- Warming up and cooling down for exercise
- THE WARM-UP
- What is a warm-up?
- What does a warm-up do?
- Ensuring an effective warm-up
- Warm-up options
- THE COOL-DOWN
- Ensuring an effective cool-down
- Cool-down options
- Stretching as part of your cool-down
- 15 Most Effective Cool Down Exercises For Every Workout
- What are cool down exercises?
- 15 Most effective cool down exercises
- The bottom line
- Warm up and Cool down- Important considerations for your programme
- Exercise 101: Don’t skip the warm-up or cool-down
- Why You Should Never Skip Your Post-Workout Cooldown
- 1. Cool down
- 2. Stretch
- 3. Hydrate
- 4. Grab a protein shake
- 5. Get a massage
- What is a Cool Down?
- Why Cool Down?
- How Should you Cool Down?
- A Proper Cool Down
- Cool Down Stretches
- Poll: How do you cool down after working out?
- Why is it important to cool down after exercise?
- Cooling Down after Sport – Sports Injury Prevention
- Guide to Sports Medicine
- What happens during a cool down session?
- Effects of a cool down session
- Preventing injury
Warming up and cooling down for exercise
Appropriate warm-up and cool-down periods are an important part of any exercise programme.
When commencing a bout of exercise your body needs to make a number of adjustments. These include:
- increasing your breathing and heart rate;
- increasing the energy-releasing reactions in the muscles; and
- increasing blood flow to the muscles to supply them with more oxygen and to remove waste products.
These adjustments do not occur straight away, but require a number of minutes to reach the necessary levels. So the purpose of a warm-up is to encourage these adjustments to occur gradually, by commencing your exercise session at an easy level and increasing the intensity gradually. If you were to start exercising at a strenuous level without a warm-up, your body would be ill-prepared for the higher demands being made of it, which may cause injury and unnecessary fatigue.
What is a warm-up?
A warm-up usually takes the form of some gentle exercise that gradually increases in intensity.
What does a warm-up do?
A pre-exercise warm-up does more than just make you warm, it:
- increases blood flow to the muscles, which enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients;
- warms your muscles, which promotes the energy-releasing reactions used during exercise and makes the muscles more supple;
- prepares your muscles for stretching;
- prepares your heart for an increase in activity;
- prepares you mentally for the upcoming exercise;
- primes your nerve-to-muscle pathways to be ready for exercise; and
- prevents unnecessary stress and fatigue being placed on your muscles and heart, which can occur if you exercise strenuously without a warm-up.
The warm-up is widely viewed as a simple measure to prepare your body for exercise of a moderate to high intensity, and is believed to help prevent injury during exercise. Although there is a lack of clear scientific evidence that warming up prevents injuries – due to ethical constraints of doing studies in which the design involves a potential increased risk of injury to some participants – anecdotal evidence and logic would suggest that a warm-up should reduce the risk and, at worst, not increase it.
Ensuring an effective warm-up
To make your warm-up effective, you need to do movements that increase your heart rate and breathing, and slightly increase the temperature of your muscles. A good indication is warming up to the point where you have raised a light sweat.
If you’re exercising for general fitness, allow 5 to 10 minutes for your pre-exercise warm-up (or slightly longer in cold weather).
If you are exercising at a higher level than for general fitness, or have a particular sporting goal in mind, you may need a longer warm-up, and one that is designed specifically for your sport.
Follow these options in the order listed.
1. General warm-up
To begin your warm-up do 5 minutes of light (low intensity) physical activity such as walking, jogging on the spot or on a trampoline, or cycling. Pump your arms or make large but controlled circular movements with your arms to help warm the muscles of your upper body.
2. Sport-specific warm-up
One of the best ways to warm up is to perform the upcoming exercise at a slow pace. This will allow you to simulate at low intensity the movements you are about to perform at higher intensity during your chosen activity. Typical examples include steady jogging, cycling or swimming before progressing to a faster speed. This may then be followed by some sport-specific movements and activities, such as a few minutes of easy catching practice for cricketers or baseball players, going through the motion of bowling a ball for lawn bowlers, shoulder rolls, or side-stepping and slow-paced practice hits for tennis players. Sport-specific warm-ups are often designed by a qualified trainer in that sport.
Any stretching is best performed after your muscles are warm, so only stretch after your general warm-up. Stretching muscles when they are cold and less pliable may lead to a tear. Stretching during a warm-up can include some slow, controlled circling movements at key joints, such as shoulder rolls, but the stretches should not be forced or done at a speed that may stretch the joint, muscles and tendons beyond their normal length.
Another component of stretching during a warm-up is ‘static stretching’ — where a muscle is gently stretched and held in the stretched position for 10-30 seconds. This is generally considered the safest method of stretching.
Perform a light static stretching routine at the end of your warm-up by stretching each of the muscle groups you will be using in your chosen activity. A static stretch should be held at the point where you can feel the stretch but do not experience any discomfort. If you feel discomfort, ease back on the stretch. Remember not to bounce when holding the stretch.
Studies comparing a warm-up that includes static stretching with a warm-up that does not include static stretching have shown that pre-exercise static stretching improves flexibility, but its effect on injury prevention remains unclear. Hence you may find it better to keep most of your static stretching for after your exercise session, that is, as part of your cool-down.
Apart from static stretching, other methods of stretching include ballistic, dynamic and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching, each of which is best done under instruction from a qualified fitness instructor or sports coach.
The practice of cooling down after exercise means slowing down your level of activity gradually. Cooling down:
- helps your heart rate and breathing to return towards resting levels gradually;
- helps avoid fainting or dizziness, which can result from blood pooling in the large muscles of the legs when vigorous activity is stopped suddenly;
- helps to remove metabolites (intermediate substances formed during metabolism) from your muscles, such as lactic acid, which can build up during vigorous activity (lactic acid is most effectively removed by gentle exercise rather than stopping suddenly); and
- helps prepare your muscles for the next exercise session, whether it’s the next day or in a few days’ time.
You may see conflicting advice as to whether cooling down prevents post-exercise muscle soreness, also known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which tends to occur after doing unfamiliar exercise or working at a harder level than usual. However, even if cooling down doesn’t prevent DOMS, the other benefits of cooling down mean that you should always make it a part of your exercise session.
DOMS is more common after unfamiliar exercise involving ‘eccentric’ muscle contractions, such as jogging downhill, or lowering weights, as the muscles are put under more stress than normal in these activities. However, such soreness usually only occurs in the first few sessions, since the muscles adapt, and with continued training should not occur.
Ensuring an effective cool-down
For an effective cool-down:
- perform low intensity exercise for a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes; and
- follow this with a stretching routine.
1. Continuing your chosen exercise while gradually lowering its intensity
Gradually slowing down the pace and exertion of your activity over several minutes can seem a natural progression, as well as fulfilling the need to include a cool-down period at the end of your exercise.
2. Slow jogging, brisk walking or gentle cycling
Another option is to jog, walk briskly or cycle for a few minutes after your exercise, making sure that this activity is lower in intensity than the exercise you have just performed.
Stretching as part of your cool-down
The best time to stretch is during your cool-down, as at this time your muscles are still warm and most likely to respond favourably, and there is a low risk of injury. Stretching helps to relax your muscles and restore them to their resting length, and improve flexibility (the range of movement about your joints).
As a guide, allow 10 minutes of post-exercise stretching for every one hour of exercise. Make these post-exercise stretches more thorough than your pre-exercise stretches. Ensure that you stretch all the major muscle groups that you have used during your exercise. Stretch each muscle group for 20 to 30 seconds, 2 to 3 times.
15 Most Effective Cool Down Exercises For Every Workout
Exercise is a very important part of one’s lifestyle.
It can help keep your weight under control. It can lower the risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and countless others. It’s also generally accepted that being in good shape is good for you.
However, it’s not how much you exercise but how you exercise. Many people forget one of the most important parts of exercising, which is the cool down exercises.
What are cool down exercises?
Cool down exercises are defined as light exercise that helps your body transition from working hard to resting. This can be an important part of your exercise for many reasons. A few reasons include:
- Reduces strain on your heart muscle as it goes from exerting itself back to normal.
- Prevents dizziness and other discomfort from blood pooling in your lower extremities after exercise (caused by veins increasing in size to accommodate the increased blood flow from the heart).
- Promotes a “feel good” feeling. After running hard, a nice walk afterward helps your legs feel better.
15 Most effective cool down exercises
Cool down exercises are always good for you, even if they don’t do all the things that some people claim. So which ones are the best?
We’ve run down 15 of the most effective cool down exercises for any workout.
The creme de la creme of cool down exercises, according to our research, is walking. It doesn’t matter what kind of work out you do; taking a nice walk afterward always seems to be toward the top of all the lists.
When we say walking, we don’t mean power walking where you’re pumping your arms and legs. We’re talking a nice, leisurely stroll. You don’t even need to pump your arms. This allows for everything to return to normal but lets you keep moving while it happens.
It’s a classic, it’s a favorite, and it’s also highly recommended.
2. Stretch those legs
While this mostly applies to runners, a great cool down exercise is stretching your legs. This includes all the classics like pulling your leg up behind you to stretch your hamstring or trying to touch your toes. There are other, more complex stretches that more or less stretch the same areas.
Even if it was all upper body, a good stretch to the legs can be a great cool down exercise.
3. Stretch your chest
A few of our cool down exercise choices will be stretching. This is just a heads up because they’re very effective for cooling down and they’re all pretty easy to do.
A popular one is lacing your fingers behind your back, straightening out your arms and looking at the ceiling. This is effective at stretching your chest muscles.
4. Stretch your arms
If you’ve ever noticed, even runners stretch their arms before they go running. Consequently, it’s also one of the more effective cool down exercises. It helps get your shoulders and your arms loosened up.
Nearly every exercise involves your arms to some extent, so getting them warmed up and cooled down is always a good idea.
There are a lot of popular arm stretches. Crossing your arm across your body and stretching is a good one. Placing your hand on your back can help stretch the back of your arms as well.
5. Stretch out your core
The core of your body is often something that gets overlooked in both stretching and exercise in general. So it’s not only great to include in your cool down exercises, but also recommended since your core is, well, your core.
You should be working it out no matter what. A popular yoga technique is to get on your hands and knees. Then arch your back like a cat followed by bowing it out like the letter C. This helps both your core and your back. Two essentials when exercising and cooling down.
6. Jumping jacks
Now we get back into lighter exercises that also work well for cool down exercises. A favorite is the jumping jack.
Yes, it may seem a little bit like middle school gym class, but jumping jacks are actually an effective exercise. The motion of jumping, spreading, and closing your legs works almost your entire lower body.
Meanwhile the act of putting your arms down, and bringing then back up to clap works a good portion of your upper body, so pretty much everything gets worked on.
If you have access to a pool at your home or your gym, a quick dip in the pool can be a great for cool downs.
Treading water uses almost all the same muscles as jumping jacks do. Doing the Olympic-style swimming works those same muscles, but to a higher degree. So you can even vary your swimming intensity.
Plus, who doesn’t love jumping into a nice cool pool after a long, arduous workout?
8. Get a massage
Okay, this one isn’t exercise on the face of it, but it can be effective as many cool down exercises.
The point of cool down exercises is to transition your body from exerting to rest. Part of that is getting rid of pooled blood left over from when your veins and arteries pumping blood the body didn’t need anymore.
While it’s preferred that you exercise this excess away, a significant other or a professional masseuse can go over your body for a few minutes with a massage and it accomplishes pretty much the same thing.
Do note, it’s not recommended to go straight from workout to massage. Doing at least a few cool down exercises first is preferable.
9. Exercise specific drills
This one is a little complex, but bear with us.
If you’re a runner, you’ll obviously be working out your legs most of all. So doing some squats after a run keeps your legs pumping without the stress of actually running. These can be wonderful cool down exercises.
If you’re lifting weights, you can decrease to a weight you can lift very easily and just do a lot of repetitions.
For runners, laying down and doing scissor kicks can be an excellent cool down.
If you’ve been cycling, start out in fifth gear, then gradually work your way down to first gear.
10. Exercise mimicry
Now we’re getting into the complicated sounding stuff. Oddly enough, it’s still not that complicated.
Exercise mimicry is when you perform the same exercise you were just performing, but with less resistance.
A couple of good examples are actually above. Lifting less weight and cycling in a lower gear are two great examples.
However, you can do this without machines too. If you just finished playing soccer, then maybe a light jog or a brisk walk while dribbling the ball will be more effective.
When you mimic your exercises with less resistance, you work the exact same muscles you just worked on. So you’re cooling down everything that got a work out.
11. Do house chores
Welcome to the absurd portion of our list. Believe it or not, house chores can make excellent cool down exercises.
Did you just take a long run? Pull out the lawn mower and cool down by walking it across your lawn. Do something a little more full body? Put your laundry away.
You have to bend over, grab some clothing, fold it using your arms, walk to the chest of drawers using your legs, put it away, and repeat.
Pretty much all house chores require light exercise which makes them perfect for cool down exercises.
Obviously, these are best used for when you work out at home. If you work out at the gym, your body will have recovered by the time you drive home and get started!
What is dance if not beautiful exercise? It can be a great way to cool down as well.
If you’ve just finished an intense work out and you’re feeling out of it and tired, then why not shake it like a Polaroid picture? It works your muscles and it’s pretty light exercise unless you’re a backup dancer in a pop star music video.
Plus, it can be fun which is also good for your mental fitness!
13. Kick your own booty
Jogging in place is another of the most effective cool down exercises.
Without forward momentum, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to keep you in motion. You’re essentially just bring your legs up in place briskly. So it’s like running minus all the effort, which is what makes it a great cool down.
If you’re wondering about the title of this one, it’s what I used to do when running in place back in PE class when I was a kid.
14. Tae Bo
We’ve all seen the videos. At least those of us from the 1990’s have seen the videos of all the healthy people doing punches and kicks as part of their workout.
While doing this for awhile can be a great workout, doing them for a few minutes make them great cool down exercises. This combines work outs with stretching in many cases, as you can’t really kick that high without stretching your muscles a little bit.
So it’s worth learning a few Tae Bo exercises for a more fun cool down experience.
There’s a reason why yoga is considered exercise. That’s because it actually is.
People can say what they want, but have you ever tried to hold dhanurasana for more than a few minutes? It’s not easy.
Yoga poses can make great cool down exercises because they’re essentially complex stretches that wildly help your flexibility. It’s well worth learning a good dozen or so Yoga poses and using them during your cool down to get that stretch into parts of your body you don’t normally stretch.
We’ve reached the end of our list and we hope you picked up a few more good cool down exercises for your repertoire.
Remember, the purpose of a cool down is to help your body transition from working hard to hardly working without any ill effects. So really any stretch, exercise, or movement that can help you accomplish that task makes for a good cool down exercise.
Remember, cool downs may not be as important as warm ups according to many studies, but that doesn’t mean you should not do them.
Cool downs are a great way to treat your body right after a rough exercise and if you treat your body right today, it’ll treat you right tomorrow.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com
Warm up and Cool down- Important considerations for your programme
October 12, 2018
The importance of The Warm up and The Cool Down
Warming up and cooling down have long been universally accepted methods to both prepare for, and aid recovery from a training session. A well-planned pre-exercise warm up routine will not only prepare you physically and mentally for the activity that is about to commence, but also serve to reduce injury risk, and improve performance during the training session and in the days following. Whether you want to maximise your muscle and strength gain, burn those extra few calories on the treadmill, or stay healthy and pain free (and we should all want this!) a considered warm up/cool down is an essential part of any good training program.
Whilst this is commonly understood amongst many gym-goers, it’s also common to see many people perform inappropriate or insufficient warm up/cool down protocols before and after workouts. Things have come a long way from the days of a couple of toe-touches, a light jog and a pre-match pint before a Sunday league football match, after all! As the scientific literature expands, we are learning more and more about effective/ineffective warm up and cool down strategies. So sit tight, whilst we give you the ‘No B.S’ rundown on warming up and cooling down for exercise.
Breaking a Sweat
One of the main goals of any good warm up is to raise core temperature, and can be achieved through endless different ways. Increasing body temperature has been shown to have some beneficial effects on reducing the risk of injury, therefore it should definitely not be neglected prior to a workout. For those that like numbers, the goal should be to reach around 55-60% of max heart rate gradually. In simpler terms, this is the kind of intensity that has you slightly out of breath, but still able to hold a conversation. 5-10 minutes of this kind of activity should be sufficient for most to increase core temperature. You don’t have to necessarily hop on a treadmill or sit on a rowing machine to achieve this. These methods can be effective, but it’s important to consider the specific demands of the workout when planning a warm up routine.
The specific exercises/movement patterns utilised in a warm up must more often than not be considered based on the content of the session that is about to be performed. For example, performing an extensive upper body warm up before a lower body resistance-training day probably isn’t the best option for most scenarios (there are always exceptions to the rule, as with everything!). Therefore, the warm up must be specific to the demands of the actual session! The key word here is specific; to both the needs of the session and the individual.
Performing stretching exercises, whether they are static or dynamic, can help to improve flexibility, allowing individuals to achieve greater range of motion and therefore improve exercise technique. A ‘static’ stretch is classified as a prolonged hold of a particular position in which a muscle/group of muscles is lengthened, and is usually held between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. Dynamic stretches on the other hand are stretches that involve continuous movement and take a muscle through its full range of motion. An example of a static & dynamic stretch for the hamstrings muscle would be a toe touch vs a leg swing. Both are stretching the hamstrings, but the leg swing is doing so in a dynamic fashion, whilst the toe touch is doing so in a static fashion.
Static stretches can be helpful to improve flexibility, but care must be taken to not hold prolonged static stretching for longer than about 30 seconds before a workout, as there is strong evidence to show that force production and power output is diminished when stretches are held longer than this before training. Resistance training performance (how much weight you lift) is a strong determinant of lean tissue gain, so everyone should want to maximise force production, whether you’re a powerlifter or someone with body composition goals! In movements requiring high levels of mobility (for example, weightlifting movements such as an overhead squat position), static stretching may be used prior to the workout, as for new lifters, this increased mobility may have benefits with regards to reduced injury risk and technical development that outweighs any potential negatives in some situations.
Dynamic Range of movement exercises (DROMs) are a form of dynamic stretching, which can have a benefit to mobility and stability in key positions. These can be used as part of a warm up and can increase body temperature to an adequate level without needing to separate the warm up into sections. Although we still recommend a separate short “pre warm up” to increase focus and body temperature, more advanced lifters can utilise these movements effectively to increase workout efficiency. Generally, DROMs are more appropriate for warming up than static stretches.
If you do require some static stretching, perform some dynamic stretching after the static stretching can help to reduce some of the adverse effects. This should be followed with specific “build up” work prior to the working sets, as discussed in the section on muscle activation. Just bear in mind that immediately jumping into sets of heavy squats after long stretches probably isn’t the best idea, particularly as core temperature may begin to drop if stretches are held for excessive periods of time!
Foam rolling is another effective method of creating some short-term increases in joint flexibility, and can be performed on any muscles that you feel are tight or restricted during your warm up. Performing 5-10 minutes of foam rolling before moving into more dynamic stretches/movements is a great way to gain mobility and immediately use this increased mobility in a functional manner. The jury is still out in regards to which method – stretching vs foam rolling – is more effective for improving joint mobility. Everyone will have their own tight areas, and so blanket advice is difficult to prescribe here. Experiment yourself and find out what works well with your body and gives you the desired outcome. In general, foam rolling and dynamic stretching prior to a workout may be beneficial to achieve positions, with true mobility development being achieved with post workout static stretching if required, as discussed further in the cooldown section of this article.
An important thing to remember is that if an individual already possesses the requisite mobility to achieve all the necessary techniques and positions required in the session, stretching and foam rolling is probably unnecessary, and more time can be placed on simply increasing core temperature and specific activation/ potentiation work.
Muscle activation exercises are simply as the name suggests – movements that activate a particular muscle group. This happens through developing neural connections between the brain and our muscles, and can be a great way to help prepare specific muscles that are about to be used within the session. The great thing about muscle activation exercises is that if performed in a sequential manner with little rest, they can be very effective at increasing the body’s core temperature. For example, an individual may be better spent performing 5-10 minutes of bodyweight squats, lunges, glute bridges and side clams as a means of preparing their lower body for a strength training session, particularly if they already have enough flexibility to perform these movements without needing any stretches pre-hand.
Warm up exercises that incorporate these movements can remove the monotony of a stationary cardio machine, and can serve to increase the specificity of the warm up routine, priming you for the activity that is about to follow. Additionally, it is common for many to have weak or lazy muscles from everyday life – habitual sitting and working at a computer being amongst the main offenders. As such, getting these muscles firing prior to training is a great way to help improve postural health, and reduce the risk of injury due to certain muscles unable to activate during resistance training movements or high impact cardio.
“Warm up sets”
Finally, it’s important to mention that prior to any heavy lifting, most people will find it appropriate to do specific sets of the exercise with a lighter load prior to the working sets. For less advanced lifters, this can help them to feel comfortable with the movement prior to the set, even at lighter loads. For more advanced lifters, this may be necessary to continue to prepare the body to cope with the demands of the working weight. It is important that these sets are at an appropriate weight- it should be light enough to avoid creating unnecessary fatigue, but heavy enough to serve as a bridge between the warm up and the working sets.
In general, foam rolling, dynamic stretching and muscle activation work prior to a workout may be beneficial to achieve positions, followed by the warm up sets. True mobility development may be best achieved with post workout static stretching if required, as discussed further in the cooldown section of this article.
So now you’ve mastered your warm up routine and completed your workout, now what? Do you simply leave the gym immediately, or are there some strategies that we can implement to start to aid in the recovery process after training?
Training is a stress on the body, and the larger the stress you placed on your body during a workout, the more of a requirement there is to perform some form of cool down routine to begin the process of recovery and help you to relax and restore balance to the body post-exercise.
Static stretching is a commonly utilised cool down method that may have some merit in promoting recovery. Plus, there’s no need to worry about stretching static impacting performance post-training, so spending a bit more time on it here is advised. The important thing to keep in mind is to keep this kind of stretching low intensity in nature, as more aggressive, more prolonged stretching has been shown to add additional muscular stress to an individual – the opposite of what we want from a cool down to promote recovery! If mobility development is a specific target, more aggressive stretching may be necessary at the end of the workout, but this should be viewed more as the end of the main training session, not the cool down.
Holding a few stretches after a workout may also have some benefit in relaxing the nervous system and removing muscular tension post training, helping people to relax after a tough workout. This is particularly important after a tough cardio workout, as relaxation and returning the heart rate closer to normal levels is a crucial part of the cooldown to promote recovery and allow normal function following the workout. This can also be achieved through some low intensity cardio activity on a piece of cardiovascular equipment, but if we can achieve this with some mobility/ flexibility development, the additional benefits may make stretching a more suitable option.
Overall, the goal of the cool down is to help an individual ‘unwind’ after tough exercise. Whether that is in the form of stretching or light cardio, the goal is to leave the gym with your resting heart rate restored (or close to), and your spirits high! It’s important to note that nothing that is performed in the cool down is going to make or break your long term progress, and there are many other much more important variables (sleep and nutrition being the main factors) that will aid in recovery and adaptation from exercise. The cool down is just a nice way to kick-start the recovery progress, relax the body and mind post training, and allow you to leave the gym feeling great (albeit possibly very knackered!).
If you would like more information on recovery, take a look at the blog post on recovering from exercise here.
So there it is. A quick, no nonsense guide to warming up. Implement all of the strategies discussed above, and see which work best for you!
Matt Brown BSc.
Josh Kennedy, MSc
Exercise 101: Don’t skip the warm-up or cool-down
You might be eager to leap into your exercise routine and get on with the day — but don’t just dive in. Starting a workout with “cold” muscles can lead to injury. It’s important to start each workout with a warm-up and end with a cool-down — and that goes for true beginners, seasoned pros, and everyone in between.
Warming up pumps nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood to your muscles as it speeds up your heart rate and breathing. A good warm-up should last five to 10 minutes and work all major muscle groups. For best results, start slowly, then pick up the pace. Many warm-up routines focus on cardio and range-of-motion exercises, such as jumping jacks and lunges. If you prefer, you can do a simpler warm-up by walking in place while gently swinging your arms, or even dancing to a few songs.
After your workout, it’s best to spend five to 10 minutes cooling down through a sequence of slow movements. This helps prevent muscle cramps and dizziness while gradually slowing your breathing and heart rate. An effective cool-down also incorporates stretching exercises to relax and lengthen muscles throughout your body and improve your range of motion. To get the most out of these exercises, hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. The longer you can hold a stretch, the better for improving your flexibility. As with the warm-up, it’s best to flow from one stretch to the next without rests in between.
For more tips on exercise, buy the Workout Workbook, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. From warm-up to cool-down and everything in between, our nine complete workouts offer you the benefits of strength training, flexibility, balance, and relaxation exercises.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Why You Should Never Skip Your Post-Workout Cooldown
Photo: Caiaimage / Sam Edwards / Getty Images
One of the biggest culprits for skipping your workout? Not having enough time. That not only translates to missed classes and training sessions, but it usually means that when you do manage to get to the gym, you’re more inclined to cut corners (like reps, sets, stretches, warm-ups, and cooldowns) to save some precious time.
But when it comes to your post-workout cooldown, you’re really doing your body a disservice by bypassing it. Coming down from, say, a run or a Tabata circuit by slowing your movements and slowly bringing down your heart rate can help you recover more easily, and increase heart health over time, according to a research published in the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online.
Read on to learn about a few more reasons why you shouldn’t skip your post-workout cooldown.
It controls your post-workout blood flow.
Exercise helps get your blood flowing, so abruptly stopping can actually cause your blood pressure to drop rapidly. When blood pressure drops too quickly, it can cause you to feel light-headed, which is why Heather Henri, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, recommends cooling down for about six minutes after you’ve completed a workout. Fainting is also a risk, as this impact on blood flow could cause blood to pool in your lower extremities, which delays its return to your heart and brain, according to research done by the American Council on Exercise. Cooldowns also reduce the concentration of lactic acid. Using active recovery (here are some active recovery exercise examples) to slowly reduce effort, you can actually increase power and endurance during your next round, too. This is exactly why you shouldn’t totally rest between sets during your workout.
It safely slows down your heart rate.
Your internal body temperature rises during a workout, which means your blood vessels are dilated and your heart is beating faster than normal. It’s important to gradually, and safely bring your heart rate back down after a workout, says Dr. Henri. Skipping the cooldown and dropping the heart rate suddenly can put added stress on your heart, according to research published in the journal Frontiers of Medical and Biological Engineering. Try slowing down your movements from, for example, a faster dance cardio flow to a slower one, a run to a walk, or a plyometric exercise to a movement with both feet on the ground, suggests Deborah Yates, a certified group fitness director for the Bay Club in Silicon Valley.
It prevents injury.
Incorporating a cooldown after your workout can help prevent injuries, and that goes for fitness rookies and seasoned athletes alike. Sprains, strains, and tears in the lower back, hip flexors, knees, hamstrings, and quadriceps are some of the most commonly injuries, says Yates. So, you’ll want to focus on elongating your muscle fibers, which have been under tension during your workout, to achieve your full range of motion. This can be done through hip, lower-back, and spine stretches such as a runner’s lunge or side bend, as well as core-balancing poses such as a standing half lotus and standing bow pose, says Yates.
It increases your flexibility.
The best time to work on your flexibility is when your body is fully warm and you’re breaking a sweat. But instead of hopping off the treadmill and going directly into a toe touch, experts suggest doing some dynamic stretches first. This can decrease your risk of injury, relieve back pain, and improve athletic performance, said Tanja Djelevic, Crunch fitness trainer, in “6 Active Stretches You Should Be Doing.” Taking time for this kind of cooldown can also increase your flexibility and mobility over time, which is thought to help avoid muscle tears, back pain, and joint issues. (Still wondering which is more important, mobility or flexibility? Find out. The answer might surprise you.)
- By By Reena Vokoun
Just because you’ve clocked your last mile or finished your final rep, doesn’t mean your workout is over. In fact, what you do after your workout is just as important as what you do during it.
After any workout—involving cardio or weights—your muscles are tired and begin breaking down. The immediate time after exercise is essential to muscle and tissue repair, strength building and overall recovery. “The post-workout phase is a critical part of any exercise routine,” agrees Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. Here, five key things you should do after every workout.
1. Cool down
There’s a reason the treadmill has a “cool down” setting: When you’re exercising, your effort is at, say, eight out of 10 and your body needs help getting back down to one out of 10. “A sudden stop in physical activity can cause blood pooling in your legs, your blood pressure could drop and you could get very dizzy,” warns Jenn Burke, a personal training manager at Crunch gym in New York City. After a run, slow down your stride and walk for three to five minutes (or longer if it was an exceptionally intense effort). Cooling down is even important after a strength workout. After lifting, try doing some dynamic stretches such as walking lunges or yoga poses. “You want to bring your heart rate back down to a more calm state—about 100 to 120 beats per minute,” Burke says.
After strength training or cardio, your muscles are warmed up so they’re more elastic and pliable. “This is when you’re going to see the most benefits in flexibility,” says Burke. “Stretching also relaxes the tension from the workout.” Although stretching hasn’t been found to decrease injuries, it has been shown to decrease next-day soreness in hamstrings, quads and calves. Stretching also maintains circulation in key areas and expedites the healing process after muscles begin breaking down. “You’re technically supposed to stretch each major muscle with four reps at 15 to 60 seconds each,” says Comana. “But that could take about 40 minutes. Instead, you can get away with five to 10 minutes.” If you just do one stretch, Burke suggests a hamstring towel stretch: Lie on your back, raise one leg and loop a towel around your foot. Pull the ends of the towel to bring your leg toward your chest and feel the stretch in your hamstring. Hold the position, then repeat with your other leg.
Every time you move you’re expending water from your body. After an intense workout, you need to replenish water supplies—this helps decrease muscle soreness and increase strength and flexibility. How much liquid do you need after a workout? Comana has a simple method for figuring that out: Weigh yourself before you workout, then weigh yourself when you’re finished. The weight you lost is strictly water weight. To replenish, you need to drink that weight in liquids, plus 25 to 50 percent to make up for what you’ll loose in urine.
4. Grab a protein shake
No matter what time of day you work out—morning, afternoon or night—you should drink a protein shake after you work out. “Do this 15 to 30 minutes after your workout, when your metabolic window is open,” says Burke. “This is when your muscles are more reactive to absorbing nutrients.” A shake will put carbohydrates and protein back into your muscles so they can rebuild and get stronger. A good recipe is about four grams of carbohydrates for every one gram of protein. “If you don’t want a protein shake, I strongly recommend a glass of chocolate milk. Sure, it’s high in sugars but skim milk is good for you and, with the chocolate, it’s got just the right ratio,” says Comana.
5. Get a massage
Some studies fail to support claims that massages after strenuous workouts can speed muscle recovery but others find that massages can speed up recovery by up to 50 percent, and reduce swelling and muscle damage. And both of our experts are pro massage. “Massages are great to break up knots and or adhesions. Anything you can do to make sure your muscles are still aligned is a good thing,” says Burke. If you can’t afford a full-out massage, get a foam roller, put it on the floor and use your body weight to roll it along your back and neck. “Even if there are no physical benefits, I think there’s at least psychological and emotional benefit,” says Comana. Just make sure the pressure isn’t too deep or heavy—as it could damage the already vulnerable muscles.
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One of the first lessons you learn when embarking on your fitness journey is the importance of a warm up. But, often overlooked, is the equal importance of the cool down. Let’s take a look at the what, why, and how of a proper cool down to help you stay injury free!
What is a Cool Down?
The goal of a cool down is to lower the heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rate to pre-exercise levels. A cool down begins with reducing the intensity of your activity (i.e. walking at the end of your jog) which gives the blood a chance to re-circulate throughout your body thus reducing your risk of fainting and dizziness.
A cool down typically concludes with stretches that target muscles that have been overworked during your workout.
Why Cool Down?
Cooling down has several benefits including:
- Brings your heart rate and breathing back to normal
- Prevents fainting or dizziness
- Prepares your muscles for the next exercise session
- Removes waste products (such as lactic acid), which can build up during vigorous activity
- Reduces the immediate post-exercise tendency for muscle spasm or cramping
- Reduces muscle soreness and stiffness
How Should you Cool Down?
A quality cool down will take 5-10 minutes and consist of a lower intensity exercise period followed by stretching. Of course, if you’re pressed for time, something is always better than nothing. Even a longer walk back to your car (or around the parking lot before you sit down) will help alleviate concerns of blood pooling that can lead to fainting or dizziness.
If you aren’t finding time to stretch at the end of your workouts, consider adding at least one flexibility focused workout or yoga session per week (minimum) to help reduce muscular imbalances and every day stressors to your body.
A Proper Cool Down
- 3-5 minutes of exercising at a lower intensity: Focus on deep breathing to return heart rate to normal.
- 5 minutes of stretching your target muscles: Choose 3-5 stretches for muscles that were ‘worked out,’ holding stretches for 20-30 seconds.
If you’re pressed for time, the following 5 stretches will work wonders after any cardio or lower body focused workout.
Cool Down Stretches
- Standing Toe Touch Stretch – A great stretch for the hamstrings, glutes, as well as the lower back.
- Deep Lunge with Rotation – A great stretch for the groin, quad and hip flexor.
- Figure 4 Stretch – Another great stretch for the hips, glutes, and lower back. If you choose to perform standing, you can add a quadriceps stretch and alternate back and forth between the two stretches.
- Upper Chest Stretch – A great stretch for opening through the chest and front of the shoulder.
- Side Stretch & Swirl – A great stretch for the spine, while also strengthening the abs and low back.
If you have the time, foam rolling is also a a great way to finish up a workout. Check out Foam Rolling 101 for more information and ideas.
Poll: How do you cool down after working out?
We love adding cool downs to our workouts. Ideally, we try to add one every day, however, as you know, an hour sometimes feels like it isn’t long enough for a simple warmup + workout, let alone skills plus cool down, so the reality ends up being every other day, unless we feel really strongly about a certain workout needing a cool down and then we make it happen.
Our goals with a cool down are to:
- Avoid people going from high intensity to zero intensity within seconds (and staying there for the rest of the day). This usually looks like someone finishing, putting their equipment away, getting in their car and driving away while still breathing like they just ran away from a bear! Taking a walk or moving somehow after a hard workout helps to lower the heart rate while continuing to move blood around. Which helps us recover faster.
- Use the time to debrief, chat about the workout and connect as a community.
- Spend some time while they are nice and warm to get some mobility work in (as they chitchat).
Here are a few go-to cool downs:
Hips, Back, Legs — Equipment
Banded Leg Stretches
KB Groin Stretch
Hips, Back, Legs — No Equipment
Long Lunge Sequence
Hips, Back, Legs — Partner
Partner Hamstring Stretch
Partner Lower Back and Hip Stretch
Shoulders — Equipment
Shoulder Band Stretches
Lying DB Extension
Shoulders — No Equipment
Flexi Swimmer Stretch
Under the Body Thoracic Stretch
Shoulders — Partner
Partner Plate/Thoracic Stretch
Partner Lying Arm Lift
Hanging Thoracic Stretch
Upper/Lower Body Combo — No Equipment
Hip Flexor Pole Stretch
Over the Box Side Stretch
“Warming up and cooling down are good for your exercise performance — you’ll do better, faster, stronger — and for your heart since the increased work on the heart ‘steps up’ with exercise,” said Richard Stein, M.D., professor of cardiology in the Department of Medicine at New York University and co-director of Cardiology Consult Services.
“Stretching also makes many people feel better during and after exercise and in some people decreases muscle pain and stiffness.” When done properly, stretching activities increase flexibility.
So what’s the big deal?
A good warm-up before a workout dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscles’ temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up also helps minimize stress on your heart.
“Warming up before any workout or sport is critical for preventing injury and prepping your body,” said Johnny Lee, M.D., director of the Asian Heart Initiative at the New York University Langone Medical Center and president of New York Heart Associates in New York City.
“Stretching allows for greater range of motion and eases the stress on the joints and tendons, which could potentially prevent injury. Warming up, such as low-heart rate cardio, prepares the circulatory and respiratory system for the upcoming ‘age- and type-appropriate target heart rate’ exercising, whether it’s endurance or sprint type of activities.”
The cool-down is just as critical. It keeps the blood flowing throughout the body. Stopping suddenly can cause light-headedness because your heart rate and blood pressure drop rapidly.
Before you exercise, think about warming up your muscles like you would warm up your car. It increases the temperature and flexibility of your muscles, and helps you be more efficient and safer during your workout. A warm-up before moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity allows a gradual increase in heart rate and breathing at the start of the activity.
- Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes. The more intense the activity, the longer the warm-up.
- Do whatever activity you plan on doing (running, walking, cycling, etc.) at a slower pace (jog, walk slowly).
- Use your entire body. For many people, walking on a treadmill and doing some modified bent-knee push-ups will suffice.
Cooling down after a workout is as important as warming up. After physical activity, your heart is still beating faster than normal, your body temperature is higher and your blood vessels are dilated. This means if you stop too fast, you could pass out or feel sick. A cool-down after physical activity allows a gradual decrease at the end of the episode.
It’s good to stretch when you’re cooling down because your limbs, muscles and joints are still warm. Stretching can help reduce the buildup of lactic acid, which can lead to muscles cramping and stiffness.
- Walk for about 5 minutes, or until your heart rate gets below 120 beats per minute.
- Hold each stretch 10 to 30 seconds. If you feel you need more, stretch the other side and return for another set of stretching.
- The stretch should be strong, but not painful.
- Do not bounce.
- Breathe while you’re stretching. Exhale as you stretch, inhale while holding the stretch.
So do your body a favor. Take time to gradually progress into your workout and cool down when you’re done being physically active.
Why is it important to cool down after exercise?
Always remember to cool down after exercising. This gives your muscles a chance to relax and prevents your blood pressure from dropping too rapidly, which can happen if your blood is allowed to pool in your extremities.
Exercising activates the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that is responsible for your body’s “flight or fight” response. This is your body’s physiologic response to challenges such as running from a saber tooth tiger, defending your home against an intruder, or summoning the nerve to ask someone for a date. Your eyes dilate, heart rate increases, blood pressure rises (in fact, your blood can pump 400 – 600 percent more than when at rest), and your arteries redirect your blood flow away from your abdomen and to your heart, brain, and extremities (if they are active). When you exercise using your arms and legs, the arteries in your extremities dilate to allow blood to flow to them. When you stop exercising, your sympathetic nervous system turns off and your parasympathetic nervous system turns on.
The parasympathetic nervous system takes over when you are at rest, such as immediately after a large meal. Your blood pressure drops, your blood vessels relax and dilate, blood flows to your abdomen, and your heart rate slows. The blood that only moments ago was being powerfully pumped by your sympathetically charged heart no longer has that strong push, and has a tendency to pool in your extremities. The blood does not get to your head, creating the potential for fainting. This can be avoided by cooling down after you exercise.
Cooling Down after Sport – Sports Injury Prevention
Guide to Sports Medicine
A cool down is a session of light exercise that follows demanding physical activity; the session will usually include gentle cardiovascular exercise and stretching activities.
What happens during a cool down session?
In contrast to the warm up session, which aims to increase the heart rate and warm the muscles, the cool down session aims to gradually decrease the heart rate and relax the muscles; an effective cool down will restore the body to its original state. Gentle cardiovascular exercise, such as jogging or walking, will gradually bring body temperature down and decrease the heart rate, while stretching will steadily relax the muscles.
Effects of a cool down session
Aside from bringing body temperature and heart rate down, the cool down helps the body dispose of waste products and toxins generated during exercise; the most well known waste product is lactic acid; if this is allowed to build up in the body, it may cause stiffness and cramp the following day. An effective cool down will also help to prevent dizziness, which can be caused by stopping an activity suddenly.
The cool down is as instrumental to the prevention of injury as the warm up; stopping an activity without cooling down will contribute to a build up of toxic substances and lactic acid which will cause muscular pain and stiffness the day after; this can restrict movement and be very painful. Blood which has been delivered to the muscles to facilitate quick contraction will also build up if a cool down is not completed; this is commonly known as blood pooling. It is also important to take on fluids and top up energy reserves with a carbohydrate-rich meal after exercise.
Sports Injury Prevention Guide Index:
- Sports Injury Prevention – Intro
- Importance of Warming Up before Sport
- Protective Wear during Sport
- Cooling Down after Sport