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illustration of runners lunge

Although warming up before a workout is considered indispensable to performing well and avoiding injury, cool-downs don’t get the same respect. They’re easy to skip if you’re short on time and energy, and cooling down in the car, in the shower, or over a postworkout shake seems, well, inevitable.

“Taking just five to 10 minutes after your normal workout to stretch, breathe, release tension, and otherwise transition to your less-sweaty self has many benefits,” says trainer Angelo Poli, ISSA, a neuromuscular-reeducation specialist and MetPro cofounder. Here are a few ways that an intentional cool-down can set you up for success:

  • It oxygenates the body, flooding your muscles with oxygen-rich blood and flushing out the metabolic byproducts of exercise. This prevents blood pooling, which — in the worst case — can lead to lightheadedness or even fainting.
  • It jump-starts the recovery process, bringing nutrients to muscle tissue, helping repair and rebuild damage caused by hard workouts.
  • It facilitates flexibility by lengthen­ing tissues when your muscles are at their warmest and most receptive to stretching.
  • It relieves stress, bringing your autonomic nervous system from an exercise-induced sympathetic state to a relaxed parasympathetic one.

Poli offers a series of moves to help take you from sweaty and keyed-up to relaxed and focused.

The Moves

Cat–Cow

illustration of cat-caw arches

  • Assume an all-fours position, with your shoulders directly over your hands and your hips directly over your knees.
  • On an exhale, slowly round your back toward the ceiling, dropping your head toward the floor.
  • On an inhale, slowly reverse the move, arching your back as far as comfortably possible.
  • Continue alternating the arched and rounded positions, coordinating the movement with your breath, for one minute.

Side-lying Chest Opener

illustration of side lying chest opener

  • Begin on your side with your legs stacked and bent 90 degrees, and your arms extended in front of your chest, palms together.
  • Slowly lift your top arm up and over toward the floor behind you, turning your head to follow that hand with your gaze.
  • Breathe deeply in this position, focusing on opening your chest toward the ceiling, turning your head to the back arm, and keeping your knees and hips stacked.
  • Hold for 60 seconds, then slowly switch to the other side and repeat.

Runner’s Stretch

illustrations runners stretch

  • From a pushup position, step your right foot forward and place it on the floor just outside your right hand.
  • Straighten your arms and left leg as much as possible.
  • Breathe deeply, keeping your back long, your arms and back leg straight, and your hips squared to the floor. Gently shift your weight forward toward your head and back toward your heels,
    and left to right.
  • Hold for 60 seconds, switch sides, and repeat.

Downward-Facing Dog

illustration of downward dog

  • Assume a pushup position with your feet and hands both shoulder width apart.
  • Keeping your arms and legs straight and your lower back in its natural arch, raise your hips as high as possible.
  • Breathe deeply, focusing on pushing your chest down to the floor, your heels toward to the floor, and your hamstrings back behind you. Spend one minute here.

This article originally appeared as “The Perfect Cool-Down” in the March 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Illustrations by: Kveta

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