We all know the importance of warming up before exercise, but we’re less likely to take the time to cool down afterward. I get it, when your workout is complete you need to get back to your to-do list!
But taking time for a few minutes of stretching can make a world of a difference in preventing injury and soreness. And the right kind of stretches are key: When warming up before a workout, we focus on dynamic stretching. But after your workout is done, holding static stretches is the best way to release tension in the muscles and help the body recover.
From your neck to the bottom of your feet, this cool-down stretch routine uses static stretches to loosen up your entire body. It’s a great way to get a deep stretch after warming your muscles up with a cardio or HIIT workout.
Breathing as you stretch is important. It allows the body (and the mind!) to relax and helps you sink deeper into each stretch. I usually instruct my clients to breathe in and out through their nose while they stretch after a workout. This helps the body utilize the breath to calm the nervous system. However, if you’re out of breath after a cardio workout, feel free to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as you would during a regular workout.
Ear to shoulder stretch
Standing or sitting, drop your right ear toward your right shoulder and feel a stretch in the left side of the neck. Hold for 2-4 breaths, and then release and switch sides.
Chin to chest stretch
Place your hands behind your head and gently press your head forward and down so that your chin reaches toward your chest. Feel a stretch behind the upper back and neck. Hold for 2-4 breaths and then release.
Place your hands behind your head with elbows out to the sides. This time allow your head to lean back into your hands. Tilt your chin up and look up toward the ceiling, slightly arching the back. Hold for 2-4 breaths and then release.
Standing side reach
Standing with your feet together, lift your right arm straight up into the air. Keep your left arm at your side or on your hip. Bend at the waist toward your left so that you feel a stretch in the right side of your waist. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Standing or sitting, cross your right arm across your body and hold onto it with your left hand. Use your left hand to pull on your right upper arm to cross your body further. Keep your right arm straight as you feel a stretch in your right shoulder and upper bicep. Then switch sides.
Reach the arms overhead. Bend your right elbow and place your left hand on the right elbow. Pull the elbow down so that your elbow points toward the ceiling and your right forearm dangles down behind your head. Feel a stretch in your right tricep, and then switch sides.
Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, step your right foot forward and keep your back leg straight. Come up onto your back toes, and bend your right knee over the ankle. Pull your naval in toward your spine. Feel a stretch in the front of the right hip, and then switch sides.
Standing lunge with side reach
Step into a standing lunge, then reach the opposite arm of the bent leg up toward the ceiling. Bend at the waist, reaching your arm over to the side of the bent leg. This elongates the entire side of the body, from the straight leg behind you all the way up the side waist and hip flexor. Hold for a few counts, and then switch sides.
Standing quad stretch
Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, balance on your left leg. Bend your right knee and reach your right foot up toward your glute. Then grab onto your right ankle as you pull the foot closer to your butt. Hold for 2-4 breaths, and then switch sides.
Standing single leg hamstring stretch
Step your right foot 1-2 feet forward; straighten the leg and flex your foot. Then bend your left knee as you hinge at the waist and lean forward over the straight right leg. Feel a stretch down the back of your leg and into your calf. Hold for 2-4 breaths and then switch sides.
Standing figure four
Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, balance on your left leg and bring the right leg up. Cross the right ankle over the left thigh and bend the left knee out to the side. Sit back as if you’re about to sit down into a chair. Balance here. Flex the right foot. Gently press your hands into your right thigh to open it up a little bit more if you’d like. You can also mimic this exercise while seated. Hold for 2-4 breaths, and then switch sides.
Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the ground. Step your right foot forward in between your hands, and then bring both hands to the inside of the right foot. Wiggle your right foot out to the right, and open the right hip, letting the right knee fall to the side so that you rest on the outer edge of your right foot. Keep the left knee on the mat, and rest the left foot on the mat. Push forward gently into your hips and hold. Switch so that your left foot is forward and repeat. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Lying down on your back, hug both knees into your chest. Open the arms straight out to your sides into a “T” shape. Keeping your torso facing forward, lower the legs to the right and turn your head to the left. Hold the stretch for 3 breaths, then come to center. Switch to the left side, hold for 3 breaths, and then move on to the next exercise.
Don’t forget your feet! They are often an afterthought when it comes to stretching, but they get a workout too, especially during cardio exercise.
Sitting upright and barefoot, rock onto your heels and flex your toes. Then rock forward onto your arches and onto the balls of your feet, lifting your heels off of the ground but keeping your toes on the ground. Repeat 10 times.
Sit upright and barefoot with your feet on the ground and knees bent at 90 degrees. Open your toes as wide as you can and hold for 5 seconds. Release. Repeat 10 times.