Although it may seem insignificant to go from sprinting around the block to crashing on the couch—or from slinging weights to hopping in the car—skipping your cool-down after training is a major mistake, says Izabela Chrobak, Ph.D., a sports, motivation, and Spartan SGX coach based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Most coaches agree that these extra 5 to 10 minutes at the end of intense exercise are necessary to ease your body safely out of high-energy mode to balanced calm. Here are three very good reasons you should make a cool-down a consistent part of every workout, along with some moves to help make it easy.
1. It Helps Your heart
When you train hard, your heart rate obviously elevates. A cool-down, says Chrobak, will help bring it back to its natural resting level. That’s good for your health. “Bringing your heart rate down under slow, controlled conditions allows you to leave the gym or workout area safely,” she says. Otherwise, you’re at risk of nausea, dizziness, or passing out, none of which is a good idea if you’re driving to and from training.
2. It Lowers Your Core Temp
“A cool-down is also necessary to bring down your body’s core temperature,” Chrobak says. While it’s normal to work up a sweat as well as a thirst when you’re pushing your body to the max, excessive stress may elevate temperatures to dangerous levels, all of which can lead to dehydration and fatigue, among other health risks.
3. It Eases Your Pain
According to Chrobak, lactic acid can build up during intense exercise when your muscles need a fuel injection and oxygen is in short supply. Your body starts using glucose as a fuel substitute to side-step fatigue. The result? Lactic buildup, which feels like a burning sensation in your muscles. “Once you decrease the intensity of your exercise through a cool-down, your body will naturally flush the lactic acid and the soreness in your muscles will decrease,” she says.
So what makes a good cool-down? Chrobak recommends foam-rolling and static stretches or yoga poses.
“Foam-rolling addresses any myofascial knotting, releasing the tension and allowing blood flow to nourish the muscles,” she explains. Exercises can last from 10 to 30 seconds. Check out the Spartan Guide to Foam Rolling.
“Yoga poses calm down the heart rate and slow the metabolism,” adds Chrobak. “While stretching releases myofascial buildups and helps muscles be less sore next time round.”
Sounds like a lot to do after a bout of tough training? Here’s another great thing about a cool-down: 5 to 10 minutes is enough time to get your heart and temperature back to pre-exercise levels—but with the added feeling of a workout high.
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5 Simple Cool-Down Static Stretches
Chest: Stand straight, feet shoulder-width apart, and put your arms straight behind your back. Interlace your fingers. Now straighten your arms as far as you can, move your shoulders up and back to open your chest, and lift your chin. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
Shoulders: Bend both arms overhead and grasp one at the elbow joint. Extend the palm of the grasped arm down the center of the back, gently pulling the elbow with the opposite hand so that you feel a stretch in the shoulder area. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch arms and repeat.
Quads: Stand straight with feet together. Bend one leg up behind you, catching the foot with the opposite hand. Maintain stability by reaching back your other arm and holding your foot with both hands. Hold position for 20 to 30 seconds and then switch legs and repeat.
Hamstrings: Lie on your back, and lift one straight leg directly above your hips. Grasp your calf or thigh with both hands, pressing your heel toward the ceiling as you pull your leg toward your chest. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
Glutes: Remain on your back and bend one leg at the knee, foot flat on the floor. Cross the other leg over the bent knee and bring the bent knee toward your chest, gently pulling on the back of your thigh. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
3 Simple Cool-Down Yoga Poses
Butterfly: Sit tall and bend your knees, pulling your heels toward your pelvis. Press the soles of your feet together, using your first finger and thumb to hold onto your big toes. Keep the pelvis in a neutral position while lengthening your spine. Hold this position for 30 seconds, breathing deeply, then relax.
Wide-legged forward fold: Stand with hands on your hips and feet approximately 3 to 4 feet apart. Ensure feet are parallel to one another with toes pointing forward. Brace your core and slowly hinge at the hips, allowing your torso to fold forward with the crown of the head pointing toward the floor. Slowly release the arms and hands so they hang downward while keeping a slight bend in the knees. Do this for 20 to 30 seconds breathing deeply, feeling a stretch in the hamstrings, calves, and inner thighs.
Cat-cow: On all fours, round your back like a cat, and then invert it, making a C-shape with your spine, Repeat three to five times.
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