We certainly hear a lot about the importance of an exercise warmup. But could it be that a cool-down period is also important? Does a cool-down help you recover from training? Answer: It probably does, though of course, it depends on the level and type of training.
Today there is a big emphasis on training routines for general fitness that “exhaust” the participants. Many professionals have reacted to this trend by explaining that exercise for the purpose of exhaustion is silly and short-sighted. They have also pointed out that anybody can train another person to exhaustion, it takes no special skill! Yet, we see many photos of folks lying on the ground post-exercise, posted on Social Media as it were a badge of honor.
CrossFit participants in particular love these types of pics. Here is what is odd to a professional trainer: While these people may emphasize a proper warm-up, they don’t bother with a cool-down period at all.
The importance of a proper warm-up for exercise is often discussed, but cool-down periods are hardly ever mentioned. They can, however, help you recover from exercise more quickly, and even make exercise safer.
Cool-Downs May Help Clear Lactic Acid, Facilitate Venous Return from the Muscles, and Even Help with DOMS
For example, if you’ve built up a lot of lactic acid in the muscles, it will be cleared a bit quicker if you “cool down” through a moderate muscular activity that tapers down. Also, venous return from the muscles may be better facilitated through keeping the heart going a bit and keeping the muscles moving a bit.
Even DOMS from resistance training may be ameliorated to some extent through a good cool-down. It certainly will not hurt.
You’ll Cramp Up!
If you’ve ever had, say, your track coach tell you to not stop all at once but to cool down gradually or you might “cramp up,” this is why. Now, probably you won’t cramp up. However, when you see all these pics of people exhausting themselves and then just lying down on the floor panting…well, this may not be the best response to recovering from extreme physical activity.
I concede, however, that most of them probably do it for effect.
You could probably say that just as you don’t jump right into full-on training, but gradually build up to it, you shouldn’t just jump straight out of it either.
Lack of Cool-Down Could be Dangerous for Some
For certain individuals, the lack of a proper transition could actually be dangerous, perhaps even more so than strenuous exercise with an inadequate warmup. As an FYI, if you’ve exercised very strenuously, and afterwards you have symptoms of vertigo, faintness, nausea, or even heart palpitation, this could be because the exercise was strenuous enough and the cool-down absent or inadequate. I stress that it COULD be.
What is a Cool-Down?
A cool-down is the time to allow your heart-rate to reduce gradually, your respiration to gradually return to normal, etc.
Many people use stretching exercises for a cool-down. This is not bad but it is not necessarily the best cool-down solution, nor is it a required part of a cool-down, unless you have a particular need to do a certain stretch and you realize that after training is the optimum time for this.
Any rhythmic muscular activity should work fine for your cool-down period. For example, if you’ve just had a run, you might jog slowly and then transition to a walk. Usually, 10 to 15 minutes should be fine. If you’ve done very strenuous weight work, you can use the same or similar exercise for very lightweight “back off” sets. Mostly, you want the range of motion to be similar, even if the activity you use for your cool-down is not exactly the same as you use for your main workout.