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How To Cool Down After Running: The Fast Recovery Method

Jumpstart your recovery with a proper cool down after running.

Cooling down after running is an important part of your workout – but so many runners skip it.

After all, you have things to do and places to go. Once your heart rate goes down, shouldn’t you be okay? The answer to that is: sort of.

While a short cool-down walk and some water might seem like a fine way to recover from a run, it’s not the best choice. There’s so much more you can do for a quicker, more complete recovery, so you are ready and raring to go the following day.

How To Cool Down After Running: The Fast Recovery Method 1

Doing a full cool down after running is the best way to heal your body after the difficulty of a tough workout.

In this guide, we will look at the benefits of a cool down after running, and what it should include to ensure you are recovering as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Ready? Let’s jump in!

Why Should You Cool Down After Running?

Cooling down should be integral to your post-run routine because it prepares your body for regular activity.

When you push yourself during a run, your body must pump blood quickly to fuel your muscles. When you stop running, it can’t immediately stop the process.

When you abruptly stop running, blood can pool in your legs, and you may feel dizzy or even faint.

A cool down can prevent this and allow your heart to begin evenly circulating blood throughout your body. In addition to slowing your blood flow, cooling down helps your body safely lower your heart rate and return your breathing back to normal.

This helps your heart understand that your run is over and can return to baseline and you can go about your day.

Cooling down also helps your muscles fully relax. Your body can now begin oxygenating your muscles more efficiently, as well as eliminating waste products, like lactic acid, that were created during your run.

Cool down lowering heart rate

Cooling down after running dramatically reduces the risk of developing stiffness and adhesions that will leave you sore, and can help you avoid a big case of the DOMS.1Andersen, J. C. (2005). Stretching before and after exercise: effect on muscle soreness and injury risk. Journal of Athletic Training40(3), 218–220. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1250267/

‌Ultimately, the result of cooling down is that your progress from your run is cemented in your body. Think of a cool down as the save function after writing a document or playing a game.

It increases the effectiveness of your training and speeds up your recovery. This means you’ll be ready to hit the road for your next run, less sore, and more energetic.

It also means you’ll be less prone to getting injured!

Related: The Best Post-Run Routine: Do These 9 Things After Every Run

A person foam rolling.

How Long Should a Running Cool Down Last?

A good rule of thumb is to cool down for 5-15 minutes, depending on how strenuous your workout was.2Van Hooren, B., & Peake, J. M. (2018). Do We Need a cool-down after exercise? a Narrative Review of the Psychophysiological Effects and the Effects on performance, Injuries and the long-term Adaptive Response. Sports Medicine48(7), 1575–1595. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-018-0916-2?fbclid=IwAR1GBKbk7gU3i9QEsC8sMyDiD1zrG8lKXwObAWBMBcmTvl5TENRFVFu37pc

‌This means your cool down should be proportionate to your run. If you have just run a race or completed a difficult training run, then you need to cool down for much longer than if you ran a short, easy run.

What are the Stages of a Cool Down?

There are a few different pieces to a proper cool down. The best way to begin a cool down is by either slowly jogging or walking immediately after your workout.

Depending on how your heart works, you may find that walking is the most effective way to bring down your heart rate back down to baseline. Your cool down should feel easy and require no effort, so adjust your cool down pace accordingly.

The goal is to get your breathing and heart rate back down to a normal state.

Once you’ve done this, you can move on to stage two: your cool down stretches!

A glute stretch.

What are the Best Stretches For A Running Cool Down?

We talk about dynamic stretching in our guide to warming up. Dynamic stretches are gentle movements that increase the range of motion in your muscles and joints and are very important to do when warming up cold muscles.

However, after a run, your muscles are warm and pliable, and they can stretch easily with little effort. Therefore, you can do static stretches to help your muscles recover after a difficult run.

You should hold each static stretch for at least 30 seconds and make sure to stretch both sides of your body.

It’s also a good idea to hit as many muscle groups as possible when you stretch.

Here are a few cool down exercises to try.

#1: Standing Quad Stretch

Quad stretch.
  1. Begin by standing on your right leg. Bend the knee of your left leg and lift your foot towards your glutes.
  2. Grasp your foot with one hand and hold. You should feel the stretch all along with your quadriceps. This also gets your IT band as well!
  3. Switch sides.

#2: Standing Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring stretch.

Next, stretch the back of your legs by focusing on your hamstrings.

You can do this by bending down to touch your toes and with a slight bend in your knees, or you can do the standing hamstring stretch.

  1. Slightly bend one knee while stretching your opposite leg out in front of you.
  2. Now, raise the foot of the outstretched leg by lifting your toes up, but keeping your heel on the ground.
  3. Hinge at the waist and reach for your toes. You may also feel this in your calf!

#3: Standing Calf Stretch

Calf stretch.

To do this stretch, you’ll need a wall, curb, or bench.

  1. Stand close to the wall and lift one foot, placing your toes on the wall while keeping your heel on the ground, like in the hamstring stretch.
  2. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your calf. You can place your hands on a wall for balance if you are by a wall.

#4: Standing Hip Flexor Lunge Stretch

Hip stretch.
  1. Stand tall with your feet at hip-width apart. 
  2. Step forward with your left foot. 
  3. Keeping both feet flat on the ground, drive your left knee slightly forward while gently arching your torso back.

#5: Standing Figure Four Glute Stretch 

Glute stretch.
  1. Standing on your right leg, bend your left leg at a 90-degree angle, placing your left ankle on your right knee. Keep your right knee slightly bent for better stability. 
  2. Bend your right knee even more until you reach a squat position. 
  3. Place your left hand on your left knee and gently push down to feel the stretch.
  4. Slightly lean your torso forward, keeping your back perfectly straight.

#6: Downward Facing Dog

Downward dog stretch.

If you enjoy doing yoga, then downward-facing dog is an excellent pose to incorporate into your cool-down routine.

  1. To get into the proper position, begin by doing a full plank.
  2. Then, lift your hips up until your head is between your arms. Your heels should be able to reach the ground. If not, just stay on your toes.
  3. You can get a dynamic stretch in by pedaling your feet to help both calves and hamstrings relax.
A person drinking water.

What Next After Cooling Down?

Once you’ve cooled down, jump into some of our Recovery Tips!

After your light jog or walk and static stretches, you can continue to recover by doing some light foam rolling, fueling with a post-run breakfast or snack, and hydrating to replenish fluid and electrolytes lost.

Any running coach will tell you, a proper cool down is an essential part of a runner’s routine and training plan.

Unfortunately, most runners neglect it because they don’t feel like they have the time or don’t want to do the extra work.

However, cooling down ensures that your body correctly recovers from your run so that you will feel healthy and reduce the risk of injury. It’s the safest way to end a run, and it will help you feel better.

It’s a built-in stress reliever to get you ready to face the rest of your day!

For a full set of pre-reun stretches, check out our guide:

References

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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