I know I should cool down after a workout. But most of the time, my idea of “cooling down” is simply heading straight to the showers and turning the hot water to low.
What’s the big deal about doing a cool-down anyway? According to Gareth Nock, a Toronto-based team training specialist with GoodLife Fitness, cool-downs are important because they allow your heart rate and blood pressure to gradually return to their pre-exercise levels.
“We don’t want to, kind of, shock it back down to normal too quickly, so you give it that chance to slowly come down,” Nock says.
This helps regulate blood flow, he explains, and prevents soreness from developing in the muscles you’ve just worked. He adds there’s some research to suggest that doing some postexercise stretching can help reduce muscle soreness as well.
Nock typically has his athletes do a cool-down for roughly the last five minutes of their workout. So, for example, if they’re doing a heavy cardio session, he’ll encourage them to end it with a brisk walk or a brisk cycle, and gradually slowing down, spending about five minutes doing so.
“We often want the cool down to be mimicking the activities you’ve been doing, but at a lower intensity or a lower pace,” he explains.
He then has them do whole-body stretches, focusing on the big muscle groups they’ve used the most during the workout.
How can you tell whether your cool-down is sufficient? There’s no secret formula. Nock says the key indicator is how your body feels.
“Often we get those highs and an adrenaline spike when we’re working out and exercising, and we want to try and reduce that stress on the nervous system and the body,” he says, explaining that after a proper cool-down, you should feel calm and relaxed.
Check how you’re feeling during the day or two after your workout as well, Nock advises. If you’re feeling really sore and stiff, you may want to re-evaluate your cool-down routine. Add a few more minutes next time, he suggests, and take your time winding down.