The Importance of Cooling Down

5 reasons why you need to cool down after a workout

Cooling down after a workout or training session is just as important as warming up. After any physical activity where you have been working on control, strength, endurance, speed, tempo, and changes in direction, your heart is still beating faster than normal to deliver oxygenated blood to muscles, your blood vessels are dilated, your breathing rate is increased and your temperature is higher. If you stop too fast you could feel a little sick or even pass out.

Some athletes may have to perform again in a few hours time, but even for those playing weekly it is important to be fully recovered as quickly as possible to facilitate effective training later during the week.

Active recovery following the conclusion of strenuous activity involves performing low-intensity exercise to cool down following a strenuous workout and has been shown to promote tissue repair, restore function, enhance neuromuscular recovery, resolve muscle soreness, reduce stress and promote relaxation and integration. An active recovery will vary dependent on the individual’s activity but can often range from five to fifteen minutes and may include or is often followed by stretching of the muscles used in the workout.

Here are 5 great reasons it is beneficial to cool down after a workout

Regulating your heart rate – Heart rate variability and modulation is more efficient with cool-down.

Cooling down can help regulate your heart rate by improving heart rate variability and modulation within the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS coordinates dynamic interactions between physiological, mental, emotional and behavioural processes. During exercise, our heart rate increases to deliver adequate oxygen to oxygen-hungry nerves and muscles. A healthy resting heart rate for adults typically falls between 60 to 100 beats per minute, but it can vary based on individual factors such as age, fitness level, genetics, smoking habits, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol or diabetes, air temperature, body position, emotional states, presence of pain, body size, and medications. Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the naturally occurring beat-to-beat changes in heart rate/heart rhythms and researchers in this area suggest it serves as a critical method for gauging human health and resiliency. Having good variability (the ability for the heart rate to efficiently increase and decrease in response to physical and respiratory demands) is important for a healthy and responsive heart and is a key indicator of physiological resiliency and behavioural flexibility. An efficient return to our resting heart rate is also a positive sign of heart health, which we can facilitate through our cool down after exercise.

Reducing the build up of lactic acid – Active recovery removes lactate from the circulation more quickly than passive recovery.

Lactic acid or lactate a chemical your body produces when your cells break down carbohydrates for energy when you are exercising. The research shows that the clearance of lactate appears to be related to the intensity of the exercise performed in the active recovery and cool down up to about 50% of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), which is a higher intensity that routinely practised by most sportspeople, however it does appear to be important for those that have to exercise again in the next 2-4 hours. Compared to rest or passive recovery, the research shows significantly lower levels of blood lactate when a cool-down was utilized. If you haven’t tried it yet, why not explore doing a less intense variation of your exercise as you begin your cool down and see how you feel during and afterwards.

Preventing injuries – After exercise, along with the muscular components, the nervous system may also be fatigued.

A feature of fatigue can be the inability to execute movements or exercises with high quality sensitivity, specificity, and neuromuscular control. This reduction in control may have an impact on the prevalence of injuries. Active recovery and cool down is an important part of our injury prevention strategies. Exercise will also alter our perception and tolerance to sensation, i.e. when we are warm when can often stretch into greater ranges of motion without the ‘protection’ message coming from the sense organs in the muscles as early. There are many individual differences that may impact the prevalence of injury like genetics, environment, body position, emotional states, the presence of pain, and medications; however, what we do know is that cooling down has a neuromuscular protective quality in preventing injuries.

Body restoration – The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves according to both anatomical and physiological differences.

Some organs receive input from both sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves in the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The nerves that control skeletal muscle (efferent/somatic nerves) come from the peripheral nerve branches and send messages from the brain via the spinal cord to the periphery. When we exercise, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, blood vessels will dilate (widen) and will direct increased blood flow to the brain, eyes, heart, lungs, skin and skeletal muscles so that we can see and execute exercises with precision and sufficient oxygenation for the strenuous demands. At the same time, liver stores of glycogen are used up to provide blood glucose and blood flow will be directed away from organs like digestion and reproduction as they are not ‘essential’ during this nervous system state. When we cool down, we shift out of sympathovagal tone into parasympathetic nervous system stimulation. Blood flow is redirected to the organs of digestion and reproduction and shunted away form the periphery. This is a normal fluctuation in nervous system stimulation and our ability to effectively switch between these states is an important part of our vagal efficiency and restoring balance. Glycogen stores are replenished during cool down and rest along with other self-healing actions and restoration within our bodies. Without this opportunity to cool down and promote restoration, the athlete may experience increased arousal levels that may result in increased resting heart rate, respiration rate, altered metabolism, and difficulty in resting.

Stress relief and relaxation – During activity we are in sympathetic nervous system drive.

It is the very same central and peripheral nervous system actions we see during stress, as on some level, we are inducing a ‘stressor’ or arousal in the body’s physiology when we exercise. When we cool down, parasympathetic nervous system tone increases and promotes self-healing actions within our bodies. The nervous system controls cardiovascular function, respiration, and metabolism both during and following exercise. When we cool down and relax we are lowering and changing our arousal levels post exertion which directs vital energy into cellular regeneration, digestive efficiency, hormone and reproductive health. It also allows us to ‘rehearse’ the process of relaxing, which is vital for self-regulation, maintaining both physical and mental health, improving quality of life, and preventing stress-related illnesses.

A blog by Chanthalah Webster-Tight

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