Remember as kids how we used to sprint to the finish of every run, even if it was a casual dash around the block? As it turns out that’s not such a great idea. That is unless you then include a lower intensity cool-down period to follow. Why? In short, you’ll feel better after the cool down. Here’s why.
As mentioned in the blog post about warming up, blood moves to our working muscles when we exercise. This is a necessary physiological adaptation during the actual act of exercise. However, after exercise that same blood can pool in our limbs and produce negative effects. When the intensity of exercise stops abruptly the potential exists for a rapid drop in blood pressure and a resulting feeling of dizziness. Another side effect is excess production and storage of blood lactate in the muscles, causing stiffness and cramping.
Further, a proper cool down promotes a faster return to normal cardiac activity (i.e. a regular heart beat). Studies have shown that resting heart rates following cool down exercise are significantly lower than when the cool down is skipped.
Post-exercise stretching can further improve blood flow, hasten the return to normal joint range of motion, and prevent muscle cramping.
The amount of your post-exercise cool down should vary based on the duration and intensity of your work set. The longer and more intense the exercise, the longer the prescribed cool down. A thirty minute zone two jog could be adequately followed up with a five minute mix of easier jogging and walking, while a long session of intervals should include fifteen minutes of decreasing effort from jog to walk, followed by a mix of dynamic and static stretching.
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