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Have you ever skipped a cool-down? Most people admit to skimping on the cool-down section of their workout, because they’re pressed for time or tired from the main section of their workout. I’m here to remind you that a good cool-down is crucial.
The majority of people who exercise wouldn’t dream of working out without doing some sort of a warm-up, but why is it so common to find people skipping out on their cool-down? I think it’s because it’s logical to assume that in order to move well, your body needs to be prepared. Though cooling down is often skipped, it’s a part of your workout that your body will benefit from in the aftermath of a workout.
Your body needs to warm up before exercise, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time sitting at your desk or stuck behind the wheel of your car on a long commute. You may feel stiff and tight, and you know that if you move too quickly you may just pull a muscle. That same feeling of needing to loosen up is not there after a workout when it comes time to cool down.
I believe that we are conditioned into performing a warm-up and skipping a cool-down from a very young age. At school, I recall always doing pre-game activities, but never a specific cool-down. When I started competing in more structured environments, the importance of a cool-down became an essential part of every practice.
Getting people to invest a little time into performing a cool-down sometimes feels like an impossible task. Lets face it, after a workout your body is all hot and you may be sweating, exhausted and in a rush to get on with your busy life. Let me explain some of the benefits of performing a cool-down, and the reasons why an effective cool-down routine can help you improve your fitness level. You’ll certainly feel more comfortable after exercising.
A good cool-down can really help your body recover from any level of exercise. When you exercise, your blood pressure rises in order to cope with the increased demands you’re placing on your body. If you stop abruptly after pushing yourself, your body’s need for an increased blood flow diminishes. Suddenly stopping your workout can make you feel dizzy or sick, so jumping right into the car may not be a good idea.
If you gradually reduce your intensity and then stop your workout, it will allow your heart rate to gradually go back to normal. Your blood vessels will constrict back to their usual size and your blood pressure will return to normal in a more natural way. If you are on a run, gradually reduce your speed and intensity over a 10-minute period until you are eventually in a relaxed walk.
After your workout is a good time to start working on improving your flexibility. Your body is already warm and your muscles are relaxed, allowing you to easily stretch your muscles to a point of improved flexibility. Stretching after a workout has also been linked to reduced post-workout muscle soreness.
On two to three days of the week, dedicate 15 minutes to performing stretches that include all major muscle groups. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds in duration. Repeat each stretch 3-4 times, each time gently reaching a little further and stretching a little deeper. Some of my favorite cool-down stretches are:
In the same way that I always suggest setting an intention before your workout, I believe it’s equally important to reflect on your workout and calm your mind after. This quiet time after a workout for focusing on your breathing can be very positive. You’ve just pushed yourself in an attempt to improve your body. Your natural endorphins are high at this time, so chances are you’ll be feeling good. Don’t rush back to the craziness of life right away. Instead, enjoy this time and think about your goals and how you want to further improve yourself.
You can check out my videos on flexibility and stretching on my Fit Tips playlist on YouTube to give you some ideas and help you to get started toward making a cool down an essential part of your fitness routine. Like all areas of fitness, you need to tailor your cool-down to your own needs. Try to dedicate at least 10 minutes to cooling down after your workout. It’s important to treat your body well, it’s the only one you have.
Samantha Clayton is responsible for all activities relating to exercise and fitness education for Independent Herbalife Members and employees. Through in-person training sessions, educational tools and materials, and her blog (www.discovergoodfitness.com), she ensures that the important role of exercise as part of a healthy, active life is understood by all. She also helps create, organize and promote employee fitness programs and activities as an integral part of the company’s corporate wellness program.
A native of Liverpool, England, Samantha initially worked as a consultant for Herbalife for two years and led the Herbalife24-Fit program, the company’s first comprehensive fitness training program and DVD series.
Before joining the corporate ranks, Samantha was a professional athlete. She represented Great Britain in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in both the 200m and the 4x100m relay events. Prior to the Olympics, she won two medals in the Olympic AAA trials – a silver medal for the 200m and a bronze for the 100m – as well as a silver medal in the 4x100m relay during the European Junior Championships in 1997. Her personal records include 11.40 seconds in the 100m and 23.02 seconds in the 200m.
Samantha is a personal trainer and group exercise coach through the American Fitness and Aerobics Association (AFAA) and International Sport Science Association (ISSA).