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Calm your mind and your muscles with these dynamic moves, designed to boost your recovery.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of checking off your miles for the day and getting to bask in the glory of the hard work completed. But you know what makes those couple of minutes postrun even better? A cool down workout that not only stretches out the muscles you maxed out on the road, but also gives you a chance to actually take a minute and digest that work you just put into the miles.
“Taking time to cool down after a run allows you to mentally process your run, reflect on the victories of your run, and make a note of what you’d like to improve upon, all while your muscles have a chance to gradually return back to baseline,” says Jess Movold, Runner’s World coach and certified personal trainer.
Need more reason to take a minute after your workout stretch it out? Let us count the ways it benefits your body and mind.
There are plenty of reasons you want to consider adding a cool down to your workout. For starters, Coach Jess says abruptly stopping a run can cause cramping and extreme soreness. She also says this is an opportunity to gradually lower your body temperature and heart rate, which is important in helping to promote circulation, relaxation, and reduce inflammation.
“Plus, taking time for a cool down demonstrates that what you’re doing is important to you,” she says. “This care will translate into your overall ability to improve as a runner.”
To help you plan the perfect postworkout cool down, we asked Coach Jess to share her favorite exercises. The cool part about these moves? They’re all dynamic stretches that you can incorporate into your daily routine (not just after a workout!) to leave you feeling loose and limber, so you head into your next run or workout or the rest of your day with confidence and comfort.
By regularly incorporating these dynamic mobility moves into your daily or weekly routine, Coach Jess says you’ll gain a few key benefits:
If you’re convinced to join for a cool down, follow these five exercises from Coach Jess.
How to use this list: Perform each exercise below for 30 to 90 seconds, resting as needed between moves. Make sure to breathe deep, concentrating on your inhales and exhales through each stretch. Use those exhales to move deeper into the stretch, sending breath to any spots that feel tight. You can do these moves right after a run, after a long day, or any time you feel the need to stretch it out.
Coach Jess demonstrates each exercise so you can mimic proper form. You don’t need any equipment for these moves, but an exercise mat is helpful. You’ll also need a couch or chair for the final two exercises.
Why it works: Pressing your heels toward the floor and your chest between your arms in downward dog will help loosen up the hamstrings, shoulders, back, and feet. And for a 360-degree lower-body stretch, the runner’s lunge will give the glutes, hip flexors, and adductors a good stretch.
How to do it: Start on all fours, shoulders over wrists and knees under hips. Lift hips up and back to form an inverted V shape with body. This is your downward dog. Drive one heel into the floor, then the other to pedal out the legs with a slight bend in each knee. Press chest between shoulders. Then step right foot forward and lower left knee to mat. Next, lower right forearm to mat, parallel to leg. Then press back up onto right hand, lift left leg, and step back to downward dog. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating.
Why it works: Stretch out tight hips and glutes with this version of a deep squat. Coach Jess loves practicing a deep squat while swaying back and forth for the opportunity to open the hips, while also practicing an upright posture.
How to do it: Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Lower hips down and back to get into a deep squat position, with weight in heels, hips low to the ground, and torso up straight. Bring palms together in front of chest in prayer pose, elbows touching inside of knees. Pull shoulders down and back. For a deeper stretch, press elbows against knees. Shift weight side to side and then forward and back to stretch the muscles of the hips. If you feel like you can’t maintain the pose, release by standing up, take two deep breaths, and reset.
Why it works: Coach Jess says the floor scorpion is a great dynamic mobility movement that can help loosen up the entire body. It also promotes thoracic (or upper spine) rotation.
How to do it: Lie facedown, hands right next to shoulders, palms pressed into mat. Extend right arm to the right side, then bend left knee, take it back and across body to open up hip. Roll half way over, planting left foot on other side of right leg, knee pointing up to ceiling. Pause, then roll back, coming back onto stomach, extending left leg back onto floor, and placing right hand back by shoulder. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating.
Why it works: Coach Jess suggests trying this stretch after speedwork to target the inner thighs, hips, and feet. With slight and gradual motion, this move allows you to ease into a deeper stretch over a short duration of time, which will help reduce soreness and improve flexibility.
How to do it: Start on kneeling with shoulders stacked over wrists, knee under hips, toes tucked. Extend right leg out to side, straightening knee. This is your starting position. Rock hips and torso back and rest hips on left heel. Return to starting position. Repeat. Then switch sides.
Why it works: The knee-to-couch stretch is a deep stretch for the quads and hip flexors. If you want to take this stretch to the next level, Coach Jess suggests flexing the glute and hamstring of your working (stretching) leg—that’s the one with your knee on the ground.
How to do it: Start kneeling in front of a chair, couch, or other elevated, soft surface, facing away from it. Step left foot forward, knee bent 90 degrees and over ankle, foot pressed into floor. Place top of right foot on top of the chair. Place hands on hips or in front of chest, wherever is most comfortable. Tuck the pelvic slightly forward and engage right glute and entire core. Send hips forward. Hold here. Release. Then switch sides.
Why it works: This is a great stretch to loosen up the mid-to-low back and improve your lumbar (or low spine) range of motion. It’s a smart move to incorporate before and after your long run, Coach Jess says.
How to do it: Start kneeling in front of a chair, couch, or other elevated, soft surface. Lean forward and place elbows on chair, edge of triceps also resting on the surface. Lower head so it’s nearly touching front of chair, and clasp hands together behind head. This is your starting position. Lower clasped hands toward back. Then lift back up to starting position. Repeat.