IntroCool-down a period of light exercise done after a period of more intense exercise to allow the body to gradually transition to a resting or near-resting state. After a run, it could be a period of walking. After a martial arts class, it could be a period of stretching.
BenefitsCooling down allows the breath rate and heart rate to return to their resting rates, helps you relax, may reduce light headiness or dizziness after a strenuous workout, and may reduce injuries. Studies are inconclusive as to whether the process reduces delayed-onset muscle soreness or other muscle soreness, but they tend to discount the relationship.
During aerobic exercise, peripheral veins, particularly those within a muscle, dilate to accommodate the increased blood flow through exercising muscle. The skeletal-muscle pump assists in returning blood to the heart and maintaining cardiac output. A sudden cessation of strenuous exercise may cause blood to pool in peripheral dilated veins which may cause varicose veins. A cool-down period allows a more gradual return to a venous tone. The heart will also need to beat faster to adequately oxygenate the body and maintain blood pressure.
Some believe that individuals predisposed to, suffering from, or at risk for cardiovascular disease may be at risk if a cool down is not completed following exercise bouts due to a rapid decrease in blood reaching areas of the heart, which nay have narrowed blood vessels due to cardiovascular disease.
Muscular and skeletal injuries have been found to increase when a cool-down is not performed; ankle injuries are one of the most common injuries. Injuries are decreased significantly when the cool-down is performed for an adequate amount of time compared to only a short period.
ProcedureAn effective cool-down period should involve the following steps:
- Step 1. A gradual yet continuous decrease in exercise intensity. The duration can vary for different people, but 3–10 minutes is considered adequate.
- Step2. Stretching, especially static stretching allows the muscles to be elongated and lengthened.
- Step 3. Rehydration is an essential part of the cool-down and should be done either during or after steps1 and 2. Drink lots of water and sports drinks to keep the body hydrated.
Static stretchingStretching is an important factor in the process of cooling down. It allows the body’s muscles to build elasticity and repair from aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
Static stretching is the best form of stretching to aid in the cooling down process. It aids in decreasing the body's temperature, removing lactic acid from the muscles, and increasing flexibility. Each stretch should be held for a minimum of 10–20 seconds and stretched to the point of mild discomfort but not pain. Each muscle used in mid-high intensity exercise should then be stretched during the cool-down.
Half-time cool-downThis is a popular cooling process used by elite sporting clubs and athletes. It involves using either ice vests, other cooling products, or using gentle light-intensity exercise to cool down the body during half time or other breaks in an activity. Half-time cooling has proven to decrease body temperature and increase aerobic performance.
Some cool-down exercises
Hamstring stretchHamstring tightness is one of the leading contributors to back pain, especially in the lower back. This stretch aids in hamstring flexibility. To perform it:
- While sitting on the floor, place one leg straight out.
- Bend the other leg at the knee and position the sole of that foot against your opposite inner thigh (against the straight leg).
- Extend both arms and reach forward. You may only be able to touch your knee, but as time goes by, work toward your foot.
- Hold for ten seconds and switch legs.
Child's pose from yogaThe child’s pose stretches the small muscles in your back that connect your vertebra. It also stretches out the space between the bones and gives your nerves some space. To perform it:
- Kneel on the floor with your knees and legs together.
- Transition to sitting on the back of your calves with the knees bent.
- Fold yourself over the front of your thighs, reaching out with your arms, lowering your head, and keeping contact between your calves and thighs.
- The farther you reach, the more stretch you will feel.
Single knee-to-chest stretchThis stretch isolates the larger muscles in your lower back and helps stretch your sacroiliac joint, located where your sacrum, or sit bone, connects with your pelvis. To perform it:
- Lie on your back with your legs straight and bend one knee.
- Pull the bent knee toward your chest and stomach.
- Hold your leg with both hands on your shin or the back of your thigh and continue to hold until you feel the stretch in your back.
- Hold for ten seconds, then switch legs.
Cobra stretch from yogaThe cobra stretches your core muscles including your rectus abdominis and obliques and benefits your lower back. To perform it:
- Lie flat on your stomach with legs straight and feet pointed.
- Press up on your elbows or to your palms with your elbows slightly bent.
- Stretch your head and neck back so that you're looking at the ceiling.
Cross-body stretchThis stretch helps stretch muscles in your lower back and obliques and helps stretch the bones in the lower back as well as your sacroiliac joint. To perform it:
- Lie on your back.
- Extend both arms out to the sides for balance.
- Swing one leg over the other, rotating through your lower back.
- Turn your head toward the opposite side of the swinging leg.
- Reach the leg out the side while trying to keep your shoulder blades on the floor.
- Hold for ten seconds, then switch sides.