Many of us assume the most important part of working out is actually working out. Wrong, those amongst us who are constantly saying “I’m in a bit of a rush and won’t bother with cooling down” are doing themselves absolutely no favors, unless they are looking for injuries. Those extra 10-15 minutes can literally be the difference between getting out of bed the next morning pain free and a serious injury. If you are short on time, cut your workout down to enable a proper cool down. Cooling down is important for several reasons:
Cooling down can help prevent those dizzy spells and even fainting that can occur when you stop a vigorous workout suddenly. If you stop suddenly, the blood can pool in those large muscles away from your brain (like your legs) leaving your brain oxygen and blood deprived, hence the giddiness and fainting.
Cooling down is also important for allowing blood pressure, and pulse and respiration rates to return to normal in a safer manner.
Cooling down will also help the muscles start to clear out any lactic acid build up produced from a vigorous workout. This in turns assist with muscles repairing themselves faster.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can also be minimized with a proper cooling down routine. DOMS is a term given to that sensation following a new or vigorous workout that you can encounter 1-2 days after the workout. DOMS can result in muscle stiffness and pain that is severe, making all activities feel almost impossible.
Ways to cool down.
There are a few different ways to cool down, depending upon your level of fitness and what type of activity you are doing. Whatever your fitness levels, the cooling down process involves a slower form of activity followed by stretching and then re-hydrating and refueling the muscles.
* Re-hydration and refueling involves drinking adequate amounts of fluid, such as water, as well as perhaps a sports drink if the workout was intensive and resulted in heavy sweating. Fuels in the forms of foods such as fruits, complex carbs, and low fat proteins are all good selections for replenishment.
* The less advanced. For those who work out more for pleasure and fitness a fairly simple cool down will be sufficient. Try for 5 minutes of your workout at a slower rate, for example slow to brisk walking, a slower speed on the exercise bike, or a slow jog if you were running, with deep breathing. The deep breaths will assist with returning oxygen to parts of the body that may be oxygen deprived.
* Gentle stretching for 5-10 minutes after this, ensuring that you include all the muscle groups that have been given a workout. A good rule of thumb is to stretch for about 10 minutes for each hour of exercise. Each muscle group should ideally be stretched 2 or 3 times each for about 20-30 seconds each time. Another benefit of post workout stretching is that your flexibility will improve dramatically since your muscles are already nicely warm when you are stretching in the cool down.
* The more advanced will need a 10-15 minute slow down of the activity that you were doing. For example a slow jog instead of running, a slower speed on a bike, or a slower walk. It is a great idea to carry on with the activity you were doing, just with less intensity. The more intense the workout, the longer the stretching should go for. A more professional athlete could be stretching for up to 20-30 minutes after a strenuous workout.
* Rug up. If you are exercising in a cool or cold climate, or in a gym with exceptionally chilly air conditioning, you may find it necessary to throw on a jacket or an extra layer to prevent your body from becoming too cold while you are cooling down.
Cooling down is just as an important part of working out as warming up. A thorough cool down consists of slower activity, stretching, and adequate hydration and food. Cooling down allows the body to return to its pre-workout state, aids in recovery, and minimizes the chances of injury and delayed onset muscle soreness.