Your body operates much differently when you’re running than when you’re at rest. Your core body temperature rises when you run, your heart rate increases and more blood is pumped to your muscles. If you stop running suddenly and go straight to a resting state, you may shock your body -- leaving excess blood in your extremities, for example, because your heart rate has dropped, which can leave you feeling faint. Cooling down after you run lets your body transition smoothly from an active to a more normal state.
The simplest way to cool down after running is to slow your pace gradually when your main workout or performance is complete. For example, you can slow to a jog for one lap of a standard running track -- which is 400 meters, or 437 yards -- and then walk for another lap. Variations on the jogging/walking theme include skipping and shuffling forward, backward or sideways.
Stretch Your Legs
Dynamic stretches keep you moving while you cool down, and they also let you stretch and loosen the muscles that worked so hard during your run. Focus on lower-body stretches such as high-knee runs, in which you jog while you lift your feet quickly and raise your knees to waist level or higher. Perform high skips by skipping from one foot to the other as you drive one knee as high as possible, straighten your opposite leg and bounce off of your grounded foot. As you cool off further, you can transition to a high-knee march. Instead of taking quick steps or skips, lift one knee toward your chest, grasp the knee in both hands and pull it straight up. Alternate legs as you walk forward. Do each stretch while you move forward for about 30 yards.
Put Yourself on Ice
Putting cold water on your legs after a hard run provides several benefits, including a reduction in inflammation, and may help to prevent injuries in the long term. Begin your cool-down by jogging or walking for five to 10 minutes, and then immerse your legs in water that’s between 50 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. You can put ice in a tub and fill it with water, take a cold shower, spray your legs with a garden hose or walk into a chilly river or lake.
Foam roller exercises offer similar benefits as stretching, by loosening your muscles and helping to relieve their tension after a run. To massage your calves, sit on the floor and extend your legs in front of you. Place the back of your left ankle on the roller and then cross the right ankle on top of the left. Put your hands on the floor behind you, lift your butt off the floor and then move your calf back and forth slowly on top of the roller. Target your glutes by sitting on the roller with your knees bent and both feet on the floor. Lift your right foot and place it on your left knee. Shift your weight onto your right buttock and move forward and back on the roller. Do the exercises for one to two minutes on each side.
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