If you are a runner looking for the best method to cool down after your runs, then you are in the right place.
The cool-down is the last portion of your workout, and it’s key for a smooth transition back to “normal life.” In fact, the cool-down is actually one of the most important and underrated portions of a running routine.
During the cool down, the heart rate slows down, and blood redistributes to your major organs, especially the brain.
That’s why I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a cool down immediately after a run.
I don’t want to sound like a nagging prune, but you must incorporate a proper cooldown—along with a stretching routine—immediately following your runs.
In today’s post, I’ll delve a little deeper into the many benefits that cool-downs have to offer along with practical cool-down guidelines to help you get the most out of it.
So are you excited? Then here we go.
Cool-Downs and Recovery Rate—Reality or Myth?
According to conventional wisdom, a proper cool down can reduce muscle soreness, cut the risk of injury, and speed up recovery time.
But is there any evidence to support this? Should you invest any of your precious time in a cool down? Does the cool down help reduce post-workout muscle soreness?
Well, here is the simple answer.
Recent research has shown that this is not the case.
In fact, study has found no concrete evidence that (traditional) cool down methods can help prevent muscle soreness after exercise.
Don’t get me wrong.
This does not mean that the cool-down is a complete waste of your time.
As we are going to see, the cool-down has its own benefits.
And You should never toss it to the side.
Nonetheless, you MUST and SHOULD cool down after a run.
And here why.
Cool Down Benefits
The main aim of a cool-down is to bring your body back to resting state, or near the resting level for breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and other factors.
In fact, in some individuals (especially those who are extremely out of shape or have cardiovascular issues) stopping on the spot can lead to extreme dizziness, even a loss of consciousness.
This brings me to the main benefit that cooldowns have to offer: preventing blood pooling.
So what is it?
And how does it affect you?
Blood Pooling – The Walking Portion
Running causes an increase in cardiac output.
While running, your heart is beating harder than normal to pump a significant amount of blood to the working muscles, especially those of the legs.
This blood carries both the nutrients and oxygen required for the working muscles.
Once it reaches the muscles, the oxygen and nutrients are turned into fuel.
Then the force of the contracting muscles around the blood vessels pushes the blood all the way back to the heart (against gravity) where it’s re-oxygenated and re-circulated.
But here is the problem.
When you stop running on the spot, your muscles are no longer contracting against your blood vessels, stopping the force that pushes the blood back to the heart.
This causes blood pooling in the lower extremities, resulting in lightheadedness, wooziness, nausea, even fainting.
That said, here is the good news…
A proper cool down provides your veins with ample time to contract and for the blood pressure to drop, which helps transition blood from the lower extremities to the resting flow patterns, preventing blood pooling in the process.
Additional resource – Calf pulls in runners
Increase Flexibility & Mobility – The Stretching Part
Nonetheless, I still believe it’s a vital part of any training program. Stretching can help relieve tension, increase flexibility and promote recovery.
The Exact Cool Down Breakdown
Proper cool-down consists of the following two elements:
The Jogging to Walking Portion
During a cool-down, you’re still moving your body, but just at a slower, gentler, rate.
You are not standing still.
Think of this like exiting off the expressway, then slowly making the transition from running, to low intensity jogging to easy effort walking.
Begin a cool down is with low-intensity, easy jogging immediately following your workout.
Next, walk for a few minutes until your pulse and breathing rate gradually return to normal.
This can help you decrease total body temperatures and move waste products away from the working muscles.
The Stretching Portion
Next, comes the total-body stretch routine.
According to the American Council on Exercise, stretching is more beneficial when performed post exercise, mainly as a part of the cool down.
After a run, your muscles are warmed up so they are more pliable and elastic, which can help you get the most benefits in flexibility while preventing muscle tears and injury.
During the cool down, your muscles will be well warmed, tissues more flexible, which reduces the likelihood of injury.
Post run stretching can also help you release the tension from the workout.
How to stretch?
If you are a newcomer to the world of stretching, then you start out with a few basic static stretches post run.
Think of stretching as an integral part of your workout routine.
It should feel as natural and routine as walking to warm up before a run.
An ideal stretching sequence should last 10 to 15 minutes of static exercises.
Stretch your muscles in a slow, focused and gentle manner, holding the stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds and then switch sides.
Stretch every muscle to its greatest range of motion, but do not overdo it. You’ll only hurt yourself by doing so.
Do not force a stretch beyond the point of mild discomfort.
Keep in mind that stretching should never feel painful.
If it feels so, then you are doing it wrong.
Don’t hold your breath.
Breathe deep and use your breath to release any tension or tightness in your muscles.
Whatever you do, do not stretch a cold muscle as doing so can lead to muscle tear and injury.
What to Stretch?
Stretch every major group muscles—especially your running muscles.
First, stretch your hamstrings—these are the muscles located on the back of your thighs.
Research has linked tightness in this area to lower back pain, knee issues, and overuse injury.
And you don’t want that.
Next, stretch your quadriceps—the muscles at the front of your thighs.
Your iliotibial band—a band of tissue running from the hips to your knee along the outside of the leg.
Also, stretch the muscles around your hips—and that includes the gluteal muscles, the lateral rotator muscles, the adductor muscles, and the iliopsoas muscles.
Don’t forget about your calf muscles.
Tightness in this area may limit stride efficiency as well as increase the risks of muscle cramps and injury.
Here are the 5 Stretches you Nee:
The Standing Hamstring Stretching
The Laying Hamstring Stretching
The Quad Stretch
The Hip Opener Stretch
The Standing Calf Stretch
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