If you have a regular workout schedule, then you probably have everything planned out, from your warm-up exercises to every set that you’re going to do and how many reps of each one. And while this sounds like an effective workout routine, there’s something essential missing that a lot of people tend to forget: the cool-down!
When you exercise, you put your muscles under a lot of stress and tension that builds up until the very last second of your routine, and you need a way to release that after. Taking care of your muscles is crucial if you’re taking your fitness seriously, so cooling down is definitely not something that you want to forget during your time at the gym!
Because of that, we’ve put together a list of the best ways to cool down after your workout as well as some of the most effective cool-down movements and exercises. But first, let’s talk a little bit more about why you should be cooling down after any kind of physical activity.
Why cooling down is important
Just like your muscles need a good warm-up before your workout so that they can perform well and avoid any injuries, they also need to cool down properly post-workout in order to go back to their resting state and avoid any soreness.
Cooling down is particularly important if you’re planning on keeping a consistent workout schedule, because you’ll want your muscles to be in tip-top shape before getting into the gym every day, and the best way to make sure of that is by taking care of them after each workout. This means taking some time to slow down and move your muscles around, releasing all the tension in the process, to prevent stiffness and even possible muscle cramps caused by the buildup of lactic acid in your body. Pairing this with a good warm-up session will help maximize your workout sessions and allow you to last longer and increase the intensity without struggling too much!
Additionally, cooling down after exercise is important because it allows your blood to flow better and your breath to go back to normal, which helps your body get enough oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and enhances the recovery and repair process. And of course, it helps you relax after an intense workout session! So all in all, cooling down should be a must in your regular workout routine.
Best ways to cool down after working out
There are many effective ways in which you can cool down when you’re done working out that will help your muscles relax and be prepared for the next workout. Here are a few of our favorites:
Walking or light jogging
The first step to cooling down properly after an intense workout session is to do so gradually. Why? Because your muscles have been working very hard for a while and suddenly stopping all movement and just laying on the bench can increase the chances of getting sore muscles post-workout.
You can prevent this by keeping your body moving for a little while after you’re done, either by walking or light jogging, particularly if you were doing a cardio workout and need to get your heart rate back to normal. But this applies to any kind of exercise! If you’ve been doing strength training, your heart rate is still elevated and your muscles are tense, so walking a few laps while lightly shaking or swinging your arms can help relieve the built-up tension and lower your body temperature.
Stretching after your workout is great mainly because of two things: you relieve your muscles from all the tension, and you increase your flexibility in the process!
Working on your flexibility is key to increasing your range of motion during your workouts, allowing you to maximize every exercise that you do and get the most out of your time at the gym. When you stretch post-workout, you help your muscles to relax and go back to their usual resting state and improve your blood flow, and since your muscles are already warmed up, it’s a fantastic opportunity to improve your flexibility.
Here are some of the best cool-down stretches for your muscles:
- Child’s pose
Bring your knees down to a kneeling position and sit on your calves, using a cushion or pillow if you’re not able to go all the way down. With your legs completely bent on the floor, begin the stretch by extending your arms all the way forward and down, folding yourself until your touch the floor with your hands as far as you can. Keep your head down and feel the stretch throughout your spine for 30 seconds.
- Abdominal stretch
Lie flat on the floor with your face looking down and keep your legs slightly separated at a comfortable distance. Place your hands on the floor at either side of your chest and begin pressing up, lifting your upper body and your head so that your core feels the stretch. If you’re not able to press with your arms, you can use your elbows.
- Seated hamstring stretch
Sit on the floor with your back straight and bend your left leg in as if you were doing a butterfly pose. Your right leg should be extended in front of you, with your left foot resting against your right thigh. Begin by reaching for your right foot with both arms, and deepen the stretch as far forward as you can while feeling it in your hamstring. Hold this position for 30 seconds and switch to your left side.
- Standing quad stretch
Standing straight with your feet closer than shoulder-width, bend your left knee back and hold your left foot with your left hand. While keeping your balance on your right leg, begin the stretch by pulling your foot as close as you can to your butt for about 30 seconds, giving your quad a good stretch. When you’re done, repeat with your right leg.
- Cross-body stretch
Stand straight and grab your outer left arm with your right hand. Pull your left arm in front of you and across your chest, crossing your body so that your left elbow is pointing forward, and stretching your arm as much as you can while you hold it with your right hand. Hold for 30 seconds and switch to the other arm.
- Knee-to-chest stretch
Lie flat on the floor with your face up and your arms and legs straight. Bend your right knee toward your chest, and grab it with both hands to keep it in place. Begin the stretch by pulling your knee as close as you can to your torso for 30 seconds while keeping the left leg down on the floor. Repeat on the other side after.
On top of these basic stretches, doing a few shoulder rolls and squeezing your shoulder blades together, stretching your neck, and doing a few heel raises will help give your whole body a good stretch so you can feel more relaxed after your workout!
Yoga with deep breaths
With exercise comes an elevated heart rate and fast-paced breathing, and a great way to get those back to normal while you also relax your whole body is by doing yoga!
Yoga has many benefits, and whether you’ve already tried it or not, it’s definitely a great way to unwind after an intense workout session. And the more basic poses can be achieved by complete beginners - you just need a yoga mat or a soft surface and you’re all set! This is a great way to relieve your muscles from all the tension, helping you feel much lighter after your routine, not only physically but also emotionally. Some people can get grumpy when they’re tired, and yoga can help you relax and just focus on your breathing for a few minutes so you can take on the rest of your day with ease.
Massaging your muscles, in general, is a great way to relieve the built-up tension from your workout, but there’s one method in particular that will help you cool down properly and prepare your muscles for the next workout: foam rolling!
This method is called myofascial release and it helps increase your blood flow by applying pressure to your muscles and any sore spot in particular with a foam roller. It helps your muscles recover more quickly and prevent the appearance of DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) so you can start fresh next time you hit the gym. Plus, it helps increase muscle flexibility, so you could really benefit from a quick foam rolling session next time you’re cooling down from an intense workout.
And there you go! These are a few of the most effective ways to cool down after your intense workout sessions so you can relax almost immediately and give your muscles the relief that they deserve after all that hard work. Always remember to refuel properly with whole foods and water so you can hydrate yourself and give your muscles enough nutrients to recover and begin the repair process.
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