One of the first lessons you learn when embarking on your fitness journey is the importance of a warm up. But, often overlooked, is the equal importance of the cool down. Let’s take a look at the what, why, and how of a proper cool down to help you stay injury free!
What is a Cool Down?
The goal of a cool down is to lower the heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rate to pre-exercise levels. A cool down begins with reducing the intensity of your activity (i.e. walking at the end of your jog) which gives the blood a chance to re-circulate throughout your body thus reducing your risk of fainting and dizziness.
A cool down typically concludes with stretches that target muscles that have been overworked during your workout.
Why Cool Down?
Cooling down has several benefits including:
- Brings your heart rate and breathing back to normal
- Prevents fainting or dizziness
- Prepares your muscles for the next exercise session
- Removes waste products (such as lactic acid), which can build up during vigorous activity
- Reduces the immediate post-exercise tendency for muscle spasm or cramping
- Reduces muscle soreness and stiffness
How Should you Cool Down?
A quality cool down will take 5-10 minutes and consist of a lower intensity exercise period followed by stretching. Of course, if you’re pressed for time, something is always better than nothing. Even a longer walk back to your car (or around the parking lot before you sit down) will help alleviate concerns of blood pooling that can lead to fainting or dizziness.
If you aren’t finding time to stretch at the end of your workouts, consider adding at least one flexibility focused workout or yoga session per week (minimum) to help reduce muscular imbalances and every day stressors to your body.
A Proper Cool Down
- 3-5 minutes of exercising at a lower intensity: Focus on deep breathing to return heart rate to normal.
- 5 minutes of stretching your target muscles: Choose 3-5 stretches for muscles that were ‘worked out,’ holding stretches for 20-30 seconds.
If you’re pressed for time, the following 5 stretches will work wonders after any cardio or lower body focused workout.
Cool Down Stretches
- Standing Toe Touch Stretch – A great stretch for the hamstrings, glutes, as well as the lower back.
- Deep Lunge with Rotation – A great stretch for the groin, quad and hip flexor.
- Figure 4 Stretch – Another great stretch for the hips, glutes, and lower back. If you choose to perform standing, you can add a quadriceps stretch and alternate back and forth between the two stretches.
- Upper Chest Stretch – A great stretch for opening through the chest and front of the shoulder.
- Side Stretch & Swirl - A great stretch for the spine, while also strengthening the abs and low back.
If you have the time, foam rolling is also a a great way to finish up a workout. Check out Foam Rolling 101 for more information and ideas.