Cool Down For What?!

Why you don’t spend enough time cooling down and 4 ways to fix it!

Picture this: You’re on your fourth straight day at the gym this week. You walk up to coach, by the whiteboard, and say, “Hey, Coach! I’ve been SUPER(we totally get it) invested in improving my game. I come early to class everyday to foam roll, I NEVER(of course not) get to chatty while you’re starting the class warmup, and I listen to every cue to try and improve my form…” BUT it feels like you’ve hit a plateau, you’re feeling stiffer everyday, you aren’t getting the quality sleep that you know you need to be, and stuff might just start hurting. So, coach starts asking those questions: Are you warming up properly? Have you been focusing more on proper form than the numbers next to your name on the board? How’s your diet?…How much time and effort do you put into a quality cool down?

Whoops. Now, before you start feeling personally attacked and try to justify your cool down as putting your weights away and running to your car’s A/C For Time, take a moment to to read ahead and see if you’re doing your due diligence to a proper cool down.

Why should I cool down? 

Although this may seem like a silly question, it’s important to understand the “Why?” in order to empower us with the knowledge that this is going actually going to help improve my life. When your body starts to warmup for strenuous activity it triggers your body to go into a state of “fight, or flight” using your sympathetic nervous system. This is marked by an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature as well as a release of hormones to rapidly increase alertness and energy. This is great for the duration of your workout, but it doesn’t just stop because the clock stopped. In order to get back to baseline our body uses the parasympathetic nervous system. This lower’s heart rate and increases gastrointestinal activity to improve the ability to recover. The faster we can get our body to achieve this, the more time we have and better we can recover from strenuous exercise. While you can’t just tell your body to activate this system you can set the table to allow for a quicker return to normal.

4 Tips for an effective cool down!

  • Take Your Time: a good cool down should take from 5 to 10 minutes and be marked by a lowered heart rate and core temperature.
  • Slowly Lower Your Heart Rate: using a cyclical aerobic activity at a very relaxed pace for about 5 minutes helps return large stores of blood from your extremities back to your heart slowly and prevent light headedness and dizziness.
  • Don’t Forget to Breath: using deep breathing helps tremendously in lowering your heart rate and is an easy way to tell if you’re cooling down. If it remains too difficult to breath slowly you need to slow down. Try box breathing during your cool down as an effective breathing technique(3 seconds breathe in, 3 seconds hold at the top, 3 seconds breathe out, 3 seconds hold at the bottom).
  • Proper Stretching: stretching at the end of workout can be a useful tool to help relax your muscles and possibly prevent muscle soreness. You might think this is the perfect opportunity to work on some mobility issues you might have, but be careful how you approach this. During the cool down stretching and foam rolling should always remain passive. That means there should be NO activation of targeted muscles. I can think of a few time where a deep couch stretch has made me start to sweat. If stretching becomes too intense it can actually kickstart your sympathetic nervous system and put you back into a state of fight, or flight completely ruining the cool down!

The cool down is one of the most overlooked tools in exercise and plays a huge role in our ability to recover from the ass kicking we got during the WOD. It doesn’t take much effort, or creativity to get a great cool down. If you’re looking to step up your game in class, or just looking to move and feel better this can be a big difference maker.