When we finish a workout, our first instinct is to get out of the gym as quickly as humanly possible. But as much as we want to head straight to the shower, we know we should be doing some cool-down exercises. Why? Well, we can think of a few good reasons. Cooling down can be just as important—if not more important—than the actual workout. According to the American Heart Association, “After physical activity, your heart is still beating faster than normal, your body temperature is higher and your blood vessels are dilated. This means if you stop too fast, you could pass out or feel sick.”
Beyond that, cooling down via stretching can reduce the buildup of lactic acid, which can help prevent cramping and stiffness. These exercises can also prevent—or at least minimize—delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, the pain and stiffness in the muscles you feel anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after exercise. “One of the biggest post-workout mistakes that I see people make is skipping a cool-down stretch or leaving before the end of a group fitness class,” says Jonathan Tylicki, certified personal trainer and director of education for AKT. “Stretching will help prevent soreness, relax the nervous system, promote mobility and flexibility and can even improve your next workout.”
Here are a bunch of cool-down exercises to try—along with a few other post-workout tips.