What is a Cool Down?
Generally, a cool down involves exercise at a reduced intensity and slower pace and includes stretching and deep breathing. A cool down allows your body to gradually return to a pre-exercise state. Just as it’s important to warm up before working your body, it’s also crucial to cool down.
What Happens to Your Body During a Cool Down?
Understanding what happens to your body during and after a workout can motivate you to make the cool down an essential part of your exercise routine. When you exercise, your heart beats at an accelerated rate, your respirations increase, and your muscles contract rapidly. All of this occurs to ensure that blood is oxygenated quickly and delivered to your hard-working muscles.
When you stop exercising, your heart rate and blood pressure drop suddenly and muscles stop contracting at the same rate and force. This can cause blood to pool in your extremities, slowing its return back to the heart and brain. Veins, which carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart and lungs, are equipped with one-way valves that prevent back flow. When blood movement slows, there is less pressure available to pump blood through the valves. All of this can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting.
After intense exercise, lactic acid accumulates in the body. A good cool down is an effective way to help the body begin to clear this by-product from the body and reduce post-exercise soreness.
The Importance of Stretching and Breathing in Your Cool Down Routine
During exercise, your muscles become warm and pliable. Consistent stretching after exercise allows muscles to lengthen, which, over time, allows for increased range of motion and a possible reduction in injury.
Adding deep, relaxed breathing to your cool down can help you take full advantage of the euphoric state that is often experienced when dopamine and serotonin are released.
Cool Down Routine
What You’ll Need:
Cool Down Goal: Return your body to baseline
Time: 10-15 minutes
Start with a light form of cardiovascular exercise. You can take the workout you were doing and simply reduce the speed and intensity for five minutes. If your workout was focused on weight lifting, you could start your cool down with five minutes of walking or cycling. Aim to get your heart rate below 120 beats per minute.
End with stretching and deep breathing. Carefully and gently stretch your muscles, focusing on those that were used in your workout. The SMART Mat has 14 stretching poses printed on one side to guide you.
Hold each stretch for 30 seconds per side. If you discover an area that needs more stretching, repeat the set. Do not bounce while stretching.
Practice deep breathing to experience the full benefits of your cool down. Slowly exhale as you begin the stretch, and then slowly inhale while holding the stretch.