The exercise cool-down is poorly understood. Today, I hope to make clear that cooling down after working out is just as important as the warm-up, and should be done on a regular basis.
How to Cool-Down Effectively?
First, let’s recap our goals. We want to:
- Bring your heart rate and breathing back to normal.
- Prevent fainting or dizziness.
- Remove lactic acid byproducts and metabolites which build up during vigorous activity.
- Reduce the post-exercise tendency for muscle spasm or cramping.
- Increase flexibility.
- Return our body to a normal position.
- Reflect on this workout and make plans for the next one.
So with that in mind, this is what I did after my killer, 57-minute indoor “Spinerval” cycling workout this morning:
After the official part of the workout was done, I spent about five minutes working my way through the gears, making the cycling effort easier and easier, until my breathing and heart rate were pretty much normal.
Got off the bike, towelled off (I am a heavy sweater) and proceeded to stretch my calves, hip flexors, quads, lumbar, neck, and shoulders out on my yoga mat.
Then I grabbed my foam roller and went to town on all my major muscles groups. At least 10 rolls on each part, followed by about 10 extra rolls on the areas that I consider to be my trouble spots.
After putting the foam roller aside, I got myself in a comfortable kneeling position in the middle of the mat and proceeded to do six sets of Box Breaths.
Now that I was nicely stretched out and my nervous system was good and calm, this was the perfect time to write some quick notes on my workout. I wrote: “Great start. Nailed the paces and heart rates. At 47 minutes I started to suffer and wanted to quit. Geared up a couple cogs and took the fourth interval easy. Came back for the last set good and strong.”
Then I flipped the page on my training schedule and reviewed what workout I have planned for tomorrow.
I consider not only reviewing today’s workout but also previewing tomorrow’s workout to be part of the cool-down because we can learn from today’s workout and also prepare for tomorrow’s. I now know that I have a bike-swim-bike workout tomorrow morning. That means I need to wake up at a particular time (so I can get to the pool in time to use the awesome 50m lanes). It also means that I can lay out all the gear I need before I go to bed tonight (so I don’t sleepily forget my trunks...again). It also means that I can mentally begin to prepare myself for the particulars of this somewhat complicated workout.
Although this part of the cool-down does not convey an acute effect, it does have a lasting effect on me as a whole athlete who is calm, methodical, and on top of his training, rather than constantly rushed, tired and haphazard. And doesn’t that sound like a better way to live and a more likely way to succeed?
If this all sounds like too much and not something you are likely to do, at least try this: finish your workout by briskly walking for two minutes, then perform a lunging hip flexor stretch with arms overhead, a seated hamstring stretch, and a series of shoulder rotations. Then, if you can spare the time, hit a foam roller for a few minutes.
You wouldn’t shut the engine in your car off without first gently applying the break, putting it into park, and taking off your seatbelt, would you? Not if you want your car to last you wouldn’t. Think of your cool-down that same way. If you want your investment in your body to last longer than an old used car, you need to take care of it. After all, it’s the only one you have.
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