Exercise is an essential factor in maintaining your joint health, as well as your overall health and wellness. Warming up before you exercise not only helps prepare you for your workout but also promotes greater strength and flexibility and prevents injury. NEBH Athletic Trainers and Physical Therapists explain why your cool down is just as important as your warm up, and should be more than an after-thought when you work out.
If you’re participating in a high-energy form of exercise, particularly a cardio workout, suddenly stopping without cooling down can lead to dizziness. Cool downs keep your blood circulating, which brings oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and helps them grow and repair. The most immediate benefit of the cool down, and perhaps the one that you will most enjoy, is that it can help reduce soreness after your workout by reducing lactic acids and toxin buildup.
A good cool down will slowly lower your heart rate and decrease your body temperature; it is your transition from intense exercise to rest. Begin with a low-level cardio activity that resembles the exercise you were doing, like walking if you were running or slow-paced cycling if you were biking. Complete it for about 3-5 minutes.
Continue your cool down with 10 minutes of static stretches. Make sure to stretch the major muscles you used, particularly your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, core, back, and shoulders. Here are a few sample cool down stretches, which you should hold for 15-30 seconds each:
Toe touch: Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend over and touch your toes. You should feel the stretch in the back of your legs. When you’re done with the stretch, slowly return to a standing position.
Standing Quadriceps stretch: From a standing position, bend one knee back and hold onto your foot, gently pulling your heel toward your buttocks so that you feel a stretch in your quad. Repeat on both legs.
Arm Cross Pulls: Put one arm cross your chest and use your other arm to pull the first closer into your chest. You should feel the stretch in your shoulder.
Remembering to cool down and stretch after you exercise will help your muscles stay healthy and strong so you can benefit from the hard work you put in during your workout.