After completing a tough workout, sometimes we don’t have the motivation to do much else. Stretching or foam rolling? Eh, I’ll just do it later. Which usually means never. I also know that after exercise, my mind is pulling me toward the next thing on my to-do list. I already put in the work that matters, I’ll be thinking as I pack up my gear.
So you’ve finished your workout and you’re ready to move onto the next part of your day. Not quite. Make time for cool down exercises and your body will thank you for it.
Upper body stretch
- From a standing or seated position, interlace your fingers and press your palms up toward the ceiling.
- Draw your hands up and back as far as you can while maintaining a straight spine.
- Then place your left arm in front of your right and turn your palms to face each other, stretching your hands up and back.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Reach the arms overhead. Bend your right elbow and place your left hand on the right elbow. Pull the elbow down so that your elbow points toward the ceiling and your right forearm dangles down behind your head. Feel a stretch in your right tricep, and then switch sides.
Your hamstrings are the large bands of muscles behind your thighs. Stretching your hamstrings helps relieve tightness in the tendons and hips.2 Here’s how to do a standing hamstring stretch.2
- Start in a seated position with your legs extended.
- Bring the bottom of your right foot to the inside of your knee.
- Bend forward at the waist, reaching for your extended leg’s foot.
- Bend as far forward as you can.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
Seated one-legged bend forward
- Sit on a yoga mat or a flat, supportive surface with your legs extended out in front of you.
- Bend your left knee and rest the sole of your foot against the inside of your right thigh.
- Reach your arms up to the sky and then fold your upper body over your legs, grabbing the heel of your left foot if you can.
- Hold for a few moments.
- Switch legs and repeat.
Why should I do cool down stretches?
Static stretching requires you to hold a stretch for a length of time. Unlike dynamic stretching (stretches that require some movement), static stretching is best kept to after your workout.
Studies have shown that static stretches before you exercise may hinder performance. Think about it: why would you want to relax your muscles before asking them to perform? If only your PE teacher had known, eh.
Core Abdominal Stretch
How to do it: Lie flat on your stomach. Then, press up on your elbows or all the way to your palms with your elbows slightly bent. You may only be able to go as high as your elbows, but that’s OK. Stretch your head and neck back so that you’re looking at the ceiling.
Why it works: “This move stretches your core muscles including your rectus abdominus and obliques,” per Costopoulos Morris. “These muscles are key to good workouts and the health of your lower back.”
Seated One-Legged Forward Bend
- Come to a seat on your mat. Extend your legs out in front of you.
- Bend your right knee, and bring the sole of your foot to your inner left thigh.
- Extend your arms up to the sky, then fold your torso over your legs.
- Hold for a couple of breaths, then switch legs, and repeat.
How to cool down
To cool down, pick a low-intensity activity that is similar to the exercise you did for your workout.
You can cool down after a swim workout with some easy laps, end a bike ride with a few minutes of light pedaling and cap off a weightlifting workout with some dynamic stretches.
UPWARD DOG WITH NECK ROLL
The upward dog targets your chest, shoulders, abs, triceps and low back. It is a very relieving stretch that feels amazing.
How to do the upward facing dog:
- Lie on the floor with your legs straight and tops of your foot to the floor.
- Keep your hands just to the side of your shoulders.
- Press your arms up. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then release.
Do this for a few reps.
The butterfly stretch mainly targets the groin and adductor muscles in your inner thighs. It also engages the lower back and can help open up tight hips.
Step 1: Sit on the floor with your back straight, knees bent, and feet flat.
Step 2: Allow your knees to fall out to the sides as you place the soles of your feet together in front of you. You can hold your feet together with your hands.
Step 3: Keep your back straight as you bend toward your feet, resting your elbows on your inner thighs.
Step 4: Press down gently with your elbows to deepen the stretch.
Step 5: Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat 2 to 4 times.
How to cool down
Cooling down is similar to warming up. You generally continue your workout session for five minutes or so, but at a slower pace and reduced intensity.
Here are some examples of cool-down activities:
- To cool down after a brisk walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes.
- To cool down after a run, walk briskly for five to 10 minutes.
- To cool down after swimming, swim laps leisurely for five to 10 minutes.
Low lunge stretch
A low lunge stretches hips, quads, groin, and hamstrings. The best thing about this stretch is that it helps to build mental focus, releases tension in your hips, and can ease lower back pain. It also helps to enhance the strength and flexibility in your hips, shoulders, arms, abdomen, back, and knees.
Stretch those legs
While this mostly applies to runners, a great cool down exercise is stretching your legs. This includes all the classics like pulling your leg up behind you to stretch your hamstring or trying to touch your toes. There are other, more complex stretches that more or less stretch the same areas.
Ah, pigeon pose. So beloved by yoga instructors, and so feared by the people taking an instructor’s class — it goes pretty hard on the stretching front. But while pigeon pose may be a slightly more advanced move, there’s no denying how effective it is. And with its hip-opening and thigh-stretching benefits, it’s easy to see why it takes pride of place in cool down routines, states certified personal trainer Stephanie Mansour via Today.