So you just finished a tough workout of 12×400 meters and you are feeling pretty rough. You know that you have finished the workout just in time to get in the cool down, shower, and make it to the couch for movie night with the family. The only problem is that your body is trying to convince you to skip the cool down in favor of a few minutes of relaxing before movie night begins. Now you are face to face with the question you ask yourself every time you do a workout at the track. Is cooling down after exercising really worth?
There are many benefits of cooling down and I want to assure you that the time spent cooling down is worth it. So just what are the benefits of cooling down if everyone keeps telling you that it is worth the time spent doing it.
Reduces Muscle Stiffness
One of the benefits of cooling down is that it helps reduce the amount of muscle stiffness you will have following a hard workout. The cool down also helps reduce the possibility that you might suffer from the dreaded DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). DOMS is muscle soreness that doesn’t typically show up until 24 to 48 hours after the hard workout. When you have less stiffness and less soreness after a hard workout then you will be able to hit the track again for another hard session of intervals sooner.
Avoid Fainting and Dizziness
As you run your blood is pumped out of the legs and straight back to the heart in order for it to be filled again with oxygen for its next turn through the body. This is helped by the contractions of your working muscles in order to push the block back toward the heart. If you were to finish a race or workout and just stand around instead of cooling down then you will be faced with the possibility of fainting or become dizzy because now you do not have the contracting muscles to help pump the blood back to the heart. When you do not cool down after a hard effort then you are basically allowing blood to pool in you legs. By the blood pooling here instead of it being sent back to the heart it causes a dramatic drop in the blood pressure, which could lead to dizziness.
Reduces Hormone Levels
Pete Pfitzinger originally wrote a column that appeared in Running Times Magazine. In the article, Cool-Down For Quick Recovery, Pfitzinger explained that adrenaline and noradrenaline are hormones released by the adrenal glands. These two hormones work to increase the rate and force of the heart contractions. They also work to increase blood flow, increase rate and depth of breathing, and increase the rate at which your muscles breakdown glycogen. Pfitzinger said that when you are running at a level greater than 70% of your VO2 max the levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline in your blood increase quickly. The higher the intensity of the run the higher the level of hormones that are dumped put into the bloodstream. Adrenaline levels in the body will return to resting levels rather quickly. This usually happens within an hour. Noradrenaline, however, can take a lot longer to return to resting levels. A cool-down after exercise helps your body lower the levels of these two hormones rapidly which helps your body recover from the workout faster.
Removing Lactic Acid
Doing a cool-down after running is also a very important part in the process of removing lactic acid. When you do a cool-down you maintain a higher level of blood flow. This higher level increases the rate that lactic acid is removed from your muscles. It also tends to increase the rate at which your muscles can utilize that lactate.
How Do You Cool-Down?
The best way to cool down is to gradually slow down the activity you were doing. If you were running then you could gradually slow to a jog. If you were jogging then you can gradually slow to a walk. In the article mentioned earlier Pfitzinger says that for optimal clearance of adrenaline and lactate you should begin your cool-down at 65 to 70% of your maximum heart rate. Then you can slow down the activity to a much lower level.
After the slowing of exercise it is good to spend some time stretching. While stretching you should hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Stretching is best performed after a workout because your muscles are warm which can increase their ability to stretch without raising the possibility of injury. Stretching helps to keep your running muscles flexible, which will help to maintain a longer stride and decrease the risk of injury.