Its 6pm as you wipe the sweat from your eyes from your killer workout. You had a jam-packed day going from classes to meetings and got the motivation to hit the gym on your way home. You push through your last round of squats, re-rack your weights and are already halfway out the door heading for the showers. What’s wrong with this picture you may be asking yourself. The truth is, there is a MAJOR part missing to this gym equation, perhaps the most important part: your cool-down.
“I don’t have time” or “ill stretch later” are common phrases that many gym-goers say when asked about their cool-down routines. As a group fitness instructor, phrases like this sound like nails on a chalkboard. Although it may be easy and convenient to go straight from the treadmill to your car, there are important reasons to think carefully about before you pull the plug on your cool-downs.
When you exercise, your heart is pumping at an accelerated rate to get the oxygenated blood from your heart to the lower parts of your body. When the body goes from moving quick to working less, the squeezing action of your muscles is greatly diminished. As your exercise comes to an abrupt stop, this can cause the blood to pool in the lower parts of your body as it moves slowly to get back to your heart and brain. In addition, your one-way valves in your vascular system slow down creating less pressure for your blood to flow where it needs to go. This slowed blood circulation is what can cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded and even lead to fainting.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
DOMS occurs 24-48 hours after exercise from the micro tears created in your muscles fibers. Being sore after a workout, especially resistance training or new exercise, is expected, however uncomfortable amounts of soreness is not. DOMS that lasts more then two-three days could be a sign of over training or a precursor to an injury. Taking the time to properly cool-down and stretch post workout is an effective way to help diminish DOMS effects. The increase in blood flow from stretching will help move the lactic acid through your body.
After your workout, your muscles are very warm and pliable (think play-dough you have been playing with for a while). This allows for increased flexibility through proper stretching. When muscles are stretched on a regular basis, they become lengthened and over time allow for a greater range of motion. Increase in flexibility and range of motion wards off many injuries that plaque the inflexible. Taking the time to perform some static stretches (2-3 rounds of 30 second holds) will not only make your body feel great, but also make you less likely to get stuck in an injury.
Your Proper Cool-down
A proper cool-down should last five-fifteen minutes post workout and include static stretches (held for 30 seconds or so). Theses stretches should include major muscle groups that you just worked. For example, if you did squats and push ups, you will want to stretch your quads, glutes, chest and triceps. You should also allow for your heart rate to slowly return to its normal level. If you just finished a run, you should walk for five to ten minutes and then perform you stretches.
The next time you rush out of the gym straight for the shower, re-think your decision and take the time to cool down properly. Not only will it prevent dangerous blood flow/circulation problems, it will also allow for increased flexibility and injury prevention. Allowing for your body to slowly return to its normal heart rate and performing static stretches will also decreases your case of DOMS to help keep you on your fitness game. Take the extra ten minutes after your workout to cool- down and your body will be sure to thank you!
~Fall in love with taking care of yourself. Mind. Body. Spirit.~