You have only an hour to devote to your gym time today, and you want to make the most of it by actually working out. Warming up before a workout is essential for increasing the effectiveness of your training, but you’re limited on time. So you spend at least ten minutes warming up before your workout and your workout time keeps getting shorter. You finish your workout, and the questions come to mind, do I need to cool down? Or can I take my bag and start drinking my protein shake as I walk out of the gym?
Yes, your cooldown is essential and more than just time to check social media.
There are many ways to cool down after workouts, including using heat or cold. Cooling down is important after lifting to help the body return to its normal temperature, heart rate, and state. Active recovery, such as jogging or stretching, occurs immediately following your workout.
Everyone can benefit from a cooldown, and learning what kind of cool-down to integrate into your program is an important part of your fitness education. Prioritizing time in the gym for a cool down can seem hard at first. However, a proper cool down does not need to take hours and can benefit your results from training. What matters most is finding a cooldown that fits your schedule and that you can enjoy.
Let’s look at what science says about cool-downs.
What is a Cool-Down?
After completing a workout, many athletes take the time to cool down to help their body return to equilibrium. There are many ways to perform a cooldown, including stretching, jogging, low-intensity cycling or swimming, cold water immersion, or even sitting in a sauna.
Warming up is a preparatory step that prepares your body for intense workouts. Cooling down can help your muscles recover and reduce the chance of injury. While research does not always support the idea that cool-downs are necessary, they can help lower your heart rate and add cardio to your routine. If you enjoy your cool-down routine, you are more likely to perform well in future workouts.
Benefits of Cooling Down
Some people believe that cool-downs have multiple benefits, including preventing muscle soreness, speeding up your recovery after an intense workout, and making you more flexible. While there are benefits to taking a cool-down after working out, the science does not necessarily support all of those claims.
Feel Better, Move Better
If you do a cooldown, you will likely feel better after doing it. Stretching can help you relax and reflect after a workout on your training or competition.
It is essential to enjoy the cooling-down process to achieve an effective cool-down. If you are doing a cooldown you do not like, it is okay to choose something different that you may enjoy. Regardless of any benefits of a cooldown, the physiological benefits of a cooldown are also significant. People tend to perform better when they feel like they’ve recovered well.
Heart Rate Recovery
After an intense training session, one of the primary goals is to bring your heart rate down. Active cool-down methods, such as walking or cycling, achieve a more efficient reduction in heart rate than passive recovery methods, such as lying down.
Following an intense workout, active recovery sessions performed right away are more effective at clearing creatine kinase (CK) from your bloodstream than passive recovery. CK levels can detect muscle damage, and active recovery after exercise may help speed up muscle healing.
Added Light Cardio
Let’s say you want to do some light cardio after your workout. 15-20 minutes on your favorite machine. You can have cardio without compromising your muscle mass or strength levels if you do it properly. Using an active recovery of light cardio also helps your cardiovascular system.
With experience under your belt, you can safely add cardio to your training routine without negatively impacting your strength. When you have good cardio health, you’re more likely to have the stamina you need for longer and harder workouts, which makes you stronger.
Limits of Cooling Down
There are many benefits to taking a cool-down period after exercise. However, not all of the things people think about cool-downs are true.
Despite popular belief, cool-downs don’t seem to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), though many assume they do. However, believing that they do might just be able to help you recover better for your next training session anyway.
While many believe that cool-downs help makes them more flexible, science does not necessarily support this. Recent studies have shown that active cool-downs performed in a pool do not always increase ankle, hamstring, or hip ranges of motion after exercise.
The low-intensity run, along with static stretching, has been found to have no significant impact on stiffness or range of motion after exercise. Maybe later research will show otherwise, but to this date, the research is not showing a massive impact from cooldowns to flexibility. That said, there is no evidence that cooling down harms mobility or flexibility levels, so there’s no reason to avoid stretching out if it feels good after your workout.
How to Cool Down After a Workout
After your workout, take some time to enjoy an activity you enjoy that is active and recovery-oriented. If active recovery feels like “more work” than the less effective forms of activity, it may not be as helpful in recovering from your workout. When you select something you like and create a cool-down ritual with it, you’re less likely to feel like cooling down is just another thing on your to-do list when you’re exhausted.
Think of your cooldown as the transition from the gym to everyday life. You want to clear your head. For some, a jog or cold plunge may help. Alternatively, some long, meditative minutes of stretching could be helpful.
Take your cooldown time to reflex on your workout and see where it could be lacking or need improvements. Do you want to add some cardio but don’t have time or want to hurt your recovery? Use the cardio as an active recovery. Do you need to work on mobility to perform better squat or overhead press? Work on a stretching-focused cooldown. Or do you want to relax and find your zen post-workout? Add meditative stretching or clear your head by deep breathing in a sauna.
Plan your cooldown around your workout and life.
Sample Workout Cool-Downs
No single cool-down routine is perfect for everyone, as the type of cool-down you do will depend on what you have access to and what you like. If you don’t have a pool at your gym, swimming-related cooldowns might not work for you. On the other hand, if you have access to a recumbent bike and treadmill, you can try adding some post-exercise cardio if you don’t completely hate it.
Here are some great ways to get creative with your cool-down.
After Weight Training
After a great weight training session, you might want to finish your workout session with some light cardio. Doing heavy sets of any exercise can get your heart rate up. A short, low-intensity cardio session can help your body get back into its routine. Three example cooldowns are:
- Three-minute walk
- Ten-minute jog
- 1,000-meter row
When doing an active cooldown, taking things slow and easing into the activity is essential. This will help even out your breathing and prevent any over-revving. If you’re not used to doing any kind of cardio, start by cutting these cooldowns in half. Remember, the active cooldown is not a high-level cardio workout.
After Intense Cardio
After you finish an intense cardio session, there is a good chance you’ll be out of breath, and your body is feeling the workout. Whether doing sprint runs, going all out on an air bike, or a great HIIT session with a kettlebell, you’ll want to catch your breath somehow. If you’ve already done your cardio, consider using a relaxing activity to wind down afterward.
- Slow Jog or Row: 4 minutes
- Cat-Cow: 2×10 breaths
- Three-Way Hip Openers: 2×5 per direction
- Downward Dog with Calf Marches: 3×15 marches per side
- Plank Thoracic Opener: 2×10 per side
After Maxing Out
Did you get in a heavy workout today? Maybe you had some heavy triples, did negative training, or hit a new all-time gym PR. After an intense workout, taking care of your body is essential.
Slow walk: 5 minutes
Cold Plunge or Sauna: 15 minutes
When doing a cooldown, find ways to make it work for you. While cooling down might not make you feel any less sore on a physiological level, it can still help your recovery. There are a variety of post-workout active recovery modes that you can enjoy to make sure you feel better after your workout. Try different activities and find ones that fit your lifestyle and preferences so you can recover quickly and feel energized for your next workout. When you feel good about your routine, you’re more likely to return to it with vigor when needed. This is why a cool-down is so essential; it allows you to restore and rebuild momentum.