Why You Should Never Skip Your Post-Workout Cool-Down
One of the biggest culprits for skipping your workout? Not having enough time. That not only translates to missed classes and training sessions, but it usually means that when you do manage to get to the gym, you're more inclined to cut corners (like reps, sets, stretches, warm-ups, and cooldowns) to save some precious time.
But when it comes to your post-workout cool-down exercises, you're really doing your body a disservice by bypassing it. Coming down from, say, a run or a Tabata circuit by slowing your movements and slowly bringing down your heart rate can help you recover more easily, and increase heart health over time, according to research published in the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online.
The Benefits of Workout Cool-Downs
Read on to learn about a few more reasons why you shouldn't skip your post-workout cool-down.
It controls your post-workout blood flow.
Exercise helps get your blood flowing, so abruptly stopping can actually cause your blood pressure to drop rapidly. When blood pressure drops too quickly, it can cause you to feel light-headed, which is why Heather Henri, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, recommends cooling down for about six minutes after you've completed a workout. Fainting is also a risk, as this impact on blood flow could cause blood to pool in your lower extremities, which delays its return to your heart and brain, according to research done by the American Council on Exercise. Cool-down exercises also reduce the concentration of lactic acid. Using active recovery (here are some active recovery exercise examples) to slowly reduce effort, you can actually increase power and endurance during your next round, too. This is exactly why you shouldn't totally rest between sets during your workout.
It safely slows down your heart rate.
Your internal body temperature rises during a workout, which means your blood vessels are dilated and your heart is beating faster than normal. It's important to gradually, and safely bring your heart rate back down after a workout, says Dr. Henri. Skipping the cool-down and dropping the heart rate suddenly can put added stress on your heart, according to research published in the journal Frontiers of Medical and Biological Engineering. Try slowing down your movements from, for example, a faster dance cardio flow to a slower one, a run to a walk, or a plyometric exercise to a movement with both feet on the ground, suggests Deborah Yates, a certified group fitness director for the Bay Club in Silicon Valley.
It prevents injury.
Incorporating cool-down exercises and stretches after your workout can help prevent injuries, and that goes for fitness rookies and seasoned athletes alike. Sprains, strains, and tears in the lower back, hip flexors, knees, hamstrings, and quadriceps are some of the most common injuries, says Yates. So, you'll want to focus on elongating your muscle fibers, which have been under tension during your workout, to achieve your full range of motion.
"Activities like stretching, foam rolling and mobility exercises are great recovery tools to reduce injury," says certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and Isopure athlete Briana Bernard. (P.S. Read Bernard's incredible story about how she lost 107 pounds and gained a whole new attitude on fitness and life through powerlifting.)
It increases your flexibility.
The best time to work on your flexibility is when your body is fully warm and you're breaking a sweat. But instead of hopping off the treadmill and going directly into a toe touch, experts suggest doing some dynamic stretches first. This can decrease your risk of injury, relieve back pain, and improve athletic performance, said Tanja Djelevic, Crunch fitness trainer, in "6 Active Stretches You Should Be Doing." Taking time for this kind of cool-down exercise can also increase your flexibility and mobility over time, which is thought to help avoid muscle tears, back pain, and joint issues. (Still wondering which is more important, mobility or flexibility? Find out. The answer might surprise you.)
Cool-Down Exercises to Add to Your Post-Workout Routine
"Cool-down exercises are vital after any strength training or cardio workout," says Bernard. Here, she shares five of her favorite cool-down exercises and stretches that work for any type of workout. She recommends doing these movements immediately following your workout while your muscles are still warm. All you need is a wall, a foam roller, and a small ball.
Upper-to Lower Back Foam Rolling:
A. Lying on the floor facing up, place a form roller under your low-back. Place hands behind head; elbows out wide.
B. Walk feet forward as the foam roller rolls through your mid-back, upper-back, then shoulders; stopping at your trap muscles (the muscles on the inside of your shoulder blades from beneath your neck, through the upper back). Go slowly.
C. Walk feet backward, rolling the foam roller back to starting position.
D. Repeat as many times as necessary
Calf and Hamstring Wall Stretch:
A. Stand facing a wall. Anchor right heel on floor and place right toes on wall, while keeping left flat on the floor.
B. With right leg straight, lean forward into the wall to feel a stretch from your hamstring, through calf, to your heel. Hold here for 20 seconds.
C. Repeat on opposite side.
A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend right knee, and reach back with right hand to grab the top of right foot.
B. Pull right heel toward right glute, while keeping pelvis tucked and glutes engaged to prevent arching of your low back. Hold for 20 seconds.
C. Repeat on oposite side.
Chest-Opener Wall Stretch:
A. Stand facing a wall, ideally at a corner. Place the entire inside of your right arm and palm up against the wall.
B. Rotate the rest of your body to the left (away from the wall) to feel a stretch through the front of your right arm from bicep, through shoulder, to chest. Hold for 20 seconds.
C. Repeat on opposite side.
Lacrosse Ball Mobility Exercise:
A. Lay flat on your back on the floor and place a small, firm ball — such as lacrosse or tennis ball — under your right trap muscle.
B. Raise right arm up toward the ceiling with your palm facing in. Pivot your palm so your thumb faces down, then slowly lower right arm toward floor. Raise is up to starting position. Repeat 5 times.
C. Roll ball down one inch on your back, stopping when you find another tender spot. Repeat movement pattern, lifting and lowering arm five more times.
D. Repeat sequence, moving ball, lifting/lowering arm as necessary. Repeat on left side.