cool down exercises

14 Best Cool Down Exercises and Stretches To Do After Workouts

October 11, 2020

If you haven’t been doing cool down exercises after your workout, we highly recommend that you start doing so. A quick cooldown routine that includes a number of exercises and stretches is essential for easing yourself out of a strenuous workout or activity. Cool downs provide a number of benefits, all of which we will be discussing below.

In this post, we are going to cover the following about cooling down after a workout:

  • What is a cool down?
  • Benefits of a cool down
  • How to do a cool down (running vs strength training)
  • How long a cool down workout should be
  • 14 best cool down exercises & stretches
  • Static stretches for cool downs
  • An example of quick 4-min cool down routine
  • Should you cool down at the end of every workout?
  • Why yoga poses and stretches are great for cool downs
  • Cooldowns for Seniors

cool down stretches

WHAT IS A COOL DOWN?

A cool down is a quick and easy routine that you do after an intense activity, such as weightlifting, crossfit, sprinting, running, or sports. The purpose of a cool down is to transition your body to a resting or near-resting state.

A cool down often includes a slow walk (or even a slow jog) followed by static stretches. Another way to do a cool down is by doing non-strenuous bodyweight movements coupled with stretches. If you choose the latter, the stretches can be of shorter duration than your typical static stretches that you do after a cool down walk (i.e. 5-10 second holds rather than 20 seconds). This kind of cool down is more dynamic and it is often called a cool down flow or a decompression flow, with many stretches being pulled from yoga routines.

In any case, both options will give you similar benefits, which are…

BENEFITS OF A COOL DOWN? 

Cool down exercises may come at the end of a workout, but they are the start of the recovery process. A good cool down will provide you with the following benefits: 

  1. By gradually cooling down, you will keep your blood circulating rather than pooling in your veins, which eliminates lightheadedness or dizziness.
  2. A cool down will bring your body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate to normal levels slowly, which is much better and more comfortable than a drastic drop.
  3. Promotes relaxation and a sense of well-being, which will boost your confidence and motivation. During a cool down, take time to reflect on your fitness accomplishments and give yourself credit for the hard workout you just did.
  4. A cool down will involve stretches. Doing stretches while you are still warm after your workout will help you reduce lactic acid and muscle cramps and stiffness. This will allow you to recover faster and get back in the gym with full power.
  5. The stretches and movements you do during a cool down will also help you to increases your flexibility and mobility/range of motion, as it elongates connective tissue around your joints. Being flexible and mobile is essential to overall fitness and there is really no better time to do flexibility training than after a workout as your body is warm already (note: never do static stretches before a workout, it will affect your strength and performance during the workout to come).

Related: Test Your Mobility Now

cool down examples

HOW TO DO A COOL DOWN?

The way you do a cool down depends on the activity you just finished. Generally speaking, we can break it down into Running & Sprinting and Resistance Training.

Running & Sprinting also includes sports that involve a lot of running. 

Resistance Training includes bodyweight workouts, weight lifting, unconventional fitness, HIIT, and sports can also be fit into this category, especially MMA, boxing, and so on. Any kind of strength training. 

Cool Down For Running

After running, a good cool down can be a brisk walk for 2-3 minutes, gradually tapering your pace or stroll. Sprinting is the same concept, but start with jogging, then taper down to walking. This will be followed by static stretches that aim to increase the range of motion and flexibility of your lower body. Start with standing stretches, then seated stretches.

As you can see, it’s a gradual pace to bring your body down to normal levels and relaxation. 

Cool Down for Resistance & Strength Training

After resistance training, you will want to do a mobility cool down routine. This involves gentle bodyweight movements and stretching. It’s like a yoga flow, where you move in an out of movements, holding stretches for 5-10 seconds (although you can hold stretches longer if you want, as after a workout it is fine). We have an example of this kind of routine further below (see 4-Min Cool Down Routine).

Note: Make sure you emphasize stretches for areas you worked most in your workout. So, if it was an upper body day, focus on your upper body more. If it was a full body day, you can do an evenly targeted full body cool down. 

It’s also beneficial to focus on your breathing. During your cool down, practicing deep breathing. This applies to any kind of cool down.

HOW LONG SHOULD A COOL DOWN WORKOUT BE? 

As with a warm up, a cool down can range form 4-10 minutes. If you have the time, aim for 10 minutes so you can keep the taper down to homeostasis (a balanced state) gradual.

cooldown exercises

14 COOL DOWN EXERCISES AND STRETCHES AFTER WORKING OUT

While there are many cool down exercises and stretches that you can do, we are going to show you 14 of our favorite. Many of these are yoga-inspired, as yoga poses and stretches make for great cool down exercises as you can move in and out of your stretches, giving you both the movement and stretching side of a cool down. This will let your heart rate return to normal slowly and it will help you relax muscles and tendons to reduce soreness and recover faster.

Combined, the below exercises will target all of your major joint complexes and muscle groups. You don’t need to do them all in one cool down after your workout. Pick and choose and switch it up as you go to keep things fresh.

1. Spinal Rolls

cool down exercises for the spine

This is a fantastic exercise that targets every vertebrae of the spine. This will release a lot of tension in your back and neck.

How to do spinal rolls:

  1. Standing up right, move your chin down towards your chest and begin to roll down through the spine slowly. Allow your arms, shoulders and neck to relax.
  2. Continue to roll down, drawing the navel into the spine.
  3. Stop when your hands reach your toes, getting as deep into the stretch as you can.
  4. Bring your head as close to your legs as you can. Hold for as long as you need.
  5. Slowly roll back up to the starting position, and repeat.

Do this for a few reps. 

2. Cossack Stretch 

cossack stretch

The cossack stretch will work your ankle, knee and hip mobility, while also stretching your quads, hamstring, glutes and hip adductors.

How to do the cossack stretch:

  1. Stand straight with your feet double shoulder-width.
  2. Move your weight to your right leg, like you would a lateral lunge.
  3. As you move down, your left leg should externally rotate with your toes pointing straight up. There should be no bend in your knee on this leg.
  4. Pause here for as long as you need.
  5. Come up and repeat on the opposite side. 

Do this for a few reps on each side.

3. Squat to T-Spine Rotation 

cooldown stretches

This movement is great as you get to move and work on your mobility at the same time, exactly what you want at the beginning of a cool down. It is going to put your hips and t-spine mobility to the test. Over time, you will improve the range of motion.

How to do squat to t-spine rotations:

  1. Start in a standing position, as you would a squat.
  2. Squat down, deep as you can. Your toes can be slightly pointing outward.
  3. Keeping your arms straight, rotate your right hand towards the sky as best you can.
  4. Pause for a moment, then release and press up to a standing position.
  5. Repeat to opposite side.

Do this for a few reps on each side.

4. Downward Dog 

how to do down dog

The down dog is one of the ultimate stretches. It strengthens your arms and shoulders, tones the core and waist, all while lengthening the hamstrings and calves, and stretching the spine and back. What’s more, it will bring blood flow back to the brain, which is important after a workout where much of your blood is in your muscles.

How to do the downward dog:

  1. Come to your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Curl your toes under and push back through your hands as you lift your hips up and straighten your legs.
  3. Ground down using your hands and forearms as you rotate your upper arms outward to broaden the collarbone.
  4. Allow your head to hang and move your shoulder blades back and towards your hips.
  5. From here, engage your quads so your arms won’t be handling all of your bodyweight.
  6. Rotate thighs inward, keep your butt high, and sink your heels to the floor.
  7. Hold for a moment, and release back to your hands and knees.

Note: inhale as you move into position, and exhale slowly as you release. Breathe as needed.

This is a great movement to transition into other movements, so use it throughout your cool down, even if its just one rep each time.

5. Spiderman Stretch with Cow Pose Stretch

best cool down

The Spiderman stretch is great as it will stretch your hamstrings, quads and hip flexors, which will give you better range of motion and mobility. Moreover, it helps with form for your future workouts and it prevents groin injuries and tightness. With the cow pose added, you will get some thoracic spine mobility in as well.

How to do the Spiderman Stretch with Cow Pose Variation:

  1. Get into a push-up position.
  2. Bring your right knee up to your right shoulder and place your right foot on the outside of your right hand. Keep your foot flat.
  3. Push you hips forward and maintain this position for 5 seconds or so. Your left knee should be on the ground.
  4. As you are doing this, slowly raise your head up and back, then release.
  5. Come back to the push up position or downward dog, then repeat on the opposite side.

Do this for 1 rep on each side, or as many times as you feel is needed. 1-3 reps is usually good. 

6. Upward Dog with Neck Roll

yoga stretches for cool down

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:

  1. Lie on the floor with your legs straight and tops of your foot to the floor.
  2. Keep your hands just to the side of your shoulders.
  3. Press your arms up. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then release. 

Do this for a few reps.

7. World’s Greatest Stretch 

yoga style cool down

They call it the world’s greatest stretch for a reason. It is going to lengthen and strengthen your ankles, hips and thoracic spine, while also targeting other muscles like your hip flexors, hamstrings, adductors, glutes, calves, quads, thoracic spine, chest, shoulders, lower back and obliques. 

How to do the world’s greatest stretch:

  1. Start in a plank position with hands directly below shoulders.
  2. Drive your right foot towards the outside of your right hand. Your left knee can remain above the floor or you can drop it down.
  3. Keep your hips square and your back as flat as possible. Try to bring your right elbow to the floor just inside your right foot.
  4. From there, rotate your your right hand up towards the sky. Hold as needed. 1-5 seconds is typically ok.
  5. Bring your right hand back to the floor and return to the plank position.
  6. Repeat on opposite side. 

Do this for 1-3 reps on each side.

8. Lunging Hamstring Stretch

lower body cool down

This exercise will stretch your hamstrings, as the name suggests. But it will also strengthen your shoulders and arms. All in all, it is one of the most effective hamstring stretches you can do, and we all know the hamstrings are one of the areas that can get tight easily.

How to do the lunging hamstring stretch:

  1. Start in a lunge position.
  2. Bring your hands to the floor just near your forward leg.
  3. Gently straighten your knee as you push your hips up and back.
  4. Hold for as long as you feel necessary.
  5. Repeat on opposite side. 

For this one, you can hold the stretch for longer, so you could do each side for 20-60 seconds or you could do a couple reps to each side for 10-20 seconds.

9. 90/90 Lateral Reach 

cooldown

This is a great movement to stretch out the obliques and lats, as well as the spine and hip adductors.

How to do the 90/90 lateral reach:

  1. Start in a 90/90 floor position.
  2. Bring your right hand back back and to the floor while lifting your hips off the ground.
  3. Reach your left arm up and over your head so that your bicep is over your ear.
  4. Reach as far as you can, feeling the muscles lengthening.
  5. Hold for a moment then release back to the 90/90 position.
  6. Flip the 90/90 and repeat on opposite side. 

Do this for a few reps on each side.

10. Kneeling Shin Quad Stretch 

cool down workout

This is a simple exercise that is going to stretch your quads and shins. Do this towards the end of your cool down.

How to do the kneeling shin-quad stretch:

  1. From a kneeling position, keeping the tops of your feet flat on the ground, slowly sit down on your legs.
  2. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, then release.

One or two reps for 20-30 seconds is enough.

11. Cat & Cow 

how to do the cat cow

Another great exercise to do towards the end of the cool down. The Cat-Cow will improve your posture and balance, strengthen and stretch your spine and neck, and lengthens your hips, abdomen and back. It is a very stress relieving, mind calming exercise.

How to do the Cat-Cow:

  1. Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips. Neutral spine.
  2. Inhale into the cat pose - round your spine outward, tucking your tailbone in and drawing your pubic bone forward.
  3. Release back to natural and then move into the cow pose - lift your sitting bones up, press your chest forward, let your belly sink, and bring your head back while gazing slightly up and forward.
  4. Release back to natural and repeat as needed.

Do this for 5 reps or so. 

12. Thread The Needle

cool down stretches for shoulders

This pose will stretch and open your shoulder and spine. It is very calming movement that relieves a lot of shoulder and back stress. 

How to do the thread the needle:

  1. Start on your hands and knees. Place your wrists directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Knees and shin should be hip width apart. Neutral spine.
  2. Exhale and slide your right arm underneath your left arm with the palm facing up.
  3. Allow your right shoulder to come down to the floor. Rest your right eat on the mat and gaze to the left.
  4. Make sure your left elbow isn’t lifting and keep your hips up.
  5. Hold the position for as long as you’d like.
  6. Come back to the starting position and repeat to the other side.

Do this for 20-60 seconds on each side.

13. Scorpion Stretch

cool down stretches for upper body

The scorpion stretch is going to open up your hips, low back and shoulders. Move slowly as to avoid any low back pain. If your low back mobility is not up to par, you don’t want to go all the way back with your foot. Know your limits. This can still be done if your low back mobility isn’t normal, just stop and hold your foot up rather than bringing it to the floor. You’ll see what we mean…

How to do the scorpion stretch:

  1. Lie down with your stomach flat to the floor and your arms spread out to your side.
  2. Rotate the right side of your hips to the sky while bring your right leg up and back and your right hand up to the sky as well.
  3. Slowly continue to open up until your right toes are touching the floor (stop before the floor if you feel any back pain, let your foot hover above the ground).
  4. Hold this pose then release back to the starting position and repeat not the opposite side. 

Do this for a couple reps on each side and hold for 5-10 seconds or do it once on each side 10-20 seconds.

14. Child’s Pose 

how to do a cool down

The child’s pose is the perfect exercise to end every cool down. It alleviates stress and anxiety. It helps to lengthen the spine and hips, as well as the shoulders, quads and shins.

How to do the Child’s Pose:

  1. Begin on your hands and knees, center your breathing and let your thoughts slow down. Focus on your breathing.
  2. Keep the tops of your feet flat to the floor and rest your buttocks on your heels.
  3. Extend your arms out forward and keep your palms to the floor.
  4. Bring your face to the floor and let your forehead rest on the floor.
  5. If you’d like, bring your knees away from each other a bit, to open up your hips more.
  6. Hold this position and breath deeply and slowly.
  7. As you continue to hold, try to lengthen even more, extending your arms forward, while keeping your butt to your heels. 

You can stay in this position for 30 seconds to a few minutes. It’s up to you. It is a very safe position.

Aren’t these good for warm ups too?

You’ll notice many of these stretches are great for warm ups too. These movements can be done both before and after a workout. For cool downs, you can hold the stretches longer, but before a workout, you want to keep things a little more dynamic by releasing from the stretch after a few seconds.

WHEN TO DO THESE COOL DOWN EXERCISES?

If you do full body workouts, try to do at least one stretching exercise for every joint complex and major muscle group. If you do a split workout, then emphasize areas that you trained that day.

best static stretches

OTHER COMMON STATIC STRETCHES 

Standing:

  1. Cross-body shoulder stretch
  2. Chest Stretch (with hands together and behind you)
  3. Tricep Stretch (hand behind back)
  4. Side stretch (lateral reach)
  5. Quad Stretch (foot to butt)
  6. Calf Stretch (toes on wall, heel to ground, body close to the wall, leg straight)

Floor:

  1. Pigeon Stretch
  2. Wrist Stretch (from a kneeling position, palms down, fingers pointing to your body)
  3. Hamstring Stretch (on foot to thigh, other leg straight out, reach for toes)
  4. Butterfly Stretch
  5. Lying Piriformis Stretch
  6. Lying Hamstring Stretch (on back, leg straight and up and toward your upper body)
  7. Seated IT Band Stretch
  8. Floor Knee to Chest Stretch

With a simple google search, you can see examples of these static stretches.

4-MIN COOL DOWN ROUTINE


This is a quick and simple cool down routine that you can do after any of our workouts. It’s also a great routine to do at night before sleep to wind down and release tension in your body. 

The cool down routine is pretty calm, involving various yoga poses and stretches. It’s really nice as it will slow down your mind and body after a rigorous workout, stretching you out nicely and making you feel refreshed.

10 Cool Down Exercise Routine (approx. 4 minutes):

  1. Child’s Pose x 5 deep breaths
  2. Child’s Pose with Sidebend (left side) x 5 deep breaths
  3. Child’s Pose with Sidebend (right side) x 5 deep breaths
  4. Cat and Cow x 5 reps (deep breath with the movement)
  5. Downward Dog with feet marches x 6 marches (breath deeply)
  6. Upward Dog x 5 seconds
  7. Down Dog x 5 seconds
  8. World’s Greatest Stretch (right side) x 5-10 seconds
  9. Downdog
  10. World’s Greatest Stretch (left side) x 5-10 seconds
  11. Child’s Pose

Release and Finish

SHOULD I COOL DOWN AFTER EVERY WORKOUT

You should do a cool down after any rigorous workout or activity, which includes sports. The same goes for a warm up. A warm up and cool down are equally important for your fitness longevity, so be sure to do them before and after every training session or intense activity.

WHY YOGA POSES & STRETCHES ARE GREAT FOR COOL DOWNS

Yoga works beautifully for a post strength workout cool down because it involves dynamic stretches, which means you are moving and stretching simultaneously. This allows your body’s heart rate to taper down slowly, rather than just doing a complete stop for static stretches.

While static stretches are great for a cool down, ideally you want to keep things more dynamic at the beginning of your cool down. Save the long static stretches for once your body's heart rate is near its normal state. Your heart rate will be more relaxed at that point but your body will still be warm, which is perfect. 

At the beginning of your cool down, as you move in and out of our yoga-inspired stretches and movements, hold the poses/stretches for 5-10 seconds. After 5 mins of this, you can employ some static stretches. For good static stretches, you can see the list we made above.

A final note to why yoga is great for cool downs is that it is interesting and it can be challenging. It will give you (or your client) something to look forward to at the end of a rigorous workout. It’s much more exciting than the thought of good ol’ static stretches. Yoga movements are dynamic and they work to reconnect the mind, body and spirit. All in all, implementing some yoga into your cool down is surefire way to spice things up.

GETTING A BUDDY TO HELP YOU STRETCH

benefits of cooling down after a workout

If you really lack flexibility and mobility, start with the easier cool down exercises. Give your body time to improve its mobility and flexibility. Practice more static stretches and get a buddy to help you on lower body stretches. They can help you hold the stretches and slowly deepen them (be sure not to overstretch or go too deep into the stretch! Slowly but surely is the way). 

Don’t have a buddy? Get a set of resistance bands. Bands are a great tool to help you get deeper into stretches. You can anchor them and then pull on them from the stretching position to get deeper into the stretch. You can also wrap one side around your foot, for example, and pull on the band to get deeper into the stretch.

resistance band benefits

Related: Leg Stretches with Resistance Bands

COOL DOWN FOR SENIORS

For seniors, we recommend simple cool down exercises that are easier on the joints. Dynamic cool down exercises like spinal rolls, cat-cow, and child’s pose are best. Know your limits and be careful.

DECOMPRESSION FLOWS

Decompression flows are a great way to cool down. You can learn all about decompression flows here. In that post, you will also find a full length 14-minute decompression flow that you can follow along to after a tough workout.

cooldown workout benefits



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