Last week we analysed why it is important to do a proper warm up before starting your training sessions – click here if you missed it!
– now we are taking a closer look at efficient ways to terminate your sessions.
Why are cool downs important?
Just as warm ups help take your body from an inactivity and tightness state to high intensity work, your cool-down has the purpose to bring your body back to a resting state as efficiently as possible.
A well planned cool down is therefore the first step toward a proper recovery which will get you ready for your next session, making sure you benefit from each training session stimulus rather than dragging yourself out for a run because you haven’t quite recovered from your previous effort.
A proper cool down should aim to:
- Lower your heart rate in a controlled and gradual way – suddenly stopping your workout can create a fast drop of your heart rate and you risk getting dizzy as consequence
- Normalising muscle length and tension – to avoid excessive tension building up
- Mental recovery and preparation for your next session
- Re-fuelling the body so that your muscles can repair quickly and efficiently
So what what should your cool down include?
Your cool down should be slightly longer than your warm up, a total of 10-20min. You want to start with 10min of an easy exercise that resembles your activity: easy jogging at a slower pace, or walking as great options after running. Toward the end, incorporate some slow deep breathing to help oxygenate your system. Your heart rate should have now gone down to normal levels; it’s time to focus on lengthening the muscles and stretching!
Keep your stretches gentle, you don’t want to use too much intensity so that you pull a ‘pain-face’; your goal is to promote muscle elasticity and avoid tension building up in the muscles most used during the workout, you are looking to rebalance your body, this is not the time to work on increasing flexibility.
Refuel: during activity our muscles use up all our energy reserves, especially with longer runs. It is important to replenish the energy stores as soon as possible to make sure your muscles are ready to recover and have and building blocks for repair to take place.
Keeping your carbohydrates slightly higher before/after your workouts can help having more energy and making sure glycogen is stored for the next training session. A good meal 30-60min after your session with easily digestible carbohydrates and proteins can help you recover more efficiently. Fats tend to slow down your digestion and nutrients absorption, so they are generally better later on.
Throughout your cool down you should pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you, is there an area that felt more tight or sore than usual? You should probably pay some attention to that area the following day with some additional foam rolling, stretching or massages and warm it up more before your next workout.
Learning to spot the clues that your body is sending you is the first step toward a proper maintenance plan and staying injury free.