7 Quick Cool Down Exercises That Are Just As Important As Your Warmup

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After checking off my workout, I usually book it out of the gym. I'm endorphin-fueled, hungry, and ready for some post-cardio R&R. Skipping cool-down exercises because I'm too impatient and just want to flop down in front of the TV isn't a sustainable way to work out, however. Maillard Howell, owner of Dean CrossFit and founder of The Beta Way, says that opting out of your cool-down is a surefire way of opting in for less-than-ideal post-workout feels.

"Cooling down goes hand in hand with warming up. You need to downgrade—especially if you're coming from high-intensity or a strenuous workout," says Howell. Your body enters fight or flight mode during this kind of exercise regimen, and without a clear transition to your more laid-back life activities, it will stay that way. "All the brain knows from millions of years of programming is that when you're breathing heavily, it triggers responses. Your heart rate keeps going, your sight is very acute, your hearing is very acute—all this stuff. You kick into survival mode. That mode isn't very sustainable or healthy to remain in," he adds.

"You need to downgrade—especially if you're coming from high-intensity or a strenuous workout." —Maillard Howell, owner of CrossFit Prospect Heights

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends powering down your engines until your heart rate is no more than 120 beats per minute. (This usually takes about five minutes.) Apart from your ticket, your muscles also really, really want you to take it slow. Those burpees, mountain climbers, and push-ups cause a build-up of lactic acid that can lead to cramping (curse you, runner's Charlie horse!) and stiffness.

Experts In This Article

I know, I know: The whole process of actually doing the damn thing sounds boring. But nay! There are almost as many choices for how you cool down as there are for working out in the first place. The most basic? Just walk it out on the treadmill, or pace the gym/park/other workout venues until your heart rate moves from a level nine to a level five. Or, just pop a squat and stretch. Here's how.

Below, learn *all* the cool down exercises you need to top off your workout.

1. Sit down and breathe for a minute

Every cool down begins the same way for Howell and his clients. They sit down and focus on their breath. "Be very aware of transitioning from mouth breathing to nose breathing," he says. "It ties back to that fight or flight response, that we're innately programmed as animals, that mouth breathing is a symptom of stress." Taking a more relaxed approach to your breathing dials down your cortisol levels, blood pressure, and adrenaline. "By actively trying to slow your breathing down, you flick those switches off," continues the trainer.

2. Cat-cow

Chances are you've met the classic cat-cow in a yoga class at least once. There, it's used as a warmup, but Howells says that it's invaluable for unwinding your back after lifting heavy weights (or doing anything else that could leave it aching.)

What it's good for:

Cat-cow is a great stretch to improve your posture, balance, and stretch your neck and spine.

How to do it: 

  1. Start on all fours with your wrists directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
  2. As you inhale, arch your spine and look up at the ceiling.
  3. As you exhale, curl your belly upward so your back is in a C-curve.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps.

3. Pigeon Pose

Another beloved asana in yoga, pigeon pose targets hips that are feeling a wee bit creaky from running, spinning, and squatting.

What it's good for:

This stretch is great for anyone who has a tight back and hips.

How to do it: 

  1. Start in downward facing dog and bring your right shin forward so it's below your shoulder or torso (you want it to be as close to parallel as possible).
  2. Rest your hips on the ground. If you feel the stretch already, stay where you are. If not, bring your forearms or head to the ground.
  3. Repeat on the opposite side, holding for a minimum of 10 seconds.

4. Thread the needle

For the sake of your shoulder, thread the needle can't be beaten.

What it's good for: 

This exercise is great for opening the shoulders, chest, arms, upper back, and neck.

How to do it: 

  1. Begin in child's pose (kneeling) and thread your right arm underneath your torso so it's sticking out at nine o'clock to the left.
  2. Breathe, then slowly unwind your arm and repeat on the opposite side, holding for a minimum of 10 seconds.

5. The standing wall stretch

When your fitness game involves jumping, leaping, and pirouetting through the air, you don't want to overlook your calves. “Jumping is actually a super high impact way of moving that can put a lot of stress and strain on the body, especially the calves, shins, and feet,” dance sculpt instructor Megan Roup previously told Well+Good. The standing wall stretch will feel like a huge sigh of relief from below-knee tightness.

What it's good for:

This exercise is great for stretching the calves.

How to do it: 

  1. Find a wall or box and stand about one foot away from it.
  2. Place your left foot back and keep that knee straight. Then, place the toes of your right foot up against the wall. Hold for a minimum of 10 seconds on each side.
  3. To intensify the stretch, lean your hips forward.

6. Oragami stretch/Cat pulling its tail

I met the origami stretch in May and, believe me, it's a good one. “Supine spinal twists benefit the outer hips, glutes, shoulders, and the entire spine,” Lindsay Pirozzi of New York City’s Y7 studio told Well+Good. “It’s honestly a heaven-sent pose to access and unlock a lot in one shape.”

What it's good for:

This will open your quadriceps and upper thighs.

How to do it: 

  1. Lie down and hug your right knee into your chest.
  2. Exhale and guide the knee across your body to the left. Place the left hand on top of your right knee and rest your right knee on the ground so it's aligned with your hip socket.
  3. Extend your right arm to shoulder height, bend your left knee, and grab your left foot with your right hand.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side, holding for a minimum of 10 seconds on each side.

7. Legs up the wall

Legs up the wall is the best, period. It's a supported inversion that's super calming and so, so good after workouts that have you on your feet for long stretches of time.

What it's good for: 

This stretch is great for decompressing and stretching the back of your legs.

How to do it:

  1. Sit sideways next to a wall and swing your legs up on the wall.
  2. Scooch your butt as close as you can and lower your torso to the ground.
  3. Reach your arms alongside the body and breathe deeply. Hold for a minimum of 10 seconds.

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