One of the most underemphasized components of working out is the cooldown. While the warmup is critical for preparing the body for exercise and the workout itself is essential for building strength and endurance, the cooldown is essential too.
Unfortunately, it’s the portion of a workout that people are most likely to skip. Aside from preventing injuries, cooldowns are important for muscle recovery, flexibility, and removing lactic acid buildup in your muscles.
You probably already know that you need to stretch after a workout, but a proper cool down can help your muscles recover too. When you work out intensely, you build up lactic acid in your muscles, causing your muscles to burn. A cooldown helps remove lactic from your exhausted muscles.
Cooling down also stretches out your tired joints and muscles which can minimize injury risk by increasing range of motion (ROM). Plus, it allows your heart rate to slow in a controlled manner, placing less stress on your cardiovascular system. What are some cooldown practices you can implement that will help you bounce back from your workout faster?
Dynamic stretching is an effective quick cooldown practice to help you bounce back after a workout session. This practice involves engaging in dynamic exercises that enhance the range of motion of your joints and muscles.
Dynamic stretching is beneficial as it encourages blood flow to the muscles, helps return your muscles to their pre-workout state, and improves flexibility, coordination, and balance. Examples of active stretching include high knee marches, lateral lunges, and arm circles Do these movements at the end of your workout to bring your heart rate down in a slow and controlled manner.
Incorporating dynamic stretching into your cooldown routine can improve your recovery after a workout and help you to return to your daily activities feeling more energized and refreshed. It also allows your heart rate to come down in a slow controlled manner.
Static stretching and dynamic stretching are two distinct stretching methods. Static stretching is when you hold a muscle in a stretched position for a certain period, while dynamic stretching involves moving muscles through a full range of motion. Both should be part of your cooldown.
Start with dynamic stretches but then spend a few minutes doing static stretches. To perform static stretching, hold a stretch for 10-30 seconds and repeat it 2-4 times. Static stretching after a workout helps restore muscle length and increase flexibility, so your muscles feel more fluid and less stiff.
Foam rolling is another effective cool-down strategy to boost muscle recovery. It helps reduce muscle tension and improve range of motion, flexibility, and circulation. It is a form of self-myofascial release, which is a technique that uses pressure applied to the soft tissue to improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and increase range of motion. A study found that foam rolling can even reduce muscle soreness after an intense workout.
You can use foam rolling on all major muscle groups, including the arms, chest, back, legs and glutes. For best results, roll slowly and with steady pressure for about 30 seconds. To ensure optimal recovery, foam roll before and after exercise. Plus, you can use foam rolling any time of the day to help reduce tension and increase circulation. It’s an effective way to counter too much sitting.
Self-massage is another tool to aid in muscle recovery and cool down after a workout. Massaging muscles helps to increase blood flow and reduce muscle tension. How to do it? Using a foam roller, massage ball, or other self-massage tools, focus on the areas that feel the most tension. Move slowly and take the time to apply pressure to the areas that need it the most. To maximize the effects, go over each area multiple times. You can even experiment with different techniques, such as circular motions or tapping, to find the best way to target the source of the tension.
Another effective cooldown and recovery strategy is mindful breathing. After stretching, find a comfortable position and focus on your breath. Begin by taking deep, slow breaths, inhaling through your nose, and exhaling through your mouth. Picture the air as it flows through your body, allowing your muscles to relax and releasing tension built up during your workout. During this time, be aware of your body and how it feels. If you notice areas of tension or discomfort, focus on your breath, and allow it to flow through those areas, helping to release any tightness. Mindful breathing is an incredibly powerful tool that can help you recover from a workout faster and relieve stress.
Focus on Hydration
Staying hydrated is one of the best tactics to speed up cooldown after exercise. Hydration is particularly important after intense exercise, as the body loses a significant amount of water through sweat. Drinking fluids helps to replenish fluid and electrolytes (if you drink an electrolyte-rich beverage), which in turn, helps restore homeostasis and promote recovery.
If you exercised for more than 90 minutes, choose a rehydration drink that contains electrolytes, as this helps replenish sodium, potassium, and chloride lost through sweating. One way to determine how much to drink is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. Then, drink 20-24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight you lost.
Also, monitor your urine color. Urine color can range from pale straw to deep amber, and each color can tell you something about your hydration. Pale straw-colored urine is an indication of proper hydration, while darker colors suggest that you may be slightly dehydrated.
Have a post-workout snack to replenish your glycogen stores and refuel your body. To do this, consume a snack with a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of 4 to 1. Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel and provide your muscles with energy. Protein helps rebuild and repair muscles following exercise. So, reach for a snack containing a mix of healthy carbs and proteins, such as a banana topped with nut butter, or a protein shake with fresh berries. Not only will this help to restore your glycogen stores, but it’ll help ensure that you’re ready to tackle your next workout with the same enthusiasm and energy.
Post-workout cooldowns are an important part of your fitness routine. Cooldowns help you physically and mentally recover from your workouts, as well as reduce muscle soreness and improve your mobility. There are many different post-workout cooldowns that you can do, such as stretching, foam rolling, and active recovery. Try out different cooldowns and find the ones that work best for you but at the very least do dynamic stretching, static stretching, and proper hydration and refueling.
- “Cooldown Exercises: 16 Ways to Cool Down with Instructions – Healthline.” 17 Dec. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/cooldown-exercises.
- “Foam Roller Benefits, Risks, and How To – Healthline.” 11 Apr. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/foam-roller-benefits.
- Macdonald GZ, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Jan;46(1):131-42. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a123db. PMID: 24343353.
- “Proper Hydration for Exercise – Water or Sports Drinks.” https://www.dps.texas.gov/section/training-operations-tod/proper-hydration-exercise-water-or-sports-drinks.
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