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7 of the best cool down stretches to do after a run

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A proper cool down after a run is essential to help you stay injury and pain free.

When you finish a run, the temptation is to just end it and hop in the shower.

The truth is, skipping a cool down could end up making you feel more uncomfortable later on.

By setting aside a few minutes at the end of your run to stretch out your muscles, you will go a long way to prevent your muscles feeling sore and stiff after a run.

But what exactly are the best cool down stretches to do after a run?

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • Why is a cool down important?
  • What are the benefits of a cool down?
  • What are the risks of not doing a cool down?
  • What are the two main types of cool down?
  • What should you include in a cool down?
  • 6 of the best cool down stretches to do after a run

Ready?

Let’s get going!

the best cool down stretches to do after a run

Why is a cool down important?

It’s important you finish a run with a cool down as it allows you to gain the full benefits of your run or workout.

Most people are aware of the benefits of a warm up before a run, but many skip a post-run cool down.

A cool down is key in helping to prevent muscle fatigue, soreness and stiffness associated with high intensity exercise like running.

Whilst a warm up is designed to prevent injury and raise your heart rate before a run, a cool down helps you to avoid injury slowly bring your heart rate down after exercise.

Related: How to warm up before a run

What are the benefits of a cool down?

A proper cool down has the following benefits:

  • Allows your heart rate to normalise
  • Slows your breathing
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Reduces the risk of fatigue, soreness and stiffness
  • Prevents injury

Allows your heart rate to normalise

Activities like running are considered forms of cardiovascular exercise.

Cardiovascular exercise (also called aerobic exercise) increases your heart rate substantially, especially if you’ve been doing faster efforts like interval training or tempo running.

By cooling down and coming out of a run slowly, you’ll allow your heart rate to normalise back to its pre-exercise state.

You’ll also allow your blood pressure to drop gradually, therefore avoiding that lightheaded or dizzy feeling after a run.

Slows your breathing

When your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes deeper too.

By cooling down, you’re allowing your breath to slow down and return to the same rhythm before exercise.

Promotes relaxation

The cool down is a great opportunity to reflect on your run and what can be seen as a great achievement.

A cool down helps to aid relaxation, boost your confidence and promote an overall sense of wellbeing.

Reduces the risk of muscle fatigue, soreness and stiffness

One the key benefits of a cool down is that it helps to prevent muscle soreness, stiffness and fatigue.

Muscle soreness after exercise occurs as a result of micro tears in your muscles. After run stretches like the ones in this guide help to

Prevents injury

A cool down can go a long way to prevent common running injuries such as muscle tears and strains.

Your muscles have worked hard on a run and need to be stretched out while they are still warm.

Without performing cool down stretches, you risk making the recovery process longer and more painful, therefore reducing the benefits of your run.

Related: How to recover after a bad run: 8 ways to bounce back

the best cool down stretches to do after a run

What are the risks of not doing a cool down?

If you skip a cool down after your run, you risk the following:

  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Lactic acid build up
  • Muscle soreness and stiffness
  • Injury

Lightheadedness and dizziness

When you’re running, your heart is busy pumping blood to your legs and arms at increased rates before it circulates back to your heart.

By stopping a run suddenly without a proper cool down, you risk ‘blood pooling’.

This is when blood pools in your limbs and its return to your heart and brain is slowed. As a result, this may cause lightheadedness and dizziness.

Lactic acid build up

Lactic acid is essential to bodily function and is a by-product of exercise, especially high intensity exercise.

When you run, you accumulate lactic acid in your muscles and blood. A cool down gives your body time to slowly flush out the lactic acid from your muscles.

Muscle soreness and stiffness

You may have heard of the term delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is a familiar experience for many runners who experience sore and stiff muscles days after a run.

Symptoms can range from muscle tenderness to extreme pain.

By cooling down after a run and stretching your muscles, you are increasing circulation and helping to remove waste products like lactic acid from your runs, therefore reducing the likelihood of muscle soreness.

Injury

Unfortunately injuries are still pretty common in the running community.

Not warming up before a run and not cooling down after a run have been attributed to running injuries like shin splints, IT band syndrome and hip pain after running.

Related: 11 symptoms of overtraining when running: How to overcome running fatigue

What are the main types of cool down?

Cool downs come in many shapes and sizes – from a quick stretch to a full dynamic session.

Generally speaking, there are two main types of cool down:

  • Active cool down
  • Passive cool down

Active cool down

Also known as ‘active recovery’, an active cool down usually consists of low to moderate intensity exercise performed within 1 hour of the main training session.

According to a 2018 study, an active cool down has many physiological benefits compared with a passive cool down, such as faster recovery of heart rate, less muscle soreness, and more rapid reduction of metabolic by products.

Passive cool down

A passive cool down doesn’t involve any exercise and includes activities like sitting, standing, static stretching, foam rolling and cold water immersion.

Related: Hip pain after running: 8 causes + how to fix it

What should you include in a cool down?

A proper cool down should last between 5 to 15 minutes and should include both light jogging (‘active recovery’) and static stretching.

Whilst the jogging is designed to lower your heart rate, the stretching is designed to focus on those areas of your body that need that extra TLC after a run. 

Dynamic stretching is reserved for the warm up, whereas static stretching should be performed as part of a cool down.

Why are static stretches good for a cool down?

Static stretching is when you hold a stretch position for between 6 to 15 seconds without moving.

This type of stretching elongates specific muscle groups and improves flexibility and mobility.

By simply holding a stretch, this has been shown to decrease some symptoms of muscle soreness and stiffness.

Related: 9 quick and easy dynamic warm up stretches to do before a run

the best cool down stretches to do after a run

6 of the best cool down stretches to do after a run

#1 Deep lunge stretch

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Deep lunge stretch

This is one of the best cool down stretches to after a run. The deep lunge stretch wakes up and stretches tight hip flexors. 

It’s great to do to loosen tight hip flexors, especially if you’re sat behind a desk all day.

  1. Lunge forward with your right leg.
  2. Keep your knee bent at a 90 degree angle and your weight in your heel. 
  3. Your left knee should be bent under your hip. Make sure your toes are pointing forward.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
  5. Relax and repeat on the opposite side

#2 Standing quad stretch

the best cool down stretches to do after a run
Standing quad stretch

This is one of the best cool down exercises after running if you suffer with tight quads. Your quads can take a beating during a run.

Your quads work hard to work with the rest of your legs and bum to power your legs forward. 

If you do a lot of hill running workouts, you may get sore quad muscles quite a lot. 

  1. Stand tall with your core engaged. 
  2. Gently pick up your right foot and hold it behind you, pulling your foot close to your bum to feel a deeper quad stretch.
  3. Focus on standing straight, not leaning forward or back.
  4. Keep your core engaged so you also get a stretch across your hip flexors.
  5. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
  6. Relax and repeat on the opposite side.

#3 Standing adductor stretch

the best cool down stretches to do after a run
Standing adductor stretch

Adductor stretches target the group of muscles on the inside of the thigh, including the groin. 

Tight adductors can cause strains, especially when you’re doing quick movements like sprinting or hill training. 

  1. Start standing with your feet approximately 3 feet apart.
  2. Shift your weight to the one side and allow your knee to bend.
  3. Keep the opposite knee straight to feel a stretch on the inside of your thigh.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
  5. Relax and repeat on the opposite side.

#4 Standing TFL stretch

the best cool down stretches to do after a run
Standing TFL stretch

If you’ve ever had IT band issues, or IT band syndrome, then you may want to take a closer look at your TFL.

A tight, overactive TFL can lead to increased tension on the IT band, making it feel tight. It can also cause irritation of the tissue between the IT band and lateral aspect of the knee joint.

Tightness of the TFL can also restrict hip mobility and contribute to excessive anterior pelvic tilt. Both of which can lead to hip and lower back aches and pains. 

  1. Stand with your feet together then cross your left leg over your right leg.
  2. Bring the left foot over and back across until the big toe is even with the big toe of the right foot. 
  3. Reach your arms up overhead for a nice, big stretch. 
  4. Push your hips out to the right as you reach upward so you feel a stretch down the outside of that right hip and side.
  5. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
  6. Relax and repeat on the opposite side.

#5 Lying gluteal stretch

the best cool down stretches to do after a run
Lying gluteal stretch

The lying gluteal stretch focuses on the hips and stretches the gluteus maximus muscle – the large muscle in your bum and at the top of the back of your leg. 

This stretch is also great for opening up tight hip flexors. Both hip strengthening exercises and glute strengthening exercises are essential for runners.

  1. Lie on your back with legs fully extended.
  2. Bend one leg and bring your knee towards your chest. You can even pull the foot towards your opposite hip. 
  3. Keep the extended leg as straight as possible.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
  5. Relax and repeat on the opposite side.

#6 Standing calf stretch

the best cool down stretches to do after a run
Standing calf stretch

This is one of the best calf stretches after running. This stretch helps you work on your calf and hamstring muscles. 

Your calf muscles can become tight if you tend to land on your forefoot when you run.

  1. Stand with your feet staggered.
  2. Bend your back knee and keep your front knee straight as you fold forward and place your hands on your bent knee. 
  3. Hold for 20-30 seconds, feeling the stretch in your calf.
  4. Relax and repeat on the opposite side.

If you struggle to feel the stretch with this one, face a wall and perform it by extending one leg behind you, keeping both feet flat on the floor.

Lean towards the wall until you feel tension in the calf muscle of the extended leg.

Caroline Geoghegan
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