Your body needs to warm up before exercise, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time sitting at a desk or in your car. You may feel stiff and tight and you know that if you move too quickly, you may just pull a muscle. That same feeling of needing to loosen up is not there after a workout when it comes time to cool down.
Getting people to invest a little time into performing a cool down sometimes feels like an impossible task. After a workout, your body is all hot and warm, you may be sweating, exhausted and in a rush to get on with your busy life. But the benefits of performing a cool down cannot be overstated! Besides helping you improve your fitness level, you’ll certainly feel more comfortable after exercising!Physical Recovery
A good cool down can really help your body recover from any level of exercise. When you exercise, your blood pressure rises in order to cope with the increased demands you’re placing on your body. If you stop abruptly after pushing yourself, your body’s need for an increased blood flow diminishes. Suddenly stopping your workout can make you feel dizzy or sick, so jumping right into the car may not be a good idea.How to cool down after cardio
If you gradually reduce your intensity and then stop your workout, it will allow your heart rate to gradually go back to normal. Your blood vessels will constrict back to their usual size and your blood pressure will return to normal in a more natural way. If you are on a run, gradually reduce your speed and intensity over a 10- minute period until you are eventually in a relaxed walk.Improved flexibility
After your workout is a good time to start working on improving your flexibility. Your body is already warm and your muscles are relaxed, allowing you to easily stretch your muscles to a point of improved flexibility. Stretching after a workout has also been linked to reduced post-workout muscle soreness.How to cool down with stretches
On two to three days of the week, dedicate 15 minutes to performing stretches that include all major muscle groups. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds in duration. Repeat each stretch 3-4 times, each time gently reaching a little further and stretching a little deeper. Some of my favorite cool down stretches are:
For legs: Hamstring stretch, quad stretch by balancing on one leg and bringing the opposite foot to glutes; folding over and touching fingers to toes
For chest: Intertwining fingers behind back and the straightening arms
For arms: Cross one arm over opposite side of body and gently press to stretch out arm muscles; reach arm over shoulder to place on back and gently stretch triceps by pressing at the elbow
For core: The classic cat-cow yoga pose.Greater mental focus
In the same way that I always suggest setting an intention before your workout, I believe it’s equally important to reflect on your workout and calm your mind after. This quiet time after a workout for focusing on your breathing can be very positive. You’ve just pushed yourself in an attempt to improve your body; your natural endorphins are high at this time so chances are you’ll be feeling good. Don’t rush back to the craziness of life right away, instead enjoy this time and think about your goals and how you want to further improve yourself.
You can check out my video on flexibility and stretching on my Fit Tips playlist YouTube to give you some ideas and help you to get started toward making a cool down an essential part of your fitness routine. Like all areas of fitness, you need to tailor your cool down to your own needs. Try to dedicate at least 10 minutes to cooling down after your workout. It’s important to treat your body well, it’s the only one you have!
Written by Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA. Samantha is Director of Fitness Education at Herbalife.