A fitness trainer explains why cool downs are an essential part of any workout, and tells us a couple of her favourite stretches to try ourselves.
The benefits of warming up are lauded by fitness fans and experts alike. Aiding everything from your mobility while you exercise to the weight you can lift or the speed you can run, warm ups are crucial to a successful, safe workout. However cool downs, while similarly important, seem to get far less attention.
It may be the last thing you want to do after you’ve worked up a sweat in the gym or during a home workout, but if you want to maximise your recovery and avoid injury, cooling down after exercise is a necessity.
Stretches are a good way to work a cool down into your routine, and they should be done gently and slowly to help your body transition out of exercise mode. Personal trainer Veowna Charles explains why you should always ensure you cool down, what the benefits are, and gives us some of her favourite post-workout stretches to try.
What are the benefits of cooling down after your workout?
During exercise, your heartrate and body temperature will both increase as a result of the physical exertion. Cooling down after a workout is beneficial because it “allows the body to return to homeostasis, and your heart to return to its resting heart rate”, says Veowna.
She goes on to explain that, if you stop doing vigorous exercise quite suddenly, without cooling down the body, “you may feel dizzy, nauseous, and even experience restricted range of motion due to tight feeling muscles”. Your body needs time to re-adapt to its post-workout state, to ensure you recover well and don’t feel any ill-effects. Cooling down is the ideal way to do just that.
Are cool downs really as important as warm ups?
They are! According to Veowna, they “reduce risk of injury” by helping the muscles transition back to inactivity, easing any aches and pains you may feel, and preventing cramping. They can also “calm the mind after higher levels of exertion, and tell the heart that there’s no need to beat so fast anymore”, all of which will aid your recovery.
What are some of the best cool down stretches to incorporate into a workout?
Veowna suggests that you focus on “a wide range of cool down stretches, and pay special attention to muscle groups worked in a workout session”. So if, for example, you’ve been for a run, then you should ideally focus on cooling down the muscles of the lower body, particularly the glutes, hamstrings and quads.
She goes on to explain that “cool down stretches should be isometric static poses”, which you hold for between 10 and 30 seconds. “Hold each stretch at mild tension, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth to deepen the stretch”, and complete one to three sets. Here are a couple of her favourites.
This is a great stretch for targeting your legs, core and back, so it’s ideal after a run or lower body workout. You start “with one knee on the ground and one foot in front, and place your palms down on the floor at shoulder width, in line with the front foot”, says Veowna. Then, “rotate the same side arm until it is pointing at the ceiling”, with the aim being “to get your chest close to your thigh”. Hold, and then repeat on the opposite side.
For something that works the posterior chain muscle groups, “including your legs, back and hip flexors”, the pancake is a simple and effective stretch to add to your repertoire. Veowna explains that you need to “sit in a straddle with your legs at about 90 degrees”. Then, keeping your spine neutral, “lower your chest to the floor between your legs”. Go down as low as you can, and hold.
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