Properly cooling down after workouts can help your body temperature, breathing rate and heart rate get back to pre-exercise levels. It lowers the risk of fainting from your blood pressure dropping too quickly and lets the muscles get back to the pre-exercise optimal length to tension relationship. It restores your body back to baseline or close to it and also helps prevent the pooling of blood in the veins of your lower extremities and aid in the elimination of waste materials after a workout. Just like warming up before an exercise, it’s an extremely important part of your workout.
You need at least five to ten minutes of cool down after a hard workout.
Your cool down isn’t just stretching, it’s lower intensity exercises before the stretching. Walking is one of those, just as flexibility exercises are. You can put one or two flexibility exercises at the end of your that are lower intensity and take approximately three to five minutes. During this time, focus on your breathing. Follow that with about five minutes of stretching the muscles you targeted that day. Use three to five stretches for each of the muscle groups, hold them for about a half minute.
The higher the intensity of the workout, the more important the cool down is.
At one time, cool downs were considered important to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness—DOMS. Studies have shown that’s not true. It does have the benefits mentioned previously, which are just as important, if not more important. Static stretching is one of the most important parts of a cool down after your heart is back to its normal rate. It helps to stop the constant shortening and lengthening that occurred during exercise and ease it back to normal activity. It also helps improve your flexibility.
The type of static stretch you use will depend on the area you worked.
If you worked your quadriceps, you’ll want to lay on your side and pull your heel toward your glutes, to feel the stretch in the front of the thigh. Lay on your back and pull your bent knee to your chest for glutes. For hamstrings, lay on your back and lift and straighten one leg, pressing your heel toward the ceiling, while you pull your leg toward your chest. For the chest, interlace your fingers behind your back and straighten your arms, while lifting your chin upward.
- You can use the treadmill for lower intensity exercise at the start of a cool down. There’s a “cool down” setting on most.
- A hamstring static stretch that’s good for a cool down is also a great one for back pain if you’ve sat too long, so you’ll get a “twofer.” Lay on your back, raise a leg and use a towel to loop around your foot. Pull the towel toward you and feel it stretch your hamstring.
- Part of every cool down should be rehydrating. It also helps reduce the soreness in your muscles.
- Get a protein shake or after workout smoothie to replenish the carbs and protein lost in the workout. Do this 15 to 30 minutes after the workout ends.