If there’s any tenet in the fitness world that’s gone unchallenged, it’s the importance of a solid warm-up before your workout. These warm-ups, which usually involve dynamic stretching, or the kind that’s done with easy movement that mimics the exercises you’re about to do later, are essential to ward off injury, help improve performance, and simply make your routine feel better.
One that tends to fall by the wayside? The importance of a cool-down, when you gradually reduce workout intensity and pace to let your breathing and heart rate return back to normal, and ideally add some stretching into the mix along the way. A cool-down is actually just as vital as that warm-up, strength coach Alina Kennedy, CSCS, a New York-based personal trainer at Bloom Fitness, tells SELF.
“The end of a workout is the perfect time to stretch since you’re warm from exercise, and your muscles and joints are loose, so it’s the best time to work on your flexibility,” she says. “Unlike during a warm-up where you should always do dynamic stretching, during the cool-down, static stretching is best.”
Static stretching refers to getting into a stretching position and holding it for 15 to 60 seconds, Kennedy says. Resist the temptation to bounce in and out of the stretch—that’s actually its own type, called ballistic stretching—but instead deepen your breathing and feel yourself relax more into the stretch with each exhale.
In addition to aiding with flexibility and range of motion, cooling down after a workout can help bring your heart rate and blood pressure back to your normal baseline, Mayo Clinic notes. This may be especially important during an endurance event or an activity where you’ve really gotten your heart rate up, like high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. Plus, it can help boost your sense of relaxation after a killer sweat session.
So what are the best stretches to slot into your cool-down after a workout? There’s not one answer here, since that depends on a bunch of things, like the muscles you’ve worked in your routine and what simply just feels best for your body. So we asked 10 fitness pros for their favorites to give you a whole lot of possibilities for your routine. Try three or four of these after your next workout—generally holding for about 15 to 60 seconds per stretch—to chill out fast.