You’ve just crushed another workout. It’s tempting to hit the showers and continue with your busy day. Not so fast! Your workout isn’t really over until you’ve completed your cool down. Just as it’s important to start your workout with a well-designed warmup, you should also end each workout with a series of cool-down stretches. Let’s take a look at why cool-down exercises and stretches should be a part of every complete workout. Then we’ll get you started on designing your own cool-down routine with a list of our favorite cool-down stretches.
Why You Need a Cool-Down Routine After Your Workout
When you walk into the gym, you don’t immediately start sprinting your heart out on a treadmill or put 200 pounds on a barbell for a set of heavy deadlifts. No, you begin with a warmup. Warming up is a way to prep your body for the coming workout so that you can prevent injuries and see the most results from your effort.
Cooling down serves the same purpose in reverse. After a tough workout, your heart is pounding and your muscles are humming. You don’t want to just slide into your car and head home. Instead, you need to help your body transition into a cooled-down state.
Here’s what a routine of cool-down stretches can do for you:
Keep You from Passing Out
Exercise ratchets up your heart rate and blood pressure. If you come to a complete halt after that final difficult rep, your blood will pool in your legs. More blood in your legs means less blood for your brain, which can lead to lightheadedness, dizziness, and fainting. If you’ve ever gone to the locker room and felt a wave of dizziness crash over you, it probably wasn’t the crushing workout you just completed. It was that you didn’t cool down!
Help Prevent Soreness
The fitness experts call it delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. You know it as that horrible ache a day or two after your workout that makes climbing the stairs something you never want to do again. Soreness is a normal result of tough workouts, and it can’t be completely avoided. (Consider it a badge of honor.) However, according to ACE, an organization that certifies personal trainers, a cool-down routine can help minimize your soreness, which means you can get back to the gym sooner rather than later.
Help Prevent Injury
After you set down the barbell after that final rep or take your wobbly self off the treadmill or elliptical, your muscles will be warm and flexible. That makes this the perfect time for some static stretching to increase your flexibility. It also means that your muscles could be at risk of injury if you don’t cool down properly. If you fall or stumble or simply twist a little too much to reach the sunglasses that fell under your car seat, your warm muscles could pull or tear. Ouch! Cooling off your muscles with static stretches can improve your mobility and prevent injuries.
Let You Enjoy the Fruits of Your Workout
One of the best things about getting in a good workout (besides helping to prevent all kinds of lifestyle diseases) is that exercise releases a cascade of positive hormones and chemicals in your body, including the feel-good chemical, dopamine. Instead of snapping back into busy, chaotic reality, give yourself a few minutes to soak in the good feels. A set of cool-down exercises lets you breathe and reflect. This is when great ideas strike or when you finally come up with a solution to that nagging problem. Don’t cheat yourself of these wonderful moments of inner peace.
Ten Cool-Down Stretches to Try After Your Next Workout
Now that you know all the reasons to add some stretches to the end of your workout routine, here are our ten favorite stretches just for you. Ideally, you’ll want to reserve at least 15 minutes at the end of each workout for your cool down. We recommend holding each stretch for eight to ten breaths to get the full benefit of the movement.
1. Walking or Slow Cycling
Okay, technically, this isn’t a stretch, but we strongly recommend adding five minutes of a slow and easy cardio movement directly at the end of each workout. Remember all those earlier warnings about blood pooling and passing out? The best way to bring your heart rate down in a steady way is with a cool-down exercise. That might mean walking, jumping on an exercise bike, or even an elliptical trainer.
2. Child’s Pose
If you’ve taken a yoga class, then you know how wonderful child’s pose feels. Perform this stretch by sitting on your knees. Fold forward so that your chest is on your knees and your arms stretch forward with your palms on the ground. You should feel a gentle stretch in your back and shoulders. This is a great cool-down stretch for anyone with low back pain.
3. Reclining Twist
Another great stretch for the low and middle back is the reclining twist. Start by lying on your back. Pull one knee into your chest. Place a hand on the outside of your knee and slowly guide your leg across your body until you reach your limitation. Don’t be surprised if you hear a few pops in your back. This exercise feels wonderful. To get even more out of this stretch, extend the opposite arm and feel the stretch in your chest muscle.
4. Pigeon Pose
Give your glutes a nice good stretch with the pigeon pose. Start on the floor. Kick one leg back behind you and bend the other one in front. Ideally, the side of your knee and shin on the front leg should contact the floor. You should feel a nice stretch in the side of your glute. Now, lean over your bent leg to give your back a little stretch.
5. Hip Flexor Stretch
If you spend most of your day sitting at a desk or behind the wheel, chances are your hip flexors are tight. Give them some love with this simple yet highly effective stretch. Get down on one knee as if you were proposing. Push your hips forward while keeping your chest upright. You should feel a nice stretch along the inside of the hip and your back leg.
6. Quad Stretch
You’ve probably seen lots of runners perform this stretch. Start in a standing position. Place one hand against a wall or hold onto the side of a workout machine for balance. Grab your foot with your hand on the same side of your body and pull your heel toward your glute. You’ll feel the stretch all along your quad muscle. Switch legs and repeat.
7. Hamstring Stretch
Another very popular and very effective stretch is the hamstring stretch. Desk jockeys are notorious for shortened, tight hamstrings that can cause low back pain. Sit on the ground with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend forward with your arms outstretched and try to touch your toes. Move slowly into this stretch and try to push a little farther after three or four breaths.
8. Calf Stretch
Tight calves can cause knee pain and affect your running. Start this stretch in a plank position. Bring your feet a little closer and bend one leg. Now, use your body weight to lean back and feel the stretch in the calf of the straight leg. Switch sides and repeat.
9. Shoulder Stretch
If you’ve done any upper bodywork, then your shoulders could probably use a good stretch. Bring one arm across your body then anchor it with your other arm. Use the anchor arm to push your straight arm closer into your body to get a better stretch. Switch and repeat.
10. Trapezius Stretch
Do you suffer from a chronically sore neck? You might have a tight trapezius muscle. Give yourself relief with this gentle stretch. Sitting or standing, take a hand and place it on the opposite side of your head, just above your ear. Very gently, pull down to tilt your head to the side. The key is not to pull too hard. If you’re sitting in a chair, hold onto the bottom of a chair with your other hand to get an even better stretch.
Is It Time for a Stretching Class?
These ten stretches are only a handful of the many different cool-down stretches and cool-down exercises you can try. Mix and match different stretches to design a cool-down routine that works for you. It’s always a good idea to stretch muscles you focused on in your workout, but you should also stretch your most restricted areas. For example, if you have chronically tight hip flexors or tight shoulders, make sure you hit them with every cool down. We also strongly encourage you to finish your cool-down session with some relaxing foam rolling to hit those extra tight spots and help flush the lactic acid out of your system.
Want to improve your mobility even more? Many gyms offer a variety of dedicated mobility classes. See all our available mobility classes at EōS Fitness.