The urge of darting out of the gym or slumping on the sofa after a workout is real. The importance of a proper cool down is often overlooked, despite it being just as important as a decent warm up. The goal of a cool down is to return your body to the homeostatic state it was at prior to working out. You should aim for a minimum of 5 minutes until you feel…….cool!
The content of your cool down will depend on your workout, if your workout included strength training, your cool down should include total body stretches to increase the range of motion in the joints you just worked. Try to include a mix of slower, gentle movements and stretching exercises. Cool downs are important for several reasons:
Exercise causes the blood vessels in your legs to expand, bringing more blood into the legs and feet. When you stop exercising abruptly, your heart rate slows suddenly and blood can pool in your lower body, causing dizziness and fainting. Cooling down will allow your heart rate and body temperature to gradually return to normal, it also prevents your blood pressure from dropping too rapidly. You are the best judge of feeling when your heart rate is rested enough, however if you are using equipment that has heart rate monitor then you can track it this way.
After your workout your muscles will still be warm and pliable so it’s an ideal time to stretch – remember to hold for 10 – 30 seconds and take care not to bounce. Exhale as you stretch, then inhale when holding. Stretching shouldn’t be painful, but you should feel tension in the muscle being stretched. If you are stretching on a regular basis your muscles will become lengthened which will allow greater range of motion and help prevent injuries.
As your heart rate increases, so does the depth of your breathing. During your cool down your breathing should gradually return to a normal rhythm. You could incorporate some relaxation exercises such as deep breathing or a yoga technique.
Your cool down is a great opportunity to reflect on your workout and soak up the positive chemicals that will be circulating around your body. Have a think, did you achieve your targets or are you still on track to reach your fitness goal? If the answer is yes, then use this period to feel good about yourself and boost your confidence. If the answer is no, don’t beat yourself up! Have a think about how you could adjust your workout next time or perhaps alter your goals if they aren’t proving attainable. Remember you have just worked out and that’s a good thing.
As much as a warm up, a cool down should be viewed as an integral part of your workout, not just an added bonus if you have time. It will only serve to enhance the benefits of your main exercise. There are fantastic resources online for more specific cool down guidance for particular workouts and remember to consult a professional if you experience any medical issues.