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We all know a pre-workout warm-up is an important part of any fitness routine, but what about the cool-down? It can be tempting to head straight to the locker room right after you’ve crushed those treadmill sprints, but skipping a cool-down might mean you’re missing out on some major benefits.
According trainer Rebecca Kennedy, creator of NYC-based active recovery class A.C.C.E.S.S., a proper cool-down will “lower the heart rate and calm the central nervous system.” Aside from the fact that stretching after a tough class can feel so good, stretching when your muscles are already warmed up (meaning you’ve used them so they aren’t as stiff), is ideal for helping to improve your flexibility, she explains. “It will allow the muscles to get into deeper stretches.”
For best results, cool-down stretches should be passive, so you’ll hold them for a while (as opposed to dynamic stretches before a workout, which you shouldn’t hold for long). “Never do less than 10 seconds on any passive stretch,” suggests Kennedy. As a rule of thumb, she aim for six to eight deep breaths, she says.
Ready to stretch it out? Try this four-move cool-down routine after your next workout. (And be sure to save the Pin below for easy reference.)
1. Figure 4 Stretch — hold for 30 seconds on each side
“Figure 4 opens up the hips and releases the glutes,” says Kennedy.
- Start lying on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Lift your left leg and cross your left ankle over the right knee.
- Reach hands around right leg to meet under thigh. Draw the right thigh toward you while keeping your torso pressed against floor.
- Use your left elbow to gently press your left knee away from you as you draw your right thigh in closer.
- Hold for 30 seconds, deepening the stretch with every exhale, then switch sides.
2. Reclining Twist — hold for 10 seconds on each side, repeat 3-5 times
This stretch is great for releasing the lower back, according to Kennedy.
- Lie on your back and draw your left leg into your chest and keep your right leg straight.
- Exhale and twist the bent knee across the center of the body. Then press the opposite hand onto the bent knee and extend the other arm.
- Hold for 10 seconds on each side, repeating three to five times.
3. Cat/Cow Stretch — continue for 30 seconds
“This stretch aids in breathing and slows down the heart rate,” says Kennedy. Inhale in the cow position when your back is arched and you’re looking upwards, then exhale as you bring your chin to your chest and round your spine.
- Begin on your hands and knees. Align your shoulders over wrists and your hips over knees.
- Take a slow inhale, and on the exhale, round your spine and drop your head towards the floor (this is the “cat” posture).
- Inhale and lift your head, chest, and tailbone towards the ceiling as you arch your back for “cow.”
- Move through this sequence for 30 seconds.
4. Child’s Pose — hold for 30 seconds to one minute
This stretch is grounding, says Kennedy, because it “connects you to the floor at your shins, knees, ankles, feet, chest, and head.” Try to lengthen your spine by extending through the crown of your head and your tailbone. Then, “let everything settle into place.”
- Sit back on heels with your knees out wide.
- Bend forward at hips and lower your chest between your thighs with your forehead resting on the ground.
- Extend your arms long and place your palms on the ground.
- Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Pin this stretch sequence and save it for your next tough workout:
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