Everyone working out regularly has, at one time or another, heard that it is important to cool down after exercise. Indeed many people factor in a cool down after their routine. But did you know there are some common misconceptions as to why. That many people are not making the most of their cool down period. Therefore not gaining the maximum benefits from it?
So why should we cool down after exercise, and what are the benefits of doing so?
An effective cooling down routine will aid in:
- Bringing heart rate down gradually
- Preventing blood pooling in legs
- Increasing flexibility of muscles
- Myofascial release
- Reducing muscles soreness
- Re-fuelling the body, the muscles in particular
It is better to bring down your heart rate gradually from a work out than to stop suddenly and see it drop quickly. As you exercise your heart rate has increased as it is pumping large amounts of blood to working muscles. This blood is carrying the oxygen and nutrients that these muscles need to perform. The force of the muscle contracting plays a roll in returning the blood back to the heart. Here it can be re-oxygenised and sent back to the muscles again. If you stop exercising suddenly then the muscles are no longer contracting and the blood is not pumped back to heart which can lead to…
Blood vessels expand to deliver more blood and therefore oxygen to your leg muscles. This can lead to pooling as there is greater capacity for blood to remain in the lower body. Potentially leading to a decrease in blood pressure and feelings of light-headedness and even fainting. Plus, the metabolic wastes that are generated in the muscles are not flushed out. Meaning higher levels of lactic acid remain in the muscles after exercise.
Once your have finished your work out your muscles are warm and pliable meaning this is the ideal time to take advantage and work on your flexibility. More flexible muscles will improve your range of motion and benefit future work outs.
Not so many people have heard of muscle fascia and therefore myofascial release. Your muscle fascia is a connective tissue that surrounds muscles, joints, and bones. It provides support to the body from head to foot. When muscles are stressed and fatigued they can sometimes tighten to protect you from causing further strain. Another way your body protects against further strain on these muscles is to stiffen the fascia surrounding them. This can in turn lead to stiffness and restricted motion. Myofascial release is the process of releasing this stiffness.
There is debate on whether clearing out lactic acid and other waste products from muscles after exercise can reduce muscle soreness in the following days. Studies on the matter are contradictory and therefore inconclusive. However stretching and myofascial release can prevent or reduce knots or trigger points. Issues that can cause aching and stiffness.
Exercise depletes the fluid levels in our bodies as well as our energy stores. We should be taking on fluid during exercise as well as toping up levels afterwards. After exercise, we should look to replenish energy stores as well. Plus take on nutrients to repair the micro-tears that have occurred in our muscles.
What are the key stages of a cool down after exercise?
An effective cool down will be split into 3 major stages:
- Gentle exercise
- Stretching/myofascial release
Taking the time to cool down with gentle exercise after your work out is the basis of providing several of the benefits mentioned above. This exercise can be low level, as long as your limbs are moving and blood continues to pump around your body. Albeit at a low intensity.
Something as simple as walking on a treadmill, rowing on a machine in a slow and controlled rhythm or a gentle pace on an elliptical cross training machine for 5-10 minutes will work fine.
This will bring down your heart rate slowly. You do not need to get as low as your pre work out resting heart rate but should be lower than 120 beats per minute. The movement will also keep your blood pumping, so your blood vessels have time to contract again. Also lowering the risk of blood pooling and low blood pressure related issues.
Once you have finished the gentle exercise, your heart rate has dropped. However you still have muscles that are warmer and therefore more flexible/pliable than they were before your work out.
It’s important to stretch the major muscle groups that have been put under tension. Stretches should be gentle and slow and held for 20-30 seconds to get true benefit. Static stretches are best. Do not bounce when stretching, this does your muscles no good. Also breath deeply as you stretch.
The action of stretching will help remove waste products and keep blood flowing through your muscles.
Over time these stretching routines will improve your range of motion. In turn this can lead to improvements in technique and efficiency. Meaning you get more from your actual work out.
Incorporating foam rolling into your cool down will really help with myofascial release and loosen you up. Meaning that next work out can come sooner. Gyms often have foam rollers on the gym floor. If you are working out at home foam rollers can be bought cheaply at sports stores or online.
People often under-estimate the importance of re-fuelling after working out. Even if you have been taking in fluid as you work out its likely you will be dehydrated compared to your pre work out fluid levels.
Water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body. So making sure you are hydrated will benefit every bodily function.
You should replenish every drop of water you have lost. You can judge this by using the scales, weight you have lost during the work out will be water weight. Drink enough to take yourself back to your weight prior to exercising. Then drink 25%-50% of that again to make up for what you will lose in urine.
After depleting your energy stores with exercise, you need to replenish them quicker if you want your body to replenish them, repair tissues, get stronger and be ready for the next challenge.
Try to eat within 60 minutes of finishing exercise. You need to take on a combination of complex carbohydrate and protein in your post work meal. The carbohydrate will replenish energy stores and the protein will carry out tissue repair and build muscle. This is also a great time to take in that protein shake. Even a glass of chocolate milk which will provide very similar benefits.
The wrap up…
We hope you have made it to the end of our guide. That reading it may have helped you in some small way to get the most from your exercise!
To recap the key takeaways are:
A good cool down after exercise will get you in better condition for your next training session in quicker time. Preparation for you next work out starts as soon as the last one finishes!
Make sure you include gentle exercise, some stretching and proper re-refuelling in you post work out routine. You will feel the difference!