Runners – and all athletes, for that matter – should know that a cool down routine is important. Raise your hand if you know this fact but still fail to practice it. Join the crowd. I’ve been a culprit too. But if you want to avoid injuries and just feel better overall, it’s necessary to do a cool down.
In this article, we’ll give you the reasons why it’s so important. Hopefully this will motivate you to start incorporating a cool down into your workouts – especially the hard days. But we’ll give you some examples of cool-down routines for after easy runs as well as long runs.
No matter what type of run you are cooling down from, we’ve got you covered. Now it’s just up to you to start practicing this part of your workout routine!
What is a Cool Down?
As the American Heart Association notes, a cool down gives your body time to gradually decrease its amount of physical activity after a workout. After you’ve been working out for a little while, your heart rate is up and your blood vessels are dilated.
Plus, you’re probably sweating because your body temperature is higher than normal. In order to slowly give your body time to switch from exercise mode to rest mode, you can’t just stop immediately after a workout.
Why are Cool Downs So Important?
As we hinted at above, cool-downs are essential because they help transition your body from working out to normal, everyday activities.
Normalize Heart Rate Gradually
More specifically, they allow you to return your heart rate to baseline gradually, giving your body less of a shock. This is particularly important if you’ve completed a very hard run and got your heart rate up quite a bit.
Cool-downs also decrease muscle soreness, improve mobility, and enhance recovery, because you’re giving your body time to recover. That stretching routine you’re supposed to do helps ease the build-up of lactic acid, the culprit of muscle cramping and stiffness.
Increase Blood Flow
Without increased blood flow, your blood will pool in the lower parts of your body, not giving your heart and brain the blood they need. Cool-downs will avoid this predicament.
Take a Break
Finally, running takes a lot of mental energy, and you want to give yourself time to relax and reflect on the run. It’s okay to take a break and celebrate what you were able to accomplish during the run.
Whether it was an awful run or a big-time PR, give yourself time to think about the run—what went well, what didn’t, and what you’d like to do differently next time. And remember to be grateful that you were able to run in the first place!
What are Some Cool Down Routines After Easy Runs?
After easy runs, there are a variety of different things you can do. Just figure out what works best for you and do that!
There is a tendency to want to pick up the pace at the end of a run. After all, you want to finish strong, right? A bit of a tempo pick-up in the last mile is not a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be the last thing. Depending on how long you ran, cap your run off with an easy jog, or even a few minutes of walking. Typically, you want to cool down for 5% of your running time, which often works out to 5-10 minutes.
A benefit of this cool down option is that you’ll be able to reflect back on your run, and if you’re running with someone else, you can use this time to catch up and enjoy one another’s company.
Like the name implies, you’ll be hugging your knees. You can either do this while walking with one knee at a time or sit down and do both together. Simply pull your knee close to your body and then repeat with the other side, stepping forward slightly each time.
Another stretch you’ll want to do is for your quads. Bring one leg up behind you to touch your glutes, and hold for several seconds. Repeat for your other side. Again, you can do this walking—slowly stepping forward each time—or while standing.
You cannot complete this stretch while walking, so find a wall or something else that you can put your hands against. Next, step forward with one leg and push against the wall to stretch the back of the calf on your other leg and repeat on the other side.
Find a sign, a mailbox, or the side of a building and swing your legs back and forth. You can do it front and back and then switch to side to side. I always find leg swings super relaxing because there isn’t much thought you have to put into them.
This stretch might be challenging if you struggle with balance, so don’t be afraid to find a friend or family member to hold onto. Cross one ankle just above the knee on the other leg. Make sure your hips are back. Then repeat on the other side.
What are Some Cool Down Routines After Hard Runs?
After a hard or long run, you’ll still want to incorporate some jogging or walking like we mentioned for the easy runs, but you’ll want to change up the stretches some. Remember that you’ll want to spend about 5% of your run time walking/jogging at the end.
Wait to Stretch After Long Runs
If you’ve run for a really long time—90 minutes or more—you don’t want to go straight into stretching after you’ve finished with a cool down jog or walk. Instead, wait a couple hours to stretch, massage, or foam roll.
Because you’ve used up a lot of energy and fluids, refuel and replenish those before trying to loosen up tight muscles by you’re stretching. You do, however, want to sit down and put your legs against the wall to help improve blood flow.
Hip Circles with Lunge
Get into a lunge position where one leg is at a 90-degree angle in front of you, making sure that both feet are planted. Then start circling your hips, switching between clockwise for 30-60 seconds and then counterclockwise for 30-60 seconds.
Lunge and Twists
Again, get into a lunge position. Once you are there, rotate your torso to one side, hold briefly, and then switch to the other side. Repeat several times. You can also do this with a weighted ball in your hand if desired.
This one is a little hard to explain if you haven’t seen it before, so be sure to watch this YouTube video. Start by bending your knee and letting it drop to underneath your torso. Make sure your other leg is straight behind you.
Gently lean your body over the bent leg. Rest your forearms on the ground if possible. Make sure that your hips stay square, and hold for 30-60 seconds. Then switch to the other side.
Downward-Facing Dog with Calf Marches
Start from a straight-armed plank position, and then lift your hips and glutes into the air as you straighten your arms and legs. You should make sure that you’re looking back toward your feet so that you don’t put too much strain on your neck.
Add in some calf marches by bending the knee of one leg and holding for 30-60 seconds before rotating to the other side. Make sure you get a nice, deep stretch in your calves and hamstrings as you do this.
Lower Back Stretch
Do this stretch gently and it will really help you feel better. Sit back on your heels and then slowly move your torso toward the floor, stretching your arms in front of you. Hold for 30-60 seconds or whatever is comfortable for you.
While it will take a little bit more time to complete a cool-down routine, your body will thank you! If you’ve been dealing with a lot of injuries or are just always super lightheaded after a run, it might be because you’re not taking the proper amount of time to cool down.
By adding less than 10 minutes of walking or jogging and some quick stretches, you’ll feel a lot better after your runs, and you’ll be taking better care of your body. That’s what I call a win-win.