The cool down after a workout is one of those things that’s drummed into you from a young age. It will stop your muscles getting sore, make you more flexible, speed up recovery and make your performance better on your next workout. But is this really true?
Recent studies have shown that the post-workout cool down actually does nothing to prevent soreness the next day, but another study found that it does slightly improve performance if working out the next day. So if the only benefit the cool down really offers isn’t that significant, is there any point? In short, yes. Although the advantages you’re told about aren’t actually that big, the true importance of the cool down is to bring your body back to it’s normal state steadily.
At the end of a workout, your body will be working at it’s hardest to meet the physical needs of the exercise. Your heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels and breathing are all elevated. You need to bring these levels back down to where they were pre-workout but it needs to be done gradually, otherwise the abrupt change will risk you passing out and leaving you feeling unwell. The best way to cool down is to keep moving. Let’s say you’ve just completed a HIT session. At this point your body is working overtime and you need to bring it down gently. Static stretches will not help you at this point, in fact the best thing you can do is get on the treadmill or even just walk around the gym. Keep yourself at a walking pace for a few minutes until you can feel your body returning to normal.
Once you’ve lowered your body’s activity levels, you can continue onto the stretches. Although the after effects aren’t as great as we once thought, the stretch does still have a part to play. It allows you to bring your mind out of the workout, and is becoming viewed as more psychologically beneficial rather than physically beneficial. That being said, a long stretch at the end of a workout can feel amazing, so it’s worth it just for this! Stretches do however remain an important part of the warm up. They are vital in getting the muscles ready and helping to prevent injury and they also open up the body to let oxygen flow more freely.