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15 cooldown stretches to ease post workout pains & soothe sore muscles

·14-min read
Photo credit: jacoblund - Getty Images
Photo credit: jacoblund - Getty Images

Making sure you do a proper cooldown after exercise is very important. Whether it's a gym workout or home workout, resistance training or circuit training, HIIT or Pilates, a cool down session should be non-negotiable. But, if you still find yourself skipping it regularly, let's break down why it's so important to bring your body back to baseline after exercise.

Why you need to cool down

Intense exercise taxes your body in a number of ways: it raises your heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure, and causes micro-tears in the muscle fibres, for starters. Cooling down afterwards is a way to help reduce some of the stress your body has experienced during exercise (and general living).

5 benefits of a post-workout cooldown

In a nutshell, a post-workout cool down will:

  1. bring your heart rate down gradually

  2. reduce body temperature

  3. lower blood pressure to baseline

  4. help clear lactic acid from your muscles, one of the waste products of exercise

  5. prevent blood pooling that occurs if you stop exercising suddenly (can make you feel faint and dizzy)

What's the best way to cool down after cardio?

Ever wondered why you sometimes feel lightheaded after a cardio workout?

Well, stopping exercise suddenly – in particular, one where your heart rate is raised, like spinning or HIIT – leaves you at risk of blood pooling. This is because the heart will continue pumping blood at the exercising rate, but without your movement to send the blood back to your heart. As such, that blood will begin 'pooling' in your limbs, which increases the risk of dizziness or even fainting.

This is why it's important to keep your body moving (albeit at an increasingly slower rate) when your session is finished, to get your heart rate back down to normal. This will also help reduce any stress on your heart.

A little walk down the road to your front door or around your back garden should do the trick. After that, you can begin some static stretches, like the ones PT Kayla Itsines recommends later on.

What's the best way to cool down after a strength or resistance workout?

In sessions where your heart rate doesn't get too high (not feeling out of breath is a good indicator), you're good to move straight onto static stretches like the ones below. Think slow strength training and some (but not all) resistance training workouts.

"Aim to hold each stretch for approximately 30 seconds each, ensuring you are stretching both sides of your body for the same amount of time," Itsines explains. "Make sure you breathe through each stretch and try not to bounce whilst holding stretch position."

Why should I do static 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?

But after you exercise, static stretching is key. Your muscles are warm and pliable, and you'll be more comfortable taking your joints through their full range of motion. This can increase your flexibility, which is thought to help prevent future injury (when coupled with strength). It can also help lengthen and reduce tension in tight muscles – you'll usually need to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds for release.

Remember, cooldown stretches might feel uncomfortable, but you should never push yourself to the point of pain.

Lower body cooldown stretch

If you've done a lower body-focused HIIT, strength or combo session, give your jelly legs some love with this stretch sequence. Perform these cool-down exercises in a circuit twice after your workout.

Hamstrings and calves

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) While seated on your mat, extend both legs out in front of you. Lift your left leg and bend your knee to bring your foot to the inside of your right knee.

b) Bending from the hips, reach for your right foot (or as far as you can). If you can reach your toes, gently pull them back towards you, or just rest your hands on your ankles or shins — whichever is most comfortable.

c) Hold this position, breathing deeply throughout. Each time that you exhale, lower your torso further towards your legs, ensuring that you are bending from the hips and not rounding through your spine.

Glutes

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT


Do: 30 sec per side

a) Lie on your back, and bring your feet into tabletop position. Cross your right foot over your left thigh to create a 4 shape with your legs. Lace your hands together around the back of your left thigh, and gently pull the leg towards you.

c) Hold this position. Each time that you exhale, try to draw the left leg closer to deepen the stretch. Repeat this stretch on the other side.

Quads

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Plant both feet on the floor slightly further shoulder-width apart.

b) Bend your right knee and bring your foot back directly behind you so that you can hold it with both hands. You should feel a stretch in the front of your right leg.

c) Hold this position. If you’re struggling to balance, focus on a spot directly ahead of you or extend your left arm. Repeat this stretch with your left leg.

Hip flexors

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Start in a kneeling position on your mat. Release your left leg and take one large step forwards so that you are in a low lunge position, ensuring that your left knee is not further forward than your toes. If it is, then you will need to take a bigger step forward.

b) Keeping your torso upright, push your hips forwards so that you feel a stretch along the front of your right leg.

c) Hold this position. Each time that you exhale, use your abdominals to tuck your pubic bone towards your belly button to increase the stretch. Repeat this stretch on the other side.

Adductors (inner thighs)

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT


Do: 30 sec

a) While seated on your mat, extend both legs out in front of you. Move both legs outwards as wide as they can go.

b) Sit up tall and place your hands behind your ears, or on the floor in front of you. Bending from the hips, reach as far forward as possible,

c) Hold this position. Each time that you exhale, bend a little more to gradually increase the stretch.

Wide child’s pose

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec

a) Start in the centre of your mat on all fours, ensuring that your shoulders are stacked over your hands and your hips are over your knees, toes untucked.

b) Draw your toes together and widen your knees. Draw your glutes towards your heels and lower your torso towards the mat. Extend your arms along the mat, resting your head on the mat between your arms. Create space between your shoulders and ears by drawing your shoulder blades down and back.

c) Hold this position, continuously breathing in and out through your nose.

Upper body cooldown stretches

This is a great stretch sequence for any workout that involves chest, shoulders, back, arms, abs and/or core work. Perform these cool-down exercises in a circuit twice after your session for the best results.

Abs

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec

a) Start by lying flat on your stomach on your mat, resting your forearms on the mat on either side of your chest.

b) Press your hands into the mat and slowly lift your chest. Draw your shoulder blades down and back – think of your head as an extension of your spine.

c) Hold this position, breathing deeply throughout.

Triceps

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Plant both feet on the floor hip-width apart with your arms by your sides. Reach your left arm overhead and place your hand between your shoulder blades. Gently push down your left elbow with your right hand.

b) Hold this position, breathing deeply throughout. Repeat this stretch on the other side.

Deltoids (shoulders)

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Reach your left arm across your body, using your right arm or wrist to hold it gently in place.

b) Slowly push your left arm toward your chest, as far as your mobility allows. As you exhale, gently increase the stretch and hold this position. You should feel a small stretch at the back of your shoulder. Repeat on the other side.

Pecs (chest)

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec

a) Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Bring your hands together behind your back and interlace your fingers.

b) Gently extend your arms and pull your hands away from your body. This should cause your shoulders to retract and open up your chest.

(c) Hold this position, breathing deeply throughout.

Lats (sides)

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec

a) Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Stand up tall and extend your left arm directly above your head.

b) As you exhale, reach your right arm over to your left side to lengthen the right side of your body.

c) Hold this position, breathing deeply. Each time that you exhale, reach further over to your left side to increase the stretch. Repeat on the other side.

Straddle stretch

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Start sitting on your mat, with your legs open. Lengthen your spine to sit up tall and reach one arm towards the ceiling.

b) On your next exhale, reach the raised arm over to the other side to lengthen the side of your body, ensuring that both glutes remain on the mat.

c) Hold this position, breathing deeply. Each time that you exhale, reach further over to your side to increase the stretch. You should continue until you feel tension, but do not push to the point of pain.

Wide child’s pose

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec

a) Start in the centre of your mat on all fours, ensuring that your shoulders are stacked over your hands and your hips are over your knees, toes untucked.

b) Draw your toes together and widen your knees. Draw your glutes towards your heels and lower your torso towards the mat. Extend your arms along the mat, resting your head on the mat between your arms. Create space between your shoulders and ears by drawing your shoulder blades down and back.

c) Hold this position, continuously breathing in and out through your nose.

Full body cooldown stretches

After a full-body blitz, your muscles are going to need this. Perform these cool-down exercises in a circuit twice after your workout.

Pec (chest)

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec

a) Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Bring your hands together behind your body and interlace your fingers.

b) Gently extend your arms and pull your hands away from your body. This should cause your shoulders to retract and open up your chest.

c) Hold this position, breathing deeply throughout.

Triceps

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Plant both feet on the floor hip-width apart with your arms by your sides. Reach your left arm overhead and place your hand between your shoulder blades. Gently push down your left elbow with your right hand.

b) Hold this position, breathing deeply throughout. Repeat this stretch on the other side.

Lats (sides)

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec

a) Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Stand up tall and extend your left arm directly above your head.

b) As you exhale, reach your right arm over to your left side to lengthen the right side of your body.

c) Hold this position, breathing deeply. Each time that you exhale, reach further over to your left side to increase the stretch. Repeat on the other side.

Glutes

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Lie on your back, and bring your feet into tabletop position. Cross your right foot over your left thigh to create a '4' shape with your legs. Lace your hands together around the back of your left thigh, and gently pull the leg towards you.

b) Hold this position. Each time that you exhale, try to draw the left leg closer to deepen the stretch. Repeat this stretch on the other side.

Hip flexors

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Start in a kneeling position on your mat. Release your left leg and take one large step forwards so that you are in a low lunge position, ensuring that your left knee is not further forward than your toes. If it is, then you will need to take a bigger step forward.

b) Keeping your torso upright, push your hips forwards so that you feel a stretch along the front of your right leg.

c) Hold this position. Each time that you exhale, use your abdominals to tuck your pubic bone towards your belly button to increase the stretch. Repeat this stretch on the other side.

Hamstrings and calves

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) While seated on your mat, extend both legs out in front of you. Lift your left leg and bend your knee to bring your foot to the inside of your right knee.

b) Bending from the hips, reach for your right foot (or as far as you can). If you can reach your toes, gently pull them back towards you, or just rest your hands on your ankles or shins — whichever is most comfortable.

c) Hold this position, breathing deeply throughout. Each time that you exhale, lower your torso further towards your legs, ensuring that you are bending from the hips and not rounding through your spine.

Post-run cooldown stretch routine

Whether it's a 5k, interval sprints or long miles, you should always stretch out tired muscles after a run. While Itisines is more of a gym-lover than a runner, she recommends these moves to stretch out those hard-working muscles. Cycle through these exercises in sequence twice.

Forward fold

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Stand with feet hip-width apart. Exhale and slowly bend forward from the hip joints. Lengthen the spine as you fold forwards, bending the knees if you need to.

b) Bring the palms or fingertips to the floor or to the backs of your ankles. Engage your core and let the head hang between the arms.

c) Hold this position, breathing deeply throughout. Each time that you exhale, try and bend a little further forward.

Glutes

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Lie on your back, and bring your feet into tabletop position. Cross your right foot over your left thigh to create a 4 shape with your legs. Lace your hands together around the back of your left thigh, and gently pull the leg towards you.

b) Hold this position. Each time that you exhale, try to draw the left leg closer to deepen the stretch. Repeat this stretch on the other side.

Hip flexors and quads

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) Start in a kneeling position on your mat. Release your right leg and take one large step forwards so that you are in a low lunge position, ensuring that your left knee is not further forward than your toes. If it is, then you will need to take a bigger step forward.

b) Bend your left knee and lift your left foot, taking hold of it behind you with your right hand. Place your left hand on the mat for support.

c) Hold this position. Each time that you exhale, use your abdominals to tuck your pubic bone towards your belly button and pull your left foot in to increase the stretch. Repeat this stretch on the other side.

Hamstrings and calves

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec per side

a) While seated on your mat, extend both legs out in front of you. Lift your left leg and bend your knee to bring your foot to the inside of your right knee.

b) Bending from the hips, reach for your right foot (or as far as you can). If you can reach your toes, gently pull them back towards you, or just rest your hands on your ankles or shins — whichever is most comfortable.

c) Hold this position, breathing deeply throughout. Each time that you exhale, lower your torso further towards your legs, ensuring that you are bending from the hips and not rounding through your spine.

Scorpion

Photo credit: SWEAT
Photo credit: SWEAT

Do: 30 sec

a) Lie face down with your arms outstretched on either side.

b) Raise your left leg and reach it towards your right hand. Let the shoulder on the side of the raised leg lift slightly and look towards the working side. Repeat on the other side.

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