If your workout modus operandi is to squeeze in a quick, high-impact gym session and skip the cooldown to get home in time for your favorite show, you’re in good company. But winding down isn’t just an optional stop on the road to optimal fitness; it’s actually one of the most underrated and essential parts of an exercise routine, helping to maximize the benefits of your active time and prevent injury. In partnership with Brita, we asked eight top trainers for their best cool-down tips and techniques. After reading these helpful hints, you just might skip straight to the cooldown.
1. Select A Stretch That Tones, Too
The cooldown isn’t just a time to soothe overworked muscles; it’s also an opportunity to strengthen, lengthen, and tone. Scott Fishman, founder of Team All-American, recommends ending workouts with a walk followed by a plank. The goal, Fishman explains, is “to slowly transition your body and mind from higher to lower intensity.”
2. Rock The Psoas
Post-spin class or HIIT workout, the last thing you should do is collapse on the floor ― even if it’s exactly what you feel like doing. “After you do a strenuous workout, you don’t want to lie down on the floor right away,” says Sebastien Lagree, founder of Lagree Fitness Studio. If you’re short on time, try Lagree’s favorite psoas lunge, which he calls “the mother of all stretches.”
3. Get Centered With The Compass Stretch
If bouncing around during dance aerobics leaves you feeling off-kilter, look no further than Adam Rosante’s balancing compass stretch. The personal trainer and author of The 30-Second Body recommends cooling down with the stretch to loosen limbs and encourage mindful breathing.
4. Get Active By Isolating Your Muscle Groups
Instead of attempting to stretch several muscle groups simultaneously, focus on one at a time. “I like my clients to do Active Isolated Stretching (AIS),” says Meghan Kennihan, a trainer and USA Track & Field coach. “It is so much better than just static stretching,” Kennihan emphasizes. Here’s how it works. To help relax the target muscle, you contract the opposite muscles. AIS is easy and effective for stretching at an elevated level.
5. Focus On The Hammies
Consider your cooldown a chance to nurture your more sensitive muscles. “Your cooldown can be very similar to what you’d do for a warmup, just with less intensity,” explains Tyler Spraul, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the head trainer at Exercise.com. One of his favorite moves for sore legs? A hammy stretch that helps condition the muscles in your legs.
6. (Foam) Roll Away
If your primary concerns with stretching are the aches and pains you feel when extending a tight muscle, incorporate a foam roller into your routine. The roller helps release sore muscles and feels like a relaxing ritual. “The key with foam rolling is that you don’t just want to roll, roll, roll,” explains Matt Tanneberg, a sports chiropractor and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. “You want to roll through the muscle until you feel a tender spot ― it will feel like a bruise,” he says. “Once you find the spot, hold constant pressure down … breaking up the adhesions and the trigger points allows the muscle to heal properly.”
7. Remember To Exhale
Breathing may be innate, but we often forget to do it in the midst of a grueling workout. Chris Cooper, co-owner of Active Movement & Performance, suggests clients “reset breathing patterns” with two different techniques: 90/90 breathing and crocodile breathing. “You lie on your back with your feet on a wall, with the hips and knees at 90 degrees,” he explains. “Slowly breathe in through the nose and out the mouth, focusing on the three-dimensional expansion of the ribs and diaphragm.” With crocodile breathing, focus on the same expansion while lying on your stomach. “As you inhale,” he says, “your body should rise off the ground.”
8. Gulp Water To Reach Your Goals
Lifestyle and health coach Carmen Shawn stresses the importance of remaining hydrated. “A major cause of fatigue and low energy is not properly hydrating after a workout, or in general,” Shawn explains. “Drink 17 to 20 ounces before your workout, 12 to 15 ounces during your workout and at least 8 ounces directly after.”
No workout is complete without a proper cooldown, and water is a key to replenishing your body’s hydration. That’s why Brita provides cleaner, great-tasting water for all types of physical activity, from high-intensity workouts to walking.