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Article by Brad LeLievre:
We discussed last time about the importance of warming up and getting the body ready to for the impending workout. Now that the workout is complete, what next? The next step should be a proper cool down.
Now the reason many fitness enthusiasts do not include a cool down in their routine is because they just do not really understand the benefits or the goals of including a cool down period so let’s start by looking their. One of the main focusses of a solid workout is to raise the heart rate; to get the blood flowing. We all understand that getting “your sweat on” helps us burn calories and improve our cardiovascular fitness. While a warm up intends to gradually bring the heart rate up a cool down intends on doing the complete opposite; to gradually bring the heart rate down. This will help us avoid the heart rate dropping too quickly and reducing the risk of becoming dizzy or fainting. This is why you will notice on treadmills and other various cardio equipment they always have a cool down programmed into your workout. The last thing anyone wants is to faint after a workout! So when the heart rate is escalated we need to recognize this and bring it back down safely; usually a 5-7 walk on the treadmill will suffice to achieve this goal, getting slower every minute or so to make it drop at a safe rate.
Another important reason for the inclusion of a proper cool down is because we are working our muscles. This seems obvious but let me explain what this means. When we work our muscles we are constantly flexing them. They repeatedly tighten and tighten some more. Think of a stress ball or something along those lines. Every time we flex/squeeze the ball it tightens up. Now the more we do that the more it wants to stay tightened. Our bodies are amazing at adapting to outside stimuli, and this instance is a prime example. The muscles, being constantly tightened, react to this by trying to stay in that state. A proper cool down stretch session aims at counteracting this affect by making our muscles think that the natural state is indeed a lengthened resting state. So for this we try to focus mainly on stretching out the muscles affected by the workout itself. This is not to say that if we just finished up an upper body workout that we should stretch out our legs as well. As long as they are warmed up, by all means. What I mean is if we did do an upper body workout we definitely need to stretch those specific muscles back out to avoid them tightening up. I would also advocate stretching the legs as well because any added flexibility training can only benefit us because as we get older the tightness creeps up on us all; anything to help hold this off is always welcomed.
Much like a quick warmup, a 10 minute or so cool down after each workout can be more effective than we usually think. There is even evidence that a good cool down can lower the amount of delayed-onset muscle soreness (that pain the next day that sometimes occurs after a workout), though more study needs to be done there to confirm that. If nothing else, a good cool down can feel nice and leave you feeling a little more relaxed after a good workout. And these days, any extra relaxation we can get is a positive!
Here is an example of a solid cool down;