Balance your high-intensity training with this recovery routine.

Change through exercise requires effort and positive stresses—it’s how your body builds up strength and endurance. Your body’s systems respond to the effort with a cascade of processes that act to help  deal with the stress in the short term, and adapt in the longer term by strengthening muscle, bone and blood for the next round of exertion.

The immediate effects include hormone releases, which increase heart rate and blood pressure, breathing rate and capacity, and pain tolerance. This improves your physical capacity to get through the moment at hand. The ability to push through difficult workouts and activities is necessary to improve, and is a skill worth practicing.

Yet, as in all things, there is a need for balance. This stress in controlled doses is good for you, but chronic, ongoing strain is not. Intense training and experiences should be balanced with work at the other end of the spectrum, where we give ourselves a chance to recuperate and recover. Recovery and mitigating chronic stress are just as important, if not more so, than high-intensity workouts.

To help you with this, this series of exercises is designed to calm your systems down and help dampen the stress response.

Stress-reduction sequence

The key to getting the most from this sequence is to relax into the positions as much as possible. Take your time to settle into a comfortable stretch. It should not feel like a strain at all.

You’ll notice most of the moves involve bent knees and a roundedness throughout your posture. This is positioning that tends to calm your body. Once you have settled into a position, stay there for three to five deep and steady breaths. You’ll know you are doing well when you feel more relaxed as you breathe in and out. If you don’t feel that way, then adjust yourself again to feel less strain.

In the video below, Alicia holds each position for three breaths. You can follow along as you like, then choose to hold for five breaths or longer as you see fit. Five to 10 minutes of this sequence will have you feeling calmer immediately, and with regular practice, you’ll see the benefits of working on this aspect of the endocrine system.

This routine will help you balance your body as a cool down after hard training, right before bed or any other time you feel like benefiting from decreasing stress.


Single Knee to Chest

  • On your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor, pull one knee up to your chest. You can clasp your hands behind your knee if your knee feels strained with your hands on top.
  • Your lower back will naturally flatten to the floor. (You don’t need to force it.)
  • If it feels good to you, you can bring your knee more to the side of your chest.
  • Hold for three to five breaths and switch legs.

Double Knee to Chest

  • In the same position, draw both knees up to your chest. Again, you can bring them farther out to the sides if you are comfortable. Don’t pull in so tightly that it restricts your breathing.

Quadruped Arch

  • Start on all fours, with your forearms flat on the ground. Your hips should be directly above your knees, with your weight evenly distributed through your four limbs.
  • Let your head hang freely and lift your midback up. Imagine someone pulling up on your spine.
  • You’ll likely need to shift around a bit and play with where your weight is, and how far apart your elbows and knees are. Once you’ve settled in, breathe slowly and deeply and stay in this position as long as you are comfortable.

Double Kneeling Hands on Head

  • Kneel down with your knees wide enough that you can bring your upper body between them comfortably (child’s pose). You may be more comfortable with pillows/cushions under your knees and shins (and between your calves and thighs).
  • Place your forehead on the ground and clasp your hands behind your head. Your elbows will be around the level of your ears. Like the rest of the positions, allow yourself some time to shift and adjust your positioning until you feel comfortable.

Seated Forward Fold

  • Sitting with your feet out in front of you, bend your knees so that you can comfortably rest your upper body on your legs.
  • Cross your hands and place them on top of your ankles, and settle your head down on your shins.
  • Rock and wiggle a bit to settle in, then breath deeply and relax into the position even more.


  • Sitting on the floor, bring your feet out to your sides as wide as is comfortable.
  • Keep your knees bent as you reach forward to place your palms flat and your forehead on the ground. Pillows or cushions under your hands and head are a good option.
  • Adjust by bending your knees to bring your feet in close enough to fold forward comfortably.

Straddle Stretch with Bent Elbows Clasped

  • Stand and bring your feet out at about double your shoulder-width apart, toes pointed in just a bit.
  • Clasp your hands around your elbows, bend forward and let your upper body hang down freely.
  • If it’s more comfortable, bend your knees a bit. You may also benefit from resting you forearms on a pillow or cushion in front of you.


  • Bend forward to place your hands on the floor and walk them out so that you can lift your hips to make an “A” (similar to downward-facing dog). Feel free to bend your knees if it’s more comfortable.
  • Let your chest settle down and look between your knees.

Squat with Low Back Rounded and Neck Flexed

  • Squat down as far as you can, with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart, and your toes pointed out 30 to 45 degrees to the side.
  • If you can, place your forearms flat on the ground, but if this is not possible, stay on your palms.
  • Let your head drop down so your neck is flexed and relaxed. You can sit on a small stool or pillows/cushions if this is more comfortable.
  • Rock and wiggle back and forth and side to side to find the most comfortable positioning for you.

Working hard on and being consistent with well-planned, intense workouts gives you the power to change your body for the better. But you also need to recuperate and build yourself back up to fully gain from our efforts. Use this routine along with your hard training to help you to be your best!

Video credit: Courtesy of GMB Fitness
Photo credit: Lena Bell, Unsplash