How to Cool Down After a Race

When you’ve just run across a finishing line, you might want nothing more than a big bottle of water and a sit down. However, it’s generally recognised that a running cool-down routine provides a range of physical and mental benefits and should be done following both training and competitive runs. So, catch your breath, then follow some of our cool-down exercises.

Why should you cool down after running?

While there is some debate as to the importance of running cool-down routines, there’s no obvious drawback to cooling down after a run, and the potential benefits of doing so are clear:

  • Prevents dizziness: When you exercise, more blood flows to your extremities. If you stop immediately after running, this blood may ‘pool’ and take some time to distribute evenly around your muscles and back to your brain. That can cause dizziness or even blackouts. Cooling down gives your body time to adjust back to normal.
  • Reduces soreness: After a run, your muscles will have warmed up and be more flexible. By performing cool-down stretches shortly after a run, you can stretch out any tightness and potentially reduce soreness and stiffness in the days following your race.

How to cool down after a long run or race

Different distance runs and races will require different amounts of cooling down. For a reasonably fit runner who’s just done a 5K, it’s probably not going to be necessary to do much more than a very basic cool down. On the other hand, anyone who’s run a marathon – or even something longer, like an ultra-marathon – will definitely benefit from a more comprehensive cool down.

Walking it off: This is by far the most basic of cooling-down exercises, and should be used immediately after a run by runners of every level. Don’t just stop dead – instead spend five to ten minutes walking back and forth while your heart rate starts to slow down and your body adjusts back to a more normal pace.

Full-body stretch routine: There is a wide range of cool-down stretches that you can incorporate into your routine. As before, for shorter races you’ll only need to spend a few minutes on these stretches. By contrast, long-distance runners may well benefit from a more complete stretching session. Common cool-down stretches include:

Hamstring stretches:

  • Lie on your back and raise one leg while keeping the other on the floor and bent at the knee
  • Holding the back of the raised leg, pull it up towards you to feel a stretch

Calf stretch:

  • Standing upright, step forward with your right leg and bend it at the knee to elongate the left calf muscle for a deep stretch
  • Then change legs

Inside thigh stretch:

  • Sit down on the floor with your back straight
  • Bend your legs and press the soles of your feet together
  • Holding your ankles, stretch your knees towards the ground

Quad stretch:

  • With your weight on your right leg, grab your left foot with your left hand and pull it up towards your buttocks
  • Hold the stretch for 10–15 seconds, then change legs

Abdominal stretch

  • Get into plank position, then lower your legs to the ground
  • With your arms still extended, bring your chin up so you are facing forward

There are, of course, many more stretches for cooling down after a run!

Yoga stretches: If you are confident with yoga, consider working through a series of yoga stretches to help loosen up your entire body while also getting your breathing back to a steady pace.

Massages: Massage is another great way of helping your body recover after a long run. Generally, you shouldn’t have a massage immediately after a race but instead leave it until at least a couple of hours after finishing. You can either get a professional physiotherapist to work on your legs and any other painful areas you noticed niggling while you were running, or you could use a foam roller to work out knots and discomfort in your thighs, calves and feet yourself.

Take a dip in an ice bath: Ice baths can offer many benefits when you’re cooling down from a long run, as dipping your body into cold water helps to combat inflammation and can play a really big part in recovery. Fill a bath with cool water and get in, then add ice from a separate bucket to gradually bring down the temperature without giving yourself a big shock. Alternatives to an ice bath including jumping in the sea, getting a friend to give you a hose shower or even soaking in a lake.

Your running cool-down routine

By working out your preferred running cool-down routine, you can give yourself the best opportunity to recover after a race – and stretching out, sinking into an ice bath and engaging in other exercises can all offer a pleasant and calming experience after the intensity of long-distance running.