The cool down after exercise is that boring part that many avoid. And the mistake is so serious, it can be paid for with an injury in the immediate future or a drop in performance in the sport we practice.
At the end of the circuit through which we ran or after executing the repetitions of the routine in the gym, most want to go home and avoid those minimum 10 minutes of return to calm. But coaches and trainers agree that this time is just another part of the plan.
So here we’ll unveil what the post-workout cool-down is for and look at some alternatives to convince you to do it. This way, your next sessions will be healthier and your muscles, heart and lungs will thank you for it.
Table of Contents
What do we call post-exercise cool down?
To understand the post-exercise cool down we have to consider that the body has increased its metabolic rate while we exercised. The physical activity demanded more energy and the body supplied it with more cellular work power, so we burned kilocalories.
What we colloquially refer to as burning denotes changes in temperature. Human systems produce energy by releasing heat and it has to get out so that we do not collapse. How does it do it?
Well, heat is released in the form of radiation, that is, it is emitted to the outside in invisible waves. But it also does so through perspiration, in a very visible and noticeable way. We have an accelerated pulse and an increased respiratory rate. If we do not return to calm, cooling the tissues, they will not function properly for the rest of the day.
Therefore, cooling is the process by which we try to recover the basal metabolic rate and normal values of vital parameters after exercise. If we let time pass, the body will cool itself down, perhaps more slowly and certainly with a greater risk of injury.
What we can do to take advantage of this situation is to plan the cool down after exercise. That is, do it consciously, allocating 5 to 10 minutes for the heart rate to slow down, breathing to normalize and the body temperature to tend to equilibrium.
What are the benefits of cooling down after exercise?
Cooling down, calming down and relaxing after the sports session would have beneficial effects that can be summarized as follows:
- Normalization of the heart rate: the heartbeat has increased in frequency during exercise. If we do not cool down patiently, it is possible that the feeling of exhaustion will be greater in the following hour, as there is a high demand to beat over 100 times in one minute.
- Decrease in respiratory rate: the number of breaths per minute increases due to the increased oxygen demand of the body. This is unsustainable in the long term. This is why it is necessary to recover the normal breathing rate so that the exchange of gases in the cells is profitable. Otherwise, we will actually be using less oxygen, because after a few hours the system becomes inefficient as it works at such a high rate.
- Relaxation: exercise has altered our homeostasis, i.e. internal equilibrium. This is good and is a stimulus for the body to improve. But neither can we live with high levels of disturbance for several hours. In the long run, the constant presence of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol would result in damage. Relaxing slowly offers the body a normalization in hormone secretion and a state of mental calm that enhances the release of stress acquired during sports practice.
- Injury prevention: with certain sports practices, there is a greater fear of the appearance of two particular conditions, which are the limitation of joint range (ROM or range of motion) and stiffness (DOMS or delayed onset muscular soreness). According to a group of sports science specialists, it is not clear that post-exercise stretching is fundamental to avoid both situations, so it is recommended to cool down with any method, as we will see below.
Passive or active cooling?
There are two main ways to cool down after exercise. We can opt for an active or a passive mode.
In the first option we perform some very low impact activity, which can be a continuation of what we have been doing or a different alternative to activate different muscle areas to those worked. For example, we can go from an accelerated running pace to a jog for 5 minutes to finish. Or maybe get on the exercise bike after an hour of machines at the gym.
But it is also possible to do passive cooling. It consists of doing practically nothing but walking a little for about 5 minutes, without too much speed and without sudden movements. You can combine this time with some stretching.
According to a 2018 scientific review, either method is equally effective in preventing long-term injury. Whether you reduce the intensity to follow the inertia of the workout or relax by walking, you will still reap benefits.
Some ideas to apply
Cooling down after exercise is recommended. You can opt for an active mode or a passive mode, but you need to take 10 minutes or so to calm down.
You already know that it doesn’t matter so much how you do it, so the options to choose from are varied. Here are some ideas that you can apply from now on:
- Walk slowly for 5 minutes after exercising. This will be a passive way to cool down that will not demand effort. If you went for a run in the city, set aside the last few blocks back home to do it at a normal pace.
- Stretch without exerting yourself too much. Although scientific evidence has not shown that this eliminates stiffness, we do know that it reduces the concentration of the lactic acid that causes cramps. But be careful! Studies point out that we should not stretch statically for long periods after intense sports because that would be counterproductive. So limit yourself to 5 minutes.
- Focus on the joints if you are an older adult. Preserving joint range of motion is key after age 60. A recent review, published in 2021, claims that the final effect on joints is obtained in the same way with an intense exercise plan as with stretching adapted to old age.
Be that as it may, don’t avoid cooling down after exercise. Your body will appreciate the return to calm and you will avoid wasting the effort put into the routines.