For the longest time, cooling down has been associated with reducing muscle soreness after a heavy workout but we now have evidence to suggest its true purpose; to start the recovery process.
If you’ve ever played for a sports team or perhaps even coached a team, you’ve probably heard that cooling down is essential when you work out or play any sport. However, new research suggests that it may not be as important as first thought for reducing soreness in the muscles. Instead, it’s just something that seems like a good thing to do to speed up the recovery process.
For those who have been a big advocate of cooling down in recent years, we have some more bad news for you because static stretching and active recovery are also two techniques that don't contribute much to future flexibility. Of course, we aren’t saying that it isn't a good idea to slow your body down after exercise but the effects we all believed seem to be over-hyped somewhat.
Ending Your Workout - After any type of prolonged exercise, our bodies are excited in that our lungs are furiously working away to keep up with the demand for oxygen, our hearts are doing the same to provide blood to all corners of the body, and energy and waste byproducts are being created by the muscles. In order to prevent homeostasis, you need to reverse this process after finishing your exercise. Ideally, you’ll want to bring your exercise to a halt gradually rather than suddenly.
If you’re driving at 70 miles an hour on an empty road, you could stop by either slamming on the brakes or braking gently because nobody else is around. However, slamming the brakes will always be the riskier option because you could end up with damage due to the seatbelt or even whiplash.
With your workout, ending abruptly could cause blood pressure changes, pooling of blood in the body, and dizziness. If you already have heart issues, this can cause even more problems so you need to start the recovery process in the right way and we have some tips for doing this below!
Keep the Muscles Moving - First and foremost, you need to consider the type of exercise you just did because cardio offers a more natural cool down process as opposed to strength training. With cardio work, you should allow you heart rate to return close to normal; experts say within 20% of your your resting rate. As you cool down, you should stop sweating and your breathing should return to a normal rate.
After any type of strength training, it’s a little harder to know when you’ve cooled down sufficiently to get the recovery process started. Although it very much depends on you, we suggest around 10-15 minutes addressing every muscle you used during the workout. Whether this comes from some light jogging, cycling, or even stretching, you must decide when you feel more relaxed rather than tense from the strength training itself.
Regardless of the exercise you complete, the goal is to keep moving so the blood continues to flow whilst slowing down. If you spend 45 minutes running on the treadmill, you should reverse the process in a natural regression to jogging and then walking. Similarly, stretches and walking can be useful after a leg workout. As long as you keep moving, the recovery process will begin naturally rather than slamming down on those brakes.
Stretch it Out - Often, people say you should stretch before and after a workout but we don’t believe in stretching before. Why? Because you’ve just walked into the gym, your muscles are cold and stiff, and you could quite easily get injured. Therefore, stretching while your body is warm after a workout is a much safer option.
When performing static stretches, look to hold the position for between 15-25 seconds and, over time, this will improve your flexibility as well as range of motion. As long as your heart rate and breathing has slowed sufficiently, the stretches will be beneficial and the cool down is the perfect time to work on flexibility.
Reducing DOMS - Standing for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, DOMS will not be affected by what you’ve done so far in the cool down process but there is something you can do; roll. After a tough workout, the last thing you want to do is grab the foam roller but there are many studies to suggest its effectiveness in reducing DOMS in the coming days.
After partaking in foam rolling, our body feels a release and we feel lighter on our feet thereafter. Once again, you’re looking to improve the blood flow within the muscles and rolling really opens the body and allows it to happen. Before we move on to the next point, we should note the importance of good form here. If you want to see the best results, you need to focus mainly on the muscles you targeted during the workout. From here, take your time and control your rolls rather than letting gravity do the work. At times, you’ll come across knots so slowly go over them and loosen up the muscle.
Drink, Drink, Drink - Before, after your workout and beyond, you should be replenishing your liquids. As we workout, we lose huge amounts of hydration through perspiration and sweat so it’s now time to get this back. If you don’t provide the electrolytes your body needs to recover, the process will be slow and more drawn out. In truth, our bodies rely on electrolytes every single moment of the day so make sure you’re always topped up (with or without exercise). Use Nanohydr8 shooters or concentrate to take care of 100% of your hydration requirements during workouts and for the rest of the day.
After a workout, you should be slowly sipping water because gulping will make you feel nauseous. In terms of volume, this will depend on the amount of activity you did, how hard the body was pushed, and also the environment around you. If you worked inside on a hot day, your body will probably need more water to recover from all the sweat lost.
For most experts, they believe eight ounces is the right amount within the first half-hour of your exercise. From here, you can use your thirst as a loose guide. Of course, the ultimate guide to your hydration will always be the color of your urine. Rather than being see-through or dark yellow, it should be straw-colored.
Summary - There we have it, your cool down doesn’t directly affect DOMS as we have all thought for so many years. Despite this, cooling down your body is still important if you want to bring your natural processes down to their normal level. To avoid slamming on the brakes, some light cardio and stretches will allow your body to return to its normal state (with the help of some water!).