Often the day after an intense workout we can feel sore despite having endured a cool down, so what’s the catch? Properly cooling down may not completely erase the pain of the workout, but the benefits are plentiful. Making time for an active cool-down, combined with static stretching and foam rolling, is said to help with the following: injury prevention, removal of lactic acid, reducing DOMS, and lowering heart rate.
No matter how you look at it, the pros of cooling down far outweigh the cons. Cooling down and stretching should be done immediately after completing your workout, slowing down physically will help you to adjust your breathing and lower your heart rate at a good pace.
How to cool down: no matter what exercise you’re doing, following this cool-down pattern will get the job done.
1. For the last 5 minutes of your workout, gradually decrease your speed or weight (or both). If you are running, slow your speed and then begin to walk. Ideally, you want your heart rate to hit below 120 beats per minute.
2. Straight after finishing your workout you will do your stretches, holding each on for 30 seconds. Stretching should never hurt, if it does stop immediately - you may be stretching further than your body is currently capable.
3. Remember to breathe. Inhale deep breaths to allow more oxygen to reach your muscles.
4. Hydrate - sweating it out feels great, but all of that lost water must be replenished.
Stretch it out: there are hundreds of stretches that you could fill your workout with, and the best ones for you will depend on the type of exercises you are doing. You will need to stretch different muscles on different days, downward dog may be great after a leg day - but not so much after an ab session.
Here are a few of our favorites:
- Toe Touches - this can be done from a seated or standing position. Bend your torso and reach your fingers towards your toes. You may not be able to reach your toes (yet) but the act of stretching and reaching for them will increase the flexibility of tight hamstrings and low back.
- Quad Stretch - standing on one leg, hold the foot of the other in your hand and pull it into your glutes. You’ll feel the quad stretching. Swap legs after 30 seconds.
- Child’s Pose - a yoga favorite, sit on your knees and then bend forward pulling your arms out in front of you. As well as being relaxing this pose will stretch out the muscles in your lower and upper back and shoulders.
- Pectoral Stretch - this stretch is great after an arm working, stretching your chest and arms. Stand next to a wall and place your palm onto it, then turn and face away and hold for 30 seconds.
- Seated Neck Stretch - an often forgotten muscle, the neck works hard holding your head up all day and even more so during a workout. If you work at a desk all day, this is a great stretch to end the working day with, not just your workouts. Bring one hand over your head and place it on the opposite side, and gently pull your head down toward your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Stretching post-workout may seem like an added chore, but increasing flexibility and caring for the muscles that you are building will prevent injury and relax you too. What’s your favorite cool-down stretch?