You just finished a killer workout – yay! Time to kick off your shoes or hop off your bike and head to the closest shower or breakfast buffet, right?
Not so fast.
Even though the hard part may be over, no workout is complete until you’ve sufficiently cooled down. A cool-down workout may seem tedious, boring, or just plain hard after wrapping up a hard effort, but it’s a crucial part of training. Here’s why.
Why You Should Always Cool Down
“During a workout, we physically feel hot because our bodies are working overtime to pump blood to the heart, lungs, and muscles,” says Mary Johnson, founder of Lift.Run.Perform.
“So allowing our bodies to gradually decrease our core and muscle temperature is really important.”
Scientifically speaking, cooling down helps prevent the buildup of blood in the veins, and helps prevent dizziness or fainting. An increased body temperature also creates more elasticity in the muscles and tendons, so ending a workout with an intentional stretch session helps improve flexibility and range of motion.
But perhaps most importantly, cooling down provides a strong psychological benefit.
“Ending a hard bike workout with some easy pedaling isn’t just refreshing, it also helps reconnect our brains to our bodies, and brings us back to homeostatis,” Johnson explains.
How to Cool Down the Right Way
Instead of looking at your cool-down as the annoying extra, time-sucking part of your workout, consider it a reward for all your hard work. And a cool-down shouldn’t feel challenging. “Take it easy on the cool-down,” says Johnson. “The work is done – there’s no need to continue pushing your body.”
When you move into the stretching phase of the cool-down, hold each stretch for at least two minutes. “Studies have suggested little to no changes to muscle and tendon fibers unless a stretch is held for two minutes or more,” Johnson says.
Johnson also suggests using your cool-down as a time to stay focused.
“Don’t listen to music while you cool down,” she says. “There’s something so satisfying about replaying your hard effort quietly and meditatively.”
And while a cool-down stretch may not ward off soreness (sorry!), it does help your body properly return to a resting state. Once you get to that point, refuel with at least 20 to 25 grams of protein within 30 minutes of your workout.
The 5 Cool-Down Exercises You Need to Master
A cool-down routine doesn’t have to take long or feel complicated. Here are the five cool-down exercises Johnson says every athlete should embrace after a workout.
- Foam roll for 5 minutes
- Hold a “Brettzel” stretch for the length of five deep belly breaths, then repeat on the opposite side
- Relax in pigeon pose for two minutes on each side
- Hold a hip flexor stretch for two minutes on each side
- Lie on your back with your legs up the wall for five to 10 minutes
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.