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Cool Down Exercises for Runners

by | March 2, 2021

Is Cooling Down Worth it?

Doing cool down exercises after a run is something is done by some but ignored by many others. The focus for many people ends up being on the warm-up exercises before you get started and then doing the work. Many assume that when you stop running that your heart rate is going to slow down normally anyway so cool down exercises don’t really matter to your program.

Cool down exercises allow runners and athletes to get back to a resting state more easily. This is important in recovery because the blood flow to the muscles can be distributed back into the core of the body. Gradual decrease of exercise intensity during the cooldown process moves from sport specific activity to more general types of movements. As per the warm-up, higher intensity workouts will need a longer cool down phase, as do activities that last for a longer period of time. It makes it easier to redistribute the blood back into the body and return the body to a normal resting body temperature.

What is a Cool Down?

The point of a cooldown is to reduce your body temperature, your breathing rate in your heart rate back to pre-exercise levels in a controlled fashion. You begin by decreasing the intensity of your activity, like walking at the end of your run, which allows the blood to circulate through your body properly. For runners and other athletes, cool down exercises often end with stretches the target muscles that had been overworked during your workout or that you know are tight.

Myths about Cool Down Exercises

Unfortunately, most of the things you were taught about cool down exercises for runners are wrong. They have not been shown to be helpful in preventing injury. They do not have any proven ability to improve performance either. You are going to need to train right for that.

Another thing that people want to believe is that cooling down will help to stop delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) from developing. This is one of the things that people really wish were true, but the science just doesn’t back it up at this point. Unfortunately, not much has been found to actually stop DOMS once you have put in the work. There are some things that can temporarily relieve it like massage and some over-the-counter pain medications, but rest is really the only thing that will make it go away. The real way to prevent DOMS is to avoid higher intensity exercises like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and avoid exercises with negatives (slowly lowering the weight) .

Benefits of Cool Down Exercises for Runners

One reason they may want to consider doing cool down exercises are that it keeps the blood flowing properly through the body. Abruptly stopping can cause people to become lightheaded due to the blood pressure and heart rate dropping rapidly. Doing exercises to cool down allows them to fall gradually and under control. While you run, you have a lot of blood that is circulating through the system, but suddenly cutting off the pump would basically create a abrupt wave of low pressure to move through the system. This drop in blood pressure can cause people to have symptoms. Many people did have an issue with becoming lightheaded after exercise, so people often skip the cool down because of time restraints. So are there any other reasons to do a cooldown exercise?

A study showed that cool down exercises promoted better recovery in people after a maximum effort test meaning that the heart and lungs recovered faster in people who performed cool down exercises. Another study showed that the resting heart rate following moderate exercise in those who do a cool down exercise is lower compared to those who do know cooldown. The authors conclude in the second study that the decrease in resting heart rate following cooldown exercise is associated with an increase in cardiac vagal tone. Doing cool down exercises is a good way to do a mental transition between the hard effort during the workout and ending the workout. It’s not quite doing a full meditation when you’re done but may help to calm the system down.

How Should you Cool Down?

Cooling down right takes around 5 to 10 minutes. Usually consists of doing a lower intensity exercise than what you had been doing. So, running becomes walking and cycling becomes a slower, lazier ride. Obviously, you can switch up the exercise as well and go from swimming to walking for cooldown. This lower intensity exercise is typically followed by a period of stretching. Cool down exercises for runners are an extremely easy thing to do.

Static stretching may help relax muscles and increase joint flexibility joints and muscles after exercise and is generally thought to be an excellent component to a cooldown. Static stretching should concentrate on major muscle groups with a specific focus on the least flexible parts of the person or those areas that have limited motion during the activity. Hip extension and hip abductors tend to be good choices for both cyclists and runners because limited amounts of hip motion occur during the sports.

Before stretching, you should consider mashing your muscles and tissues. Get out your Hypervolt, your foam roller or your lacrosse ball and go to town. Use a vibrating foam roller like a Vyper 2.0 to allow you to get deeper into tissue without having as much pain. Self-myofascial release may not be a full massage therapy session, but it is a wonderful thing to help take care of yourself and keep yourself running longer.

There will obviously be situations where time is an issue and are not going to be able to go through an entire cool down. When that happens it’s always better to do something than nothing. It can be taking extra lap around the parking lot before you leave, but that could stop blood from pooling in the legs and stop you from passing out.

The best time for a person to static stretch (stretch and hold it) is after the body has been warmed up so the cool down after doing aerobic activity is the perfect time. I often use the analogy of pulling taffy because it is better to pull taffy when it’s warm than if it was cold. However, if you can’t find the time to stretch at the end of your workouts, try getting in a stretching workout or a yoga session a couple times a week.

Proper Cool Down Exercises for Runners and Other Athletes

  • lower intensity exercise for 3 to 5 minutes post workout focusing on deep breathing
  • 5 to 15 minutes of stretching muscles need. You should focus on muscles that you have that are tight and ones that you were just pushing to the limit.

Cooling Down Exercises Have Value

Cooling down is often recommended but for the wrong reasons. While it may not improve your performance and take away the possibility of you getting injured, it still has the ability for you to calm down after you push herself and spend a little bit of time working on body maintenance. Cool down is the perfect time for you to get in there and mash your calves, breath through it and try to relax for a while being satisfied that you pushed yourself.  

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