Raise your hand if you’re guilty of skipping cool down after a workout. We’ve all done it. There’s no need to be shy. Because, yes, a cool down can seem like a waste of time, especially when you’re a busy person with places to go and people see. The problem with skipping cooldown is that you are missing an integral piece of the workout that has numerous benefits. In other words, by shaving off your cooldown, you are affecting the results of your effort.
Not cool, right? (Pun intended.)
Here is everything you need to know about the importance of cool down, including some tips on how to maximize your cool down’s effectiveness. Let’s get started.
What is the Cool Down?
Let me first describe what a cooldown is not. A cool down isn’t dropping to the ground after your final set and laying there in a pool of sweat. A cool down isn’t standing around in a circle at the gym and talking about lunch with your friends.
A cool down happens at the end of a rigorous period of physical activity, where you continue moving your body but more slowly. For example, if you just finished up the final leg of HIIT sprinting, you will slow from a jog to a brisk walk. You do this walk for about 2 minutes, then you continue your cool down with some static stretching.
Looking at this from a group exercise class structure, the cooldown is when you listen to soothing music and do various stretches for about 5 minutes while focusing on the breath.
Why Do I Need to Cool Down?
The main goal of a cooldown is the help the body recovery by returning it to the homeostatic state it was at prior to working out. A cool down, when done properly, can prompt the recovery response to help with healing the stressed muscle fibers, tendons, ligaments, joints, and central nervous system.
Lowering Heart Rate
When you stop immediately after a vigorous exercise, you increase the risk of passing out, nausea, and for some, a heart attack. Intense exercise should be coupled with a longer cooldown since it might take longer than 5 minutes to return the heart rate back to normal. Stop only when your heart rate is below 120 beats per minute.
Limiting Muscle Soreness
Although scientific studies have concluded that a cool down itself does nothing to reduce DOMS, it can help limit stasis dermatitis.
Stasis dermatitis is a result of blood pooling beneath the skin and in the muscles. When you have an insufficient venous return, there is increased pressure in the capillaries (the smallest of veins in the body), and these results in leakage. The skin turns brown as the red blood cells and iron starts to die.
In other words, a cool down will prevent more than a skin condition. By using the breath and facilitating a calmer circulation throughout the body, you are helping shuttle lactic acid away from the affected muscles, flushing blood back to the heart, and reducing any swelling and pain that could result from blood pooling and micro-tears.
One of the most important factors of the cooldown is increasing your flexibility. Since the muscles are warmed up and a bit more elastic, you can use your cooldown to help you with stretching. While stretching is not going to reduce your chance of injury (as too much flexibility increases joint instability), flexibility will keep your muscles from becoming too tight and stiff.
Recommended stretching includes:
- Standing toe touches (Forward Fold) or seated toe touch
- Deep lunges with a torso twist
- Figure 4 stretches
- Side stretch
- Upper chest stretches
Hold each stretch for about 10-20 seconds. Remember that your stretching should never be painful, and you should never force the stretch. Breath through the static hold. You can also incorporate some active stretching (like moving through the downward dog and upward dog poses) as well, but static stretches are best for your cool down.
Lowering Body Temperature
Working out inevitably increases your body temperature. You don’t want an increased temperature for too long, because this will exacerbate the stress on your body and worsen your condition. As you cool down, be sure to drink enough fluids. Depending on how hard you worked, you should focus on replacing 2 cups of fluids for every pound of fluid lost.
However, if you only worked out for 30 minutes and didn’t sweat much, you won’t need to worry about replacing your fluids.
How Do I Structure a Cool Down?
Your cooldown is just that—yours. Therefore, how you choose to cool down will be based on what you need mentally and physically at the moment. Usually, a cooldown is about 5-10 minutes. Movements are slow, controlled, and breathing is emphasized.
According to the Australian Sports Commission and ACSM, a cool down should do the following:
- Stretch every muscle of the body that had been used in the workout
- Use gentle movements
- Never be dynamic or bouncy
- Be timed with the breath (never hold your breath while stretching)
- Brings the heart rate below 120 beats per minute
You can also do some self-myofascial release at the end of your workout.
Cooldown is most effective after long bouts of cardio or aerobics, but it is appropriate for everyone. Cooling down increases your flexibility safely encourages the recovery of lost fluids, and can help with muscle repair.
Now that you know about cooldowns, it’s time to learn more. Fill out the contact form to receive updates and notifications right to your inbox. Empower your mind, empower your workout.