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How to Create a Cooldown Routine

After a workout, it’s tempting to skip the cooldown and quickly get on with your day. After all, that to-do list is waiting for you! However, suddenly stopping after a workout isn’t a great idea. It can be a shock to your body, potentially leading to injury and soreness. Fortunately, the cooldown doesn’t have to take hours. We’ve provided some tips and recommendations to help you establish a quick and effective cooldown routine that will improve your overall physical health and wellness.

What are the benefits of a cool down routine?

Woman doing a squat in her living room

Every workout should include a warmup and a cool-down routine, whether running or cycling indoors with Vingo or playing basketball outdoors. Cooling down afterward is important because it:

  • Gives your body a chance to recover from physical exercise by gradually slowing breathing and heart rate. You want your heart rate and breathing to normalize at the end of your workout. Otherwise, you could feel lightheaded, dizzy, or faint after physical activity.1 The best cooldowns will gently ease you back into your resting state.
  • Removes lactic acid and other metabolic waste products. Physical exercise causes lactic acid to build up in your muscles, especially if you’re doing high-intensity activities like running. Getting rid of that lactic acid will help improve your recovery by decreasing muscle fatigue, reducing swelling, and helping your muscles become healthier and stronger.
  • Enhances relaxation and motivation. After working out, a cooldown routine provides a few minutes to reflect on your progress and hard work. This can help build your confidence and motivation, and help you relax after a challenging workout.
  • Improves flexibility. A cooldown routine can lengthen your muscles and improve your range of motion. With better flexibility, you’re less likely to develop injuries while working out.

What should be included in a cool down routine?

Man and a woman in a park mid jump while working out.

Most often, an effective cooldown routine will maintain an elevated breathing and heart rate (such as with a light jog or walk) and then gradually reduce the intensity of your workout. It should also incorporate stretching exercises.2

The exercises included in your cooldown routine should vary depending on what kind of workout you completed prior to it. However, most cooldowns incorporate slow, gentle movements and stretches. Things like walking or yoga are great exercises to incorporate into a cooldown routine.

Also, suppose your workout is heavily focused on your legs and glutes. In that case, you’ll want to cooldown by stretching your entire body, but make sure you primarily focus on stretching those specific muscle groups. This will enhance the flexibility of the muscles and joints you just worked.

Many athletes also prefer to include relaxation exercises in their cooldown routines. Examples include yoga moves like savasana, also called corpse pose, which is a position of relaxation and rest that allows your mind and body to process your workout and reduce your breathing and heart rate after a workout.

13 best cool down stretches to recover after a workout

Group of people doing a lunge on top of a rooftop gym.

Forward fold

  1. Stand up tall with your hands stretched up toward the sky.
  2. Exhale and bend over at your hips and reach down to your toes. You can bend your knees a little if needed.
  3. Inhale and lift your upper body back up, reaching your hands toward the sky.
  4. Repeat.

Seated one-legged bend forward

  1. Sit on a yoga mat or a flat, supportive surface with your legs extended out in front of you.
  2. Bend your left knee and rest the sole of your foot against the inside of your right thigh.
  3. 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.
  4. Hold for a few moments.
  5. Switch legs and repeat.

Cat cow

  1. Come onto your hands and knees on a yoga mat.
  2. Inhale and drop your belly down, bringing your head and gaze up toward the sky.
  3. Exhale and round your spine, bringing your head and gaze down toward your belly button.
  4. Repeat.

Seated twist

  1. Sit on the ground with your legs extended out in front of you.
  2. Cross your right leg over your left and place your right foot flat on the floor.
  3. Support yourself with your right arm behind you and reach your left arm around, over your right thigh.
  4. Hold for a few moments.
  5. Switch sides and repeat.

Upward facing dog

  1. Lay on your stomach on a yoga mat or flat, supportive surface.
  2. Push up onto your palms, bending at your lower back.
  3. Bend your arms slightly or straighten them out (whichever is most comfortable).
  4. Hold for a few moments.

Child’s pose

  1. Come into a kneeling position on your floor or yoga mat.
  2. Open up your knees into a “V” shape and fold your body over your legs.
  3. Stretch your arms out in front of you and rest your forehead on the mat.
  4. Hold for several moments.

Tricep stretch

  1. Stand up straight.
  2. Inhale and reach both arms up over your head.
  3. Bend your left arm behind you and grab your left elbow with your right hand.
  4. Gently pull your elbow down and exhale.
  5. Hold for a moment while breathing.
  6. Switch arms and repeat.

Sumo squat stretch

  1. Stand up straight with your feet wider than hip distance apart.
  2. Bend down into a deep squat, resting your elbows on your inner thighs, just above your knees.
  3. Press your knees apart and hold for a few moments.
  4. Repeat.

Pigeon pose

  1. Come onto all fours on a yoga mat.
  2. Bring your right knee forward toward your right wrist and rest it on the floor, so it’s in front of your left hip.
  3. Slide your left leg back and point your toes.
  4. Keep your hips level and inhale as you come up onto your fingertips, pull in your belly button, and open up your chest.
  5. Walk your hands forward and lower your upper body toward the floor until your forearms are resting against the mat.
  6. Hold for a few moments.
  7. Push back through your hands, lift your hips, and come back onto all fours.
  8. Repeat on the other side.

Knees-to-chest

  1. Stand straight up.
  2. Bring your right knee up to your chest and wrap your arms around it, pulling your leg tight to your chest.
  3. Hold for a few moments.
  4. Switch legs and repeat.

Seated spinal twist

  1. Sit on the floor or on a yoga mat with your legs crossed.
  2. Place your right arm on the mat behind you and put your left hand on your left knee.
  3. Inhale deeply and then exhale while twisting your body and looking over your left shoulder.
  4. Hold for a few moments before gently twisting back to center your body.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

World’s greatest stretch

  1. Come into a high plank position on the floor or a yoga mat.
  2. Bring your right foot up to the side of your left hand.
  3. Push your left hand to the ground and bring your right hand over your head while twisting your body to the right. 
  4. Look up at your fingertips and hold for a few moments.
  5. Switch and repeat on the other side.

How long should a cool down routine be?

Woman in workout gear looking out in the ocean.

The duration of a cooldown routine can vary depending on personal preference. But typically, a 5 to 10-minute cooldown is adequate for most athletes. To get the most out of each cooldown stretch, hold them for about 10 to 30 seconds each.3

What should I not do during a cool down?

Two women high-fiving on the ground after workout.

Even if you’re dedicated to your cooldown routines, a few common mistakes can sabotage your efforts:

  • After your cooldown, it may be tempting to plop right down on the couch or in a chair, but that might not be the best idea. Sitting down too quickly after a workout can make you feel extremely sore the next day. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS.4 To help prevent DOMS, stay on your feet for a little bit longer to prevent some of that future achiness.
  • If you’ve never used a foam roller during your cooldown routine, consider using one! Research indicates foam rolling increases joint range of motion, reduces muscle soreness, and speeds up recovery.5
  • And finally, don’t ditch your water bottle! You probably hydrate well throughout your workout, especially if you’re running or cycling outdoors during the summer. However, you shouldn’t stop hydrating after your workout. 

Key Takeaways:

A cooldown is a crucial part of any workout routine because it can help prevent injury and soreness. Completing a few minutes of stretching exercises at the end of every workout will help your body recover, improve your flexibility, and also give you a chance to reflect on your progress and accomplishments.

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Sources:

  1. Cornelissen, V. A., Verheyden, B., Aubert, A. E., & Fagard, R. H. (2009). Effects of aerobic training intensity on resting, exercise and post-exercise blood pressure, heart rate and heart-rate variability. Journal of Human Hypertension, 24(3), 175–182. https://doi.org/10.1038/jhh.2009.51 
  2. Effective use of warm up and cool down. (n.d.). The AQA Group. https://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/physical-education/gcse/physical-education-8582/subject-content/the-human-body-and-movement-in-physical-activity-and-sport/physical-training/effective-use-of-warm-up-and-cool-down 
  3. Harvard Health. (2020, July 20). Exercise 101: Don’t skip the warm-up or cool-down. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercise-101-dont-skip-the-warm-up-or-cool-down 
  4. Cheung, K., Hume, P. A., & Maxwell, L. (2003). Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Sports Medicine, 33(2), 145–164. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200333020-00005 
  5. Pearcey, G. E. P., Bradbury-Squires, D. J., Kawamoto, J. E., Drinkwater, E. J., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2015). Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. Journal of Athletic Training, 50(1), 5–13. https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01 

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