Re-finding fitness – why we should cool down and how to get it right

When time is tight the one part of a workout that often gets sacrificed is the cool down.  Most of us know what the cool down is and have some idea of why we do it, but the importance of resetting your body after exercise is frequently overlooked in favour of making a quick dash out of the gym, the park, or the football pitch.

In this short post I want to clarify the reasons why cool down is a necessary part of the workout and to set out the basics of a good cool down routine.

At the end of a workout, a long run, or a game of football our bodies are in a heightened state of stress and they could have been that way for an hour or more.  Heart rate will be high, body temperature will be elevated, the muscles will be engorged with blood (and other tissues will be short of it), and the lungs will be working at full capacity.  All of these processes, which have helped us to operate at a high intensity during the exercise, should be brought back to resting level steadily.  That means taking 5mins to do some lower intensity exercise, such as an easy jog, which gradually becomes even more gentle.  

The key reasons why we should include a cool down in our routine can be summarised as:

  • To bring the heart rate down steadily – this reduces the risk of the blood pressure dropping too low.  As we warm up and exercise our blood vessels expand to provide more blood to the muscles.  At the end of exercise, if the heart rate drops before the blood vessels have contracted, there is a risk of low blood pressure and fainting.
  • To shift the harmful metabolic by-products of exercise out of the muscle and into the bloodstream to be taken for disposal.  Muscle contraction results in an accumulation of lactic acid and acidic hydrogen ions in the muscle cells.  Keeping the blood pumping at a moderate level after the end of the main exercise helps to clear these from the muscles.
  • To stretch the muscles when they are warm.  At the end of exercise the muscles are warm and pliable.  This is an ideal time to do some stretching to steadily increase flexibility.  

My recommendations for an effective cool down are:

  • To do some low level aerobic exercise (jogging/walking, cycling) for 5mins.  This should get gradually easier over the 5mins.
  • To stretch the main muscle groups for 10mins.  Each stretch should be held for 20secs.

Click on the YouTube link above to see an example of an effective, post-exercise stretching routine.  

Published by healthylifeneil

Exercise and healthy lifestyles specialist working in West London.

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