How You Can Cool Down After a Tough Training Session

man and woman stretching hamstrings

Are you as diligent about cooling down after your workout as you are about warming up?

If you don’t cool down properly, you become more susceptible to injuries, physical therapist Benjamin Geletka says.

“In my opinion, the cool-down phase of your exercise routine is generally more important than the warm-up, especially when it comes to injury prevention,” he says. “While you want to warm up and not go from sitting to a full-out sprint, it’s what you do during your cool-down that helps prepare you for future exercise and can help you avoid injury.”

In addition to helping you avoid injuries, a proper cool-down:

  • Prepares you for your next event, whether that means tomorrow’s run or next weekend’s long-distance cycling event
  • Restores your body to a resting state
  • Decreases the waste products that build up in your body during a workout, such as lactic acid
  • Prevents muscle soreness and body aches

What is a Proper Cool-Down?

An effective cool down will take approximately 10 minutes, Mr. Geletka says.

“If you’re doing a 60-minute workout, you want to utilize minute 50 to start your cool down,” he says. “It’s a better use of your time and gets you ready for your next workout. You want to think of this time as recovery time, not just cooling down.”

There are three things, Mr. Geletka says, that you can do to cool down properly:

  1. “If you’re doing a cardio workout, take it down to a lower level of intensity for five to 10 minutes before stopping,” he says. For example, runners might use a slower pace when winding down or bicyclists should gradually slow their pedaling.
  2. Gently stretch, particularly any major muscles that you’ve just worked.
  3. Plan to eat and drink something.You want to replenish your system and repair your body by taking in fluids that will replace electrolytes and foods with protein and carbohydrates,” Geletka says. “The best time to eat is 30 to 60 minutes following strenuous exercise.”

Cool downs are especially important as you age, Geletka says.

“When you’re older, you don’t bounce back as quickly,” he says. “Your body needs more help facilitating the recovery process.”

Benjamin Geletka, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, is a physical therapist at University Hospitals Rehabilitation Services at University Hospitals Avon Health Center. You can request an appointment with Mr. Geletka or any other University Hospitals health care provider online.

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