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Time to give your muscles some love.
I don’t know about you, but getting to the cool downs is one of my favorite parts of a sweat session. After working hard on a glute session or flowing through my go-to yoga poses, I love to take time to chill, breathe and celebrate what my body just did.
While it may seem best to lie starfish on the floor and breathe after working up a sweat, there are usually several moves that will serve your body better in the long run (and help you say goodbye, goodbye to sluggish muscles tenderness).
Or is it? As with warm-up exercises, it has long been believed that preparing your muscles before and cooling down your body after exercise is key to preventing injuries and more, but interestingly, much of the research has not actually found cool-downs to reduce DOM, improve muscle fatigue, or increase performance. Many studies suggest that cool down exercises can sometimes be a waste of time – currently there is little evidence that they do anything.
To settle the verdict once and for all, we’ve asked some of the top experts in the industry for their views. Whether you’re into running, gym sessions, or yoga classes, keep scrolling to see what Hollie Grant, award-winning Pilates instructor and founder of Pilates PT and Sarah Lindsay, founder of Row Fitnessthink.
Your Guide to Cooldown Exercises – So, Are They Worth It?
First come first serve – what really is a cool down exercise? Grant explains that cool-downs are generally a series of movements designed to bring your body back to pre-workout levels. Makes sense, right? What you do generally depends on the workout you’ve just completed – for example, after a long run, a cool-down might be a short slow jog or a brisk to slow walk to gradually reduce the intensity your muscles have been exposed to. slowly and in stages.
That said, some cool down moves (more on that below) are universal.
5 benefits of cool down exercises
According to the trainers, there are certain benefits to cooling down after the session.
- Gradually lowers your heart rate back to pre-exercise levels
- Promotes relaxation
- Reduces the risk of muscle stiffness
- Gives you time to reflect on your training
- Increases recovery.
The main purpose of cooling down is to gradually lower your heart rate and breathing rate again, which is important because there’s always “the potential risk of dizziness or nausea that can occur if there’s no cooling down,” Grant shares. If you simply stop moving at the end of a workout, we simply stop moving, it can have the effect of pooling blood in the legs and causing a feeling of light-headedness, nausea and potentially increasing the likelihood of varicose veins.
Lindsay also points out that cooling down can help you get the most out of the workout you’ve done and also help you perform at a higher level during your next workout.
Generally, it’s the perfect time to rehydrate and reflect on your workout as well. You can note PBs or plan what you want to work on next, using it as a time to give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. (Read our guides to meditation benefits and breathing exercises, here).
If you’re keen to incorporate cool downs for the above purposes, Lindsay has some tips for you. Think about the purpose of the game – to gradually bring your heart rate down to a resting level and get new blood to the worked muscles. “This improves recovery and reduces stiffness and soreness,” she continues.
Try this: She continues that static stretches—that is, stretches where you stand still—are simple and easy to do cool-down exercises because your muscles are already warm and more flexible. Ending your workout with moves like a hip flexor, glute or spine stretch—some of her favorites—“encourages flexibility and promotes good range of motion in the joints,” she shares.
Are cool down exercises really important?
That said, Grant points out that there’s actually little evidence to show a link between positive markers, such as DOMS, muscle soreness, performance, and so on—and cooldowns.
“I personally feel they’re an important way to end a workout, but that’s my personal preference,” she explains. “From a safety standpoint (Grant works with a lot of prenatal clients), I feel like a cool down gives a chance to check that the client is feeling okay, not dizzy and ready to get on with the rest of the day.”
How do I cool down? Your guide
Good question – as it will vary from person to person and session to session.
Grant explains that when any aerobic activity cools off, the key is to gradually try to reduce the intensity until you have control of your breathing, your heart rate feels back to some sort of “normal” and you feel ready to stop. For example, if you’ve just done some strength training, it might be a good idea to do some bodyweight movements before stretching.
Lindsay adds that it can be beneficial to do some cardio to end a session. “A cool-down consisting of a few minutes of traditional cardio will work well—think jogging, brisk walking, cycling, rowing or jumping. Whatever you enjoy and have on hand,” she explains.
8 cool-down exercises and stretches to try after your next workout
Keep scrolling for some cool down exercises to try.
1. The child’s pose
Yoga postures are an amazingly simple and universal way to calm down. Deep breaths in child’s pose will help you relax almost instantly (plus it’s also a great resting position if the exercise ever gets too much).
a. Start on all fours and take a deep breath spread your knees wide apart while your big toes touch.
b. Keeping the bottom of your heels, extend your arms above your head. Inhale and exhale, slowly and deeply until the breathing is back to its pre-exercise rate.
2. Hip flexor stretch
Another great post-workout stretch is a hip flexor stretch, better known as a kneeling lunge.
a. To stretch the hips and glutes, start in a kneeling position on the mat. Fold your left leg out in front of you and your right knee on the floor.
b. Keeping your core tight, push your hips forward. Hold for up to 30 seconds and repeat on each leg. There is always the opportunity to stretch a little bit at a time.
3. The pigeon poses
Another great hip opening, cool down stretch? Piegon poses. New to the game? Our guide to yoga for beginners will help you.
a. Start on all fours. Move your right knee toward your right wrist. You should feel an external hip stretch but no discomfort.
b. Slide your other leg back and place both hands on the floor in front of you. You can enjoy this stretch with your torso upright or closer to the floor.
4. Shoulder stretch
You can stand or sit for this, whichever you prefer.
a. From standing or sitting, raise your left elbow, resting your hand near your spine or neck.
b. Take your right hand and gently press on the left elbow to push the left hand further down the spine and deepen the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
5. Quad stretch
A good move for after leg-focused workouts, cross training or running sessions.
a. Start with both feet on the floor and shoulder width apart.
b. Bend your left knee to the bottom and hold it with both hands, the stretch should be felt on the front of your left leg. Hold for up to 30 seconds and repeat with the right leg.
6. Cat cow spine stretch
This is one of Lindsay’s favorite cool-down moves. It stretches your stomach and back muscles and is key to reducing body stress and tension.
a. Start on all fours. The palms should be spread apart, the wrists under the shoulders and the knees placed directly under the hips.
b. Pull out through your head to come into the table position. Roll your shoulders away from your ears and draw your navel towards your spine. Remember to enjoy the stretch and breathe.
7. Glute stretch
Because, believe it or not, your glutes are worked during almost every workout, from high-intensity interval training to Reformer Pilates.
a. Start on the floor with both legs in front of you.
b. Then cross one ankle over the opposite knee and place the hands on the outside of the thigh.
8. Jog or walk
Interested in trying a less static cooldown? As above, a light jog or walk will also do the trick. “Essentially with any aerobic activity cool down, try to gradually reduce the intensity until you have control of your breathing, your heart rate feels back to some sort of ‘normal’ and you feel ready to stop,” advises Grant.
If you’ve been running, PTs recommend that you first slow down to a jog for one to two minutes, then a brisk walk for one to two minutes, then a slow walk for one to two minutes.
If you spin or use a cross trainer, try to reduce your intensity and speed by 50% every two minutes until you stop.