Post Workout Cooling Down: The Why and How
By : Mandy Erickson
Published November 3, 2017
Post-workout cooling down: The Why and the How
So many times, I see people finish a training session and race out the door, their body still sweating, the heart rate still up, and sometimes hobbling or wobbly-legged still from the workout.
I get it, sometimes you’re in a rush and have to get out of here ASAP. BUT, on the days you’re not super pressed for time, take the time to cooldown and/or stretch after a workout. It’s important.
There are a couple principles behind the idea of cooling down.
Consider this one:
S.A.I.D (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand).
In layman terms, this basically means your body adapts to exactly what you ask it to do. So the same way it adapts positively by gaining strength when you make it squat, or push or pull or hinge, it will also adapt if you, let’s say, start walking with a limp.
In other words, if you finish your strength and conditioning work and are a little stiff or sore and you leave right away without recovering at all, your body likely won’t be moving the way it should: Your gait might have been negatively affected from the session, your back might feel strained, your hips might be tight, or your arm swing might feel a little muted. If you don’t work these things out, you’ll find yourself walking like Frankenstein, and your body will adapt and think this is the new normal.
On the other hand, taking the time to cooldown, recover and stretch will help your body adapt and restore your proper movement patterns, so you move even better walking out of the gym than when you walked in!
A second reason to spend some time on your recovery after a training sessions is to help RECOVERY:
- Cooling does this by helping remove wastes, like lactic acid and hydroxyproline, and by decreasing blood pooling by flushing out capillaries, veins and lungs. If you have just completed a conditioning workout, where your heart rate has been elevated for a while, and then you just abruptly stop and hop in your car and drive home, the additional blood pooling in your lower body can cause dizziness and even fainting.
2. Cooling down also helps with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) that leaves you with muscle pain and stiffness, and even some swelling sometimes. While it might not prevent DOMS entirely, it certainly can reduce it. We used to think that DOMS was linked to lactic acid build-up, but the latest theory is that DOMS is related to micro-trauma to connective tissue, which happens when your muscles stretch and lengthen while working out. And it is believed that some low-intensity movement/cooldown work allows the enzymes in the body that are responsible for muscle damage to get to work a little more effectively to help the healing process.
HOW to cooldown?
It occurred to me that sometimes people take off after a sessions and skip their cooldown because they just aren’t sure what to do. It’s not rocket science, and you’ll likely hear all sorts of opinions on the topic, but here’s a simple guideline I recommend:
If you just finished conditioning, especially high-intensity conditioning, and your heart rate is super high:
- Hop on a bike or rowing machine for 5 to 10 minutes at a low intensity—one that allows your heart rate to come down slowly. Then stick around to stretch, or release any tight areas in the body via foam rolling or with a lacrosse ball.
If you’re feeling stiff, are experiencing inhibited range of motion in one or multiple joints, or have muscle soreness after a training session (especially in your lower body: low back, hamstrings, IT bands, hips, glutes, or quads):
- Get in there with a firm foam roller or a lacrosse ball for 10 to 15 minutes: Check out our recent post about the art of foam rolling.
If you’re feeling like a part of your body still hasn’t thawed out—like you’re still swimming in lactic acid:
- Spend 5 to 10 minutes lightly biking or rowing and then stick around to stretch: Dynamic stretching, static stretching or contract and relax (PNF) stretching all have their benefits (Read more about when to employ different kinds of stretching here: https://journal.crossfit.com/article/flexibility-beers-2)
And then, drink some water and re-fuel!
Any more questions about how to cooldown properly, talk to your coach!