Earlier I had written about how to plan your training programme to reach your fitness goals. I spoke about setting short-, mid- and long-term goals and making sure you had a good balance of strength, cardio and flexibility in your programme. I also wrote about why a good warm up is important to help you get the most out of your training and keep you injury-free.
Today I’d like to highlight the importance of a good cool down. Many of us forget this vital aspect of training. Some of us just couldn’t be bothered, as we are so tired from the training that the thought of anymore exertion seems unnecessary. Sadly these common mistakes can be the Achilles Heel of many fitness programmes.
A good cool down revolves around one key concept — recovery. All the things you do to cool down are designed to limit the natural damage that occurs in your muscles from exercise. For professional athletes or serious amateurs this is particularly important, as it affects the duration between training sessions. The quicker you recover, the sooner you can train again and the fitter and stronger you will get.
How does recovery help?
First, it helps remove waste products from your muscles, which build up during exercise. An important waste product to remove is lactic acid, which delays recovery and hampers normal physiological functioning in the muscles.
Second, it reduces the potential to develop Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) — a common reaction to exercise. DOMS usually occurs 24 to 48 hours after exercise. It is the result of nerve irritation through increased intracellular pressure in the muscle cells.
Finally, it helps prevent dizziness caused by pooling of venous blood at the extremities. Changes in your heart rate, blood pressure and the volume of blood causes your heart to pump faster, causing a build up of pressure in your blood flow.
What you need to do
Step 1 — 5 to 10 minutes of easy walking or jogging: I usually use the benchmark of 120 beats per minute heart rate as an indicator that my body has returned to a more recovered state. Once it’s reached this point you can begin step 2.
Step 2 — static stretching: The aim of this stretching is to elongate the muscles and decrease the tension in them. This differs from the dynamic stretching used in the warm up where we want to increase tension and excitability.
Cool down is the ideal time to do sustained static stretching, as your body is warm and your muscles and other connective tissues are far more receptive to being stretched. Start with your calf muscles and work your way up your body systematically. The ideal static stretch should be held at the end of range for 20 to 30 seconds.
Hygiene and health tips
Remember to change out of your sweaty training clothes as soon as possible after a workout, as you risk exposure to cold winds and drafts, which lead to muscle spasms in areas like the neck or the lower back and can lead to a cold.
Take a shower soon after exercise. Bacteria love to breed in old sweaty clothes or on clammy skin so keep your skin clean and dry to prevent any unwelcome skin infections.
A good electrolyte drink or even water is good for restoring your fluid balance after sweating it out during training. Even mild dehydration can affect your general performance, concentration and energy levels.
Have a light snack after training. This will replenish your energy and contrary to popular belief, will help you lose weight, as you will not hit a sugar low a few hours later and rush off for a binge eating session to satisfy your body’s energy needs.
I hope this article will encourage you to do more cooling down exercises after your training. Have a great weekend.
Matthews is a physiotherapist with the Mittal Champions Trust