Why it’s hot to cool down

It may be chilly outside at the moment but that’s no excuse for skipping your cool-down.

We all know the importance of warming up before an exercise session but few of us take the time to cool down properly afterwards. Spending as little as 10 minutes cooling down at the end of your workout can help your body to recover faster and perform better the next time you train.

Cooling down helps to dissipate waste products such as lactic acid which accumulate in the body during exercise and can reduce muscle soreness and the risk of injury. A proper cool-down enables the body temperature to decrease and breathing and blood flow to return to normal.

During exercise blood is pumped to the working muscles. Stopping suddenly can result in blood pooling in the limbs which, in turn, can cause a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, fainting and even abnormal heart rhythms.

The cool-down should take the form of active recovery, gradually decreasing the intensity of the exercise and allowing the body to return to its resting state. Ideally it should reflect the type of exercise performed during the conditioning phase. After a run, for example, an appropriate cool-down would be light jogging or walking.

Depending on the intensity of your workout and your current fitness level you should spend five to 10 minutes on this section of the cool-down. Fitter individuals will need less time to recover. You should finish your cool-down with some stretching.

During exercise the muscles contract and shorten and although there is no definitive evidence that stretching reduces post-exercise stiffness it certainly helps the muscles to return to their normal resting length.

Make sure you stretch all of the muscle groups worked during your training session and hold each stretch for a minimum of 10 seconds. Pay particular attention to tight spots. Anyone who wants to increase their flexibility should hold the stretch for longer.

Make sure you rehydrate immediately after your workout and eat an appropriate snack, containing both carbohydrates and protein within an hour. This will help your body to recover from your workout and kickstart the repair process.

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