Cool down – when? why?

Before doing any exercise, whether it be running, circuit training, football or whatever you chose, it is vital that beforehand you go through a thorough and effective warm up routine and that afterwards you effectively cool down.

We have touched on warming up here, with the aim being that your body; mainly your muscles, and your mind are prepared for the work they are about to do.

If you don’t warm up before exercise then you are highly likely to get injured.   If you consider what you are putting your muscles through, they are going from a cold start, where they aren’t very supple or pliable and aren’t ready to work.  You then dive right in at the deep end with perhaps sprinting or bouncing or something that takes a lot of power from the muscles and expecting them to perform.  Now imagine that instead of muscle, you have in front of you some spaghetti or plasticine.  When it’s cold it doesn’t really work, it’s not flexible or pliable, and if you put too much strain on it or expect it to stretch too far it will simply snap.  Now imagine if you could boil that spaghetti or warm up the plasticine!!  How much more pliable and stretchy would it be?

So, it’s safe to say that we agree warming up is necessary; next we need to decide how we will warm up.  When warming up, before an exercise we do what is known as dynamic warm up.  Dynamic means moving.  Basically, that tells us that we should be warming up by moving rather than stretching.  Remember that you won’t stretch a cold piece of plasticine very well!!  More on this can be found here.

So, we do a dynamic warm up,  then we go straight into our workout (running, weight training, football etc).

Then what?

The last piece of the puzzle, but by no means the least important is to effectively cool down.  After exercise, our heart rate is very high and pumping away at a rate of knots!  We need to bring it down in a controlled manner to that of what it was before hand.  We also have to gently let our muscles return to their original size, shape and form.

For me, there are 2 stages to the cool down; dynamic and THEN static.

For myself, after a run, I would do my dynamic cool down by continuing with my run but by gradually bringing my speed down until it goes from fast jog, to slow jog, to fast walk, to slow walk.  This should ideally be done over a distance of at least half a mile – I use 1 mile as I really think it is as important as the exercise itself.

Once I have returned to walking pace and my heart rate has returned to what it was before the exercise I then start my static cool down.  This is a series of stretches singling out the specific muscle, or group of muscles that you were using.  There is more information on stretches, and specific type of stretches along with instructions here.

Remember; there are three phases to an effective training session or workout; Warm-up,then  work-out, then cool-down.  If you miss out any of the three phases then you won’t get the maximum benefit from the session and are likely to start seeing injuries.