onto something sturdy (like a couch, wall, or counter).

  2. Bend your right knee and grab your right ankle.

  3. Flex your right foot and pull your heel closer to your glutes. Keep your knees together, and create tension through your glutes and core.

  4. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then release and switch sides.

Seated Forward Fold

Photo credit: Erin Warwood
Photo credit: Erin Warwood

How to:

  1. Start in a seated position with your legs straight and feet flexed and hips-width distance apart.

  2. Hinge through your hips to bring your head, chest, and arms closer to your legs.

  3. Use your arms to pull yourself closer to your legs while keeping your feet flexed for a deep hamstring and calf stretch.

  4. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

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