Why Is Cooling Down After Exercise Important?
You love the feeling of pushing yourself to your physical limits. Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, powerlifter, or another type of fitness enthusiast, you know that the way to reach your goals is to work hard. However, in the quest to become faster or stronger, you can’t neglect recovery.
So, what helps muscle recovery? Well, recovery begins with the cool down.
Why is it important to cool down after physical activity or any type of exercise, for that matter? Just as there are many benefits of warming up before exercise, there are just as important reasons for the cool down period. In short, a proper cool down period jump-starts the recovery process by allowing your body to return to homeostasis. It also allows your brain to process the workout.
Where does it come from?
A New Zealand Sports Medicine journal study analyzed the question of “why is it important to cool down after a workout?” and found that the benefits for immediate performance improvement were negligible.1
However, the overall physiological benefits for recovery were apparent. It’s important to note that this study evaluated active, rather than passive, cool down measures.
The positive outcomes of an active cool down include the following.
#1 Lowers heart rate
When you perform vigorous exercise, your heart rate escalates. Cooling down allows it to slow to a normal pace gradually.2 If you perform an exercise with maximum effort and stop suddenly, you risk feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
Let’s use running as an example. You’re performing a tempo workout that has your heart rate at 85 to 90 percent of your maximum rate. Depending on your level of fitness, the exact number of beats per minute will vary. However, you don’t want to just stop running abruptly. Instead, slow your pace to a jog, then a walk until your heart rate reaches about 120 beats per minute.
This gradual slowing ensures that your body has a chance to realign its systems and return your cardiovascular system to its normal level of functioning.
#2 Regulates Blood Flow
Along with a reduction in heart rate, cooling down helps your blood pressure to stabilize. When you exercise, your blood is pumped through your extremities quickly and returns to your heart for re-oxygenation. If you stop suddenly, your blood pressure drops. This means that your blood isn’t moved through your veins at the pace needed.
Cooling down gives your systems a chance to sync with one another and gradually recover.
#3 Slows breathing
In conjunction with regulating your cardiovascular system, it’s essential to return your breathing to normal. You’ll be breathing heavily during an intense exercise, and cooling down gives you a chance to slow your breath and take in enough oxygen to fuel the rest of your body’s adjustments to a relaxed state.
#4 May reduce soreness
An intense workout session will likely leave your muscles a little sore.3 This is a normal response to stress. When you push yourself during exercise, you’re actually creating tiny tears in your muscles. The healing of these tears is how your muscles become stronger.
Your cool down keeps your blood flowing instead of allowing it to pool. The constant flow of blood to your muscles is believed to help them heal more quickly, thus preventing extreme soreness in the days following your most strenuous workouts.
#5 Speeds Up Recovery
Because a cool down allows your body to stabilize its systems gradually and prevents exceedingly sore muscles the next day, you’ll feel recovered more quickly. This means you can bounce back in time for your next challenging workout.
Recovery is a critical component of the fitness cycle, and you want to do anything you can to help your body heal between efforts.
#6 Gives You a Mental Boost
Lastly, cooling down gives you a psychological boost to go along with the physiological benefits. The mental benefits of cooling down include:
- A chance to reflect on the workout
- Moments to celebrate your accomplishments
- Time to enjoy the endorphin rush
- Mindful breathing for stress relief
As you can see, the benefits of cooling down are extensive. With only 5 to 10 minutes of your time, you can return your body to homeostasis and allow your mind to process the workout and relax.
What Happens if I Don’t Cool Down After a Workout?
Skipping your cool down can impact your ability to be ready to go again the next day.4 When you’re training for a big event or you’re trying to stick to a strict exercise regimen, you don’t want any interruptions to your performance. Cooling down properly will help you avoid these problems:5
- Increased injury risk – After a rigorous workout, your muscles are warm and loose. Use this to your benefit by stretching them while they’re primed, and you’ll increase your range of motion and flexibility. If you don’t, you put yourself at risk of injury as a result of tight muscles.
- Poor recovery – Cooling down helps your muscles flush out lactic acid, which when it builds up, can cause cramping, nausea, pain, and weakness.
- Blood pooling – After you finish your workout, your heart rate slows. If this is too abrupt, blood can pool in your legs instead of making its way to your heart and brain. This can cause you to feel dizzy and even faint. Cooling down helps your heart rate slow more gradually so you can stay on your feet.
- Delayed onset muscle soreness – The soreness you feel after an intense exercise is the result of micro-tears in the muscles that occur when you stress them through effort. When you skip the cool down, blood flow to your muscles decreases, which delays the recovery process. This causes the pain to linger for a longer period.
What Are Some Examples of Cool Down Exercises?
Now that you know why it’s essential to cool down after your exercise routine, let’s talk about how you should approach your recovery. The National Association of Sports Medicine recommends the following examples of active recovery.6
Modified Versions of the Activity
One of the easiest ways to cool down after exercise is to simply slow down. Taking 5 to 10 minutes at the end of your hard session can include:
- Walking or slow jogging after a run
- Easy pedaling after an intense bike session
- Gentle swimming
These slower activities allow your body to gradually return to its normal state rather than coming to an abrupt stop.
Low-Intensity Resistance Exercises
Another cool down option is to perform sets of low-intensity resistance exercises. Examples of these include:
- Side-to-side band walks
- Pull apart a resistance band to stretch shoulders and back
Try two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for each exercise to lower your heart rate and prevent muscle strain or cramping.
Another post-exercise cool down option is stretching. After a workout, stretching your muscles helps to release and remove the lactic acid that has built up.7 This may help you recover more quickly from your session.
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
There’s often confusion on what type of stretching you should do. Dynamic stretching is meant to be done before you work out as it helps raise your heart rate and core temperature in preparation for exercise. Static stretching, on the other hand, helps stimulate muscle recovery after your exercise session is completed.
How Long Should You Cool Down After a Workout?
The length of your cool down depends on the type of recovery you’re doing. In general, the following guidelines apply to cool down activities:
- Aerobic exercise – If you’re running, biking, or performing another intense cardiovascular activity, the general rule is to slow down for as long as it takes for your heart rate to reach 120 beats per minute. This could take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how vigorously you were exercising.
- Low-intensity resistance exercises – You should aim for two sets of each exercise for low-intensity resistance exercises such as squats, bridges, and lunges. Ideally, your cool down should take about 6 to 10 minutes to complete.
- Static stretching – You should try to hold each stretch for between 10 to 30 seconds. You should stretch each muscle group that was used during exercise as well as any complementary muscles.
These are guidelines for cooling down after your workout. However, if you don’t feel like this is enough time, you can always extend this period until you’ve reached your ideal state.
Find Your Recovery Supplies at Tru Grit
Working out requires a cool down period to return your body to a comfortable state. Active cool downs will prevent excessive muscle soreness so that you’re ready to jump into your next workout with vigor. Here at Tru Grit, we admire your dedication to personal fitness. That’s why we carry a wide variety of fitness equipment to meet all your exercise needs.
We’re also here to help you recover.
You’ll find the latest recovery tools from foam rollers to massagers in our store. Check it out today and get ready to feel better tomorrow.
Sports Medicine. Do We Need a Cool Down After Exercise? A Narrative Review of the Psychophysiological Effects and the Effects on Performance, Injuries, and the Long-term Adaptive Response. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5999142/
Mayo Clinic. Aerobic Exercise: How to Warm Up and Cool Down. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045517
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Effect of Aerobic Recovery Intensity on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Strength.
Tri-City Medical Center. Why Warming Up and Cooling Down Is Important. https://www.tricitymed.org/2016/12/warming-cooling-important/
American Council On Exercise. Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Skip Your Cool Down After Exercise. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3683/five-reasons-you-shouldn-t-skip-your-cool-down-after-exercise/
NASM. Active Recovery Workouts: What to Do On Your Rest Day. https://blog.nasm.org/active-recovery
American Council on Exercise. 10 Reasons Why You Should Be Stretching. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/6387/10-reasons-why-you-should-be-stretching/
American Heart Association. Warm Up, Cool Down. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/warm-up-cool-down