One of my favorite ways to cool down after a run is with a post-workout walk. It brings my heart rate down, and signals to my body that it’s okay to get out of fight-or-flight mode.
But there’s a lot more going on in the body during a run than just getting the heart pumping extra hard. When we run, our leg muscles are in flexion (bent) for an extended period of time. So in a post-run cooldown, you may want to counter that motion with stretches that extend the muscles.
While the research is not clear on whether a post-run stretch improves recovery, it’s undeniable that it feels great, which is a benefit that you definitely shouldn’t discount.
“[Cooling down with some stretching] gives the person a few minutes to switch gears between what they were doing and what they are doing next, to reflect on the work they did, and build confidence and trust around their exercise routine,” Kaitlyn Baird, CEP, a USA triathlon level 1 coach and an exercise physiologist at the Sports Performance Center at New York University Langone Health, previously told Well+Good. “If you ask practitioners in the field, the cooldown is most certainly an important part of any training session.”
You also know what your body needs. For example, Barry’s trainer and Nike running coach Sashah Handal says that she sometimes feels her lower back compress as her muscles fatigue during a long run. So in her cooldown, she includes stretches that bring space to her spine and her hips.
That’s just one of the ways you’ll stretch in this 12-minute after-run cooldown video, led by Handal, who is Well+Good’s Trainer of the Month.
“This cooldown is geared more on flow and breath, similar to a yoga sequence,” Handal explains. “Focus on really digging deep into the movement, and trying to settle into the stretch.”
You’ll begin with a series of forward folds that release your hamstrings and open the spine and the shoulders. Knee hugs and twists come next. And then you’ll move into a bit of a yoga flow with downward and upward dogs, as well as hip openers like pigeons. Throughout it all, remember to breathe, and if a stretch feels particularly yummy, stay in it for as long as you’d like.
“Allow yourself to completely release, completely surrender,” Handal says. “That’s all we can truly ask for from a cooldown.”