What Is a Cooldown?

Woman stretching

Verywell / Ryan Kelly

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A cool down is an important part of any good workout. It is an opportunity for you to reduce your intensity, bring down your heart rate, and relax your muscles from working out in a tensed state.

What's more, the cooldown does not need to take up a long period of time. Five to 10 minutes is all you need to reduce heavy breathing and mitigate challenging recovery issues. Here is what you need to know about cooldowns and how to incorporate them into your next workout.

What Is a Cooldown? 

A cooldown is designed to promote recovery and return the body to a pre-exercise or pre-workout level. This can be accomplished in a variety of different ways. You can walk or jog, stretch, or even engage in mindfulness to help your body relax and recover. Whether physical or mental activities—or a combination of both—a cooldown helps you recover mentally and physically after physical activity or exercise.

Benefits of Cooldowns

The cooldown offers a number of benefits including helping you recover faster from your workout. Here are a few of the benefits of incorporating a cooldown into your workout regimen.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Have you ever gotten the sorest from a workout two days after you exercised? You would think that feeling sore would be an immediate after effect. But that is not always the case, and this phenomenon has a name: delayed onset muscle soreness. The worst pain often comes 24 to 48 hours after exercise due to microtears in your muscle fibers that hang around for a while.

In a study on the effects of warmups and cooldowns, researchers mentioned that aerobic cooldowns could reduce delayed onset muscle soreness by increasing circulation and removal of waste in the exercised muscles.

Recovery

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), lactic acid can accumulate throughout the body (especially after an intense workout session). To help clear out some of this acid, 10 minutes of light exercise (such as walking) coupled with static stretching can "buffer" this out. A cooldown can prepare your body for your next physical activity, making your recovery faster than if you skipped a cooldown.

Increases Flexibility

When your muscles are warm after exercise, this is a valuable time to conduct a stretching routine as your warmed-up muscles can bend farther than usual. This can help increase your flexibility, which in turn, increases your fitness level. Stretching also improves your range of motion and your ability to move around throughout the day as you conduct regular everyday activities.

Improves Your Mental State

Exercise increases endorphins and cooling down can help keep those good vibes going by bringing your body back to center. According to ACE, a cooldown allows your body to slowly return to a resting state. A cooldown allows you to take full advantage of the relaxed and euphoric effect that these neurochemicals have on your body, they say.

Helps You Reach Fitness Goals

By recovering faster, you can get back to following your training schedule. Whether you want to run faster, participate in a race, or do 10 pushups without stopping, taking 10 minutes to cooldown can be the change you need to stick to your goals instead of skipping a workout due to fatigue and soreness.

Risks of Not Doing a Cooldown

After you finish a hard workout, it can be particularly tempting to either hop in the car and head home or collapse on the couch if you work out at home. But taking a few minutes to cool down after exercise is an important part of your recovery and is a step that should not be skipped.

Negative Health Effects

Although most people will not experience too many negative affects if they skip a cooldown after their workout, you could incur some health risks. For instance, some people who are new to exercise or have pre-existing health conditions, may experience lightheadedness or even blurred vision if they suddenly stop a workout and do not allow their body return to a pre-exercise state.

Blood Pooling

You also risk blood pooling. If you stop exercising abruptly, your muscles stop contracting. This can have a negative effect on your heart and brain as blood could pool in your lower extremities and not pump throughout the body as it should.

Elevates Injury Risk

Above all, avoiding a cooldown can put you at risk of injury. Many factors in exercise can make you susceptible to injury, and not cooling down can be one of them. Cooling down can help relax the repetitive stress you have put on your muscles, cartilage, and nerves, and work on healing any micro-traumas you caused within your body such as during intense weightlifting sessions.

How to Do a Proper Cooldown

After you finish your workout, spending five to 10 minutes performing an effective cooldown can relax and lengthen muscles. Harvard Health recommends flowing from one stretch to the next without rests in between, making your cooldown more active. You also can do a yoga flow, engage in light movement similar to what you were doing, or even do some mindfulness activities.

American Heart Association Cooldown

  1. Start with walking for about 5 minutes and get your heart rate below 120 beats per minute.
  2. Monitor your heart rate to ensure it continues to return to normal as you cooldown.
  3. Move on to stretching, holding each stretch for 30 seconds.
  4. Focus on your breathing as you stretch.
  5. Feel free to do more stretches if you feel like your body needs more time.

Stretching after a workout is another popular path many exercisers take to cooldown. In fact, some people like to engage in gentle stretching following strenuous activity because it allows them to relax their mind and their body and reflect on their recent exercise or competition.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) indicates that your cooldown should take double the amount of time as your warmup. The organization recommends slowing your motions and reducing the intensity of your movements for at least 10 minutes before you completely stop. This can end when your skin is dry and you feel cooled down.

If you need some cooldown inspiration, try incorporating these three easy-to-do static stretches explained below. They help you open up the body, reduce your heavy breathing, and keep your blood flowing to stave off any potential blood pooling.

Hamstring Stretch

The hamstrings are responsible for bending or flexing the knee and are used quite a bit if you are walking, running, playing soccer, or participating in other similar activities. Because tight hamstrings is common complaint among exercisers, you may want to consider doing a hamstring stretch. Here is how to incorporate a hamstring stretch into your workout cooldown.

  1. Sit with your legs out straight.
  2. Extend your arms and reach forward by bending at the waist as far as you can. Keep your knees straight.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Come back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat three times.

Cat-Cow Stretch

The Cat-Cow Stretch can improve circulation within the disks of your back, benefit your posture, and increase blood flow in your spine and pelvic region. After exercise, this stretch can open up your body and counteract the more limited range of motion it received during your workout. Here are the steps for this relaxing stretch.

  1. Get on your hands and knees, aligning your wrist under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Align your spine and keep it flat.
  3. Extend your neck so you are looking up.
  4. Curl your toes under.
  5. Tilt your pelvis back.
  6. Drop your belly down.
  7. Move your neck up toward to the ceiling.
  8. Flex your neck so you are looking down toward your knees.
  9. Release the top of your feet to the floor.
  10. Tuck in your tailbone and draw your navel toward your spine.
  11. Do this three times.

Forward Bend Stretch

During cardio and resistance training, you use a number of your leg muscles, and they can often feel sore after you finish your workout (especially during the next 24 to 48 hours). A forward bend can stretch the following leg muscles including the hamstrings, calves, hips, knees, and thighs.

It also helps with the muscle twitching and soreness you might experience after leg day or a particularly intense cardio session. Use this stretch to help you slow your breathing down. Bending forward can provide an opportunity for you to concentrate on taking deep breaths as you maintain this upside-down position. Here are the steps for this simple, yet effective, stretch.

  1. Stand up straight and reach your arms overhead.
  2. Sweep your arms down on both sides of your body into a forward fold from your
    hips.
  3. Bring your fingertips in line with the toes.
  4. Press your palms into the floor (if you can reach).
  5. Bring your weight forward onto the balls of your feet and keep your hips over
    your ankles. Let your head hang.
  6. Come up by placing your hands on your hips and contact your abs as you slowly
    rise up.
  7. Be sure to come up slowly. If you go too fast, you could get dizzy.

Stretching Tips from the American College of Sports Medicine

  • Mild discomfort can occur, but stop stretching immediately if you feel any intense, sharp pain.
  • You can hold a stretch for up to 60 seconds, which can be done in 10 to 30 second intervals or all at once.
  • Breathe deeply during each stretch.
  • Do the stretches in a controlled manner.

A Word from Verywell

You can improve your recovery by taking 5 to 10 minutes after your workout to cooldown, even walking for 5 minutes and holding a few stretches for 60 seconds each will work. This will help you avoid blood pooling in your extremities and allow your body to return to its pre-exercise sate.

A cooldown can also promote relaxation and get your body and mind ready for your next non-physical activity. If you have additional questions about cooling down and the best activities for you to incorporate, you may want to talk to a physical therapist or a certified personal trainer.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should a cooldown include?

    A cooldown should include five minutes of walking and getting your heart rate below 120 beats per minute. Then you should move onto stretching, holding each stretch for about 30-60 seconds without bouncing.

    Be sure to exhale on the stretch and inhale as you hold it. Some stretches to include are the forward standing stretch and basic hamstring stretches.

  • What happens if you do not do a cooldown after a workout?

    When it comes to developing an effective cooldown, everyone is
    different. Some might experience some muscle cramping and twitching, whereas others could have more significant events. If you're running low on time, you can even use walking back to your car and doing deep breathing at the same time as a cooldown. This will help bring your heartrate down, which is important to your health.

  • What are the advantages of doing a cooldown?

    Cooling down can help keep the blood flowing to your limbs and brain, bring your heart rate, body temperature down, and reduce your sweating. Cooling down can also help prevent digestive issues that are common among people who work out, especially runners.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Sports Medicine. A road map to effective muscle recovery.

  2. American Council on Exercise. Five reasons you shouldn’t skip your cool-down after exercise.

  3. Olsen O, Sjøhaug M, van Beekvelt M, Mork PJ. The effect of warm-up and cool-down exercise on delayed onset muscle soreness in the quadriceps muscle: A randomized controlled trialJ Hum Kinet. 2012;35:59-68. doi:10.2478/v10078-012-0079-4

  4. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Safe exercise.

  5. Van Hooren B, Peake JM. Do we need a cool-down after exercise? A narrative review of the psychophysiological effects and theeffects on performance, injuries and the long-term adaptive responseSports Med. 2018;48(7):1575-1595.

  6. Seeley AD, Giersch GEW, Charkoudian N. Post-exercise body cooling: skin blood flow, venous pooling, and orthostatic intoleranceFront Sports Act Living. 2021;3:658410.

  7. Harvard Health. Exercise 101: Don't skip the warm-up or cool-down.

  8. American Heart Association. Warm up, cool down.

  9. Gothe NP, McAuley E. Yoga is as good as stretching–strengthening exercises in improving functional fitness outcomes: Results from a randomized controlled trialJ Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2016;71(3):406-411. doi:10.1093/gerona/glv127

  10. Tri-City Medical Center. Why warming up and cooling down is important.

By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, CPT
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."