The Perfect 3-Minute Stretching Routine for When You're Too Busy to Cool Down

While it's tempting to skip your cooldown in the interest of saving time, there are plenty of reasons to prioritize the end of your workout. Stretching helps decrease muscle stiffness, which can ease post-workout aches and pains, reduce your risk of injury and improve your posture, according to the American Council on Exercise.

Even a quick, three-minute cooldown is great for recovery. (Image: Milkos/iStock/GettyImages)

However, your post-exercise stretch routine doesn't have to drag on for too long. Even a few minutes is enough to help your body return to baseline, lowering heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, which primes your body for optimal recovery. Before you wrap up your workout, do this super quick, three-minute stretch routine.

3-Minute Stretching Routine

When you're short on time or just eager to leave the gym, try this yoga-inspired stretching flow from Lara Heimann, certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. Hold each stretch for 15 seconds.

Why 15 seconds? That's the bare minimum amount of time you need in order for static stretches to be effective, according to a 2012 review published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. If you have a bit more time, you can lengthen the hold to a max of 30 seconds.

Move 1: Runner's Lunge

  1. Begin standing and fold forward at your hips, keeping your spine long.
  2. Bring your hands to the floor or on a block, bending your knees as needed to keep your back flat.
  3. Step the right foot back and lower the right knee so that it forms a 90-degree angle, knee on the ground.
  4. Bring your spine upright and lift the right knee off the ground, straightening the right leg and keeping the left leg bent.
  5. Keep your hands either on your hips or raise them overhead.
  6. Stay here for a few breaths (about 15 seconds), stretching into the right hip flexors.
  7. Switch legs and repeat on the left side.

Move 2: Side Lunge

  1. From runner's lunge, bring your left (back) leg out to the left side, keeping your right knee bent.
  2. As you breathe, focus on stretching the inner thigh of the extended leg. Keep the length in your spine, avoiding curving or overarching.
  3. Stay here for another five breaths before you shift your side lunge to the other leg.

Move 3: All Fours Quad Stretch

  1. Come to all fours with your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Root your left knee and hand into the ground.
  2. Bring your right foot into your right hand, keeping your core tight.
  3. Gently stretch the right quadricep for 15 seconds.
  4. Switch sides and repeat on the left.

Tip

Be gentle here and stretch your quadricep slowly — don't tug!

Move 4: Triangle/Revolved Triangle Pose

  1. From the previous position, release the left foot and bring your left arm down.
  2. Step your right foot between your hands.
  3. Keeping your back flat, begin to stand and straighten your legs and twist slightly to face the left side.
  4. Keep the right hand on the floor and slowly lift the left arm toward the ceiling, rotating through the rib cage. You can also bring your hand to your shin or a yoga block if you can't reach the floor.
  5. Hold here, then switch arms, bringing the left hand to the ground and raising the right arm up (15 seconds total).
  6. Bend the knees and bring the left foot forward, right leg back and repeat the sequence for an additional 15 seconds.

In this pose, you're alternating twisting the body to the left and right, keeping your spine long the whole time. This may require that you bend your knees a bit, Heimann says, but make sure you keep your back flat.

Move 5: Seated Figure Four Stretch

  1. Bring both hands to the ground to frame the left (front) foot, turning your body to face the front.
  2. Lower the right knee to the floor and come to sit on your butt.
  3. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh, bringing your hands behind your back to prop your torso up. Your legs should form a sort of figure four shape.
  4. Keep your spine long and arms straight, pressing into the ground to keep the back flat.
  5. Bring your torso closer to your legs or your right foot closer to your butt for a deeper stretch.
  6. Hold for 15 seconds before repeating on the opposite side.

Move 6: Cat-Cow Stretch

  1. Come onto all fours, hands beneath your shoulders and knees under your hips.
  2. On an inhale, arch your back and draw the shoulder blades together, opening your chest and raise your chin.
  3. On the exhale, round your back up to the ceiling and tuck the chin into your neck.
  4. Alternate between rounding and arching as you inhale and exhale for 30 seconds.

Tip

The inhale portion of this movement is called Cow pose, while the rounding of the back during the exhale is Cat pose. Time your breath and movement together.

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