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You have just had a fantastic session. You feel strong, big, and you’ve done the hard work. Through all this stress, you know it is important to cool down afterwards unless you feel like having aching muscle. However, there is new evidence to show that this may not be the case.
For a very long time, we have believed that cooling down is the ticket to kicking delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) to the kerb. Well, we weren’t all wrong, but recent evidence shows that cooling down does not actively assist with reducing DOMS and is a good place to shave off if you are strapped for time. However, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t play a role in your immediate recovery process, as it could block optimal recovery processes from happening.
Think about this; when you get your car up to 120km/h on the highway, you can either gently push the brake and gradually slow your car down, or you can slam on brakes. Either way, you are going to stop. However, the slamming on your brakes option comes with inherent risks and possible injuries. The same applies to cooling down.
When we train, our bodies are in an accelerated state. Your heart and lungs are working much harder to deliver oxygen and blood all around the body, the muscles are filled with body fluids, and everything is accelerated inside the body. Once you stop training, your body needs to decelerate, and slow things back down to homeostasis. Again, whether you cool down or not, your heart and lungs will do the majority of the work in bringing your body down, but cooling down may be a better option.
A sudden stop in training could result in blood pooling, a change in blood pressure, dizziness, fatigue, and hinder optimal recovery. The blood pressure is a big concern, particularly in those with heart conditions, as this could lead to increased risk of a heart attack. Also, you will prevent blood from pooling simply keeping your muscle contracting after your workout. Here are a few ways to cool down and optimise your immediate recovery.
First, you need to cool down for either cardio or weight training. If you have a love affair with the treadmill, then you need to be able to recognise when you have cooled down enough. Your cool down from cardio should take as long as is necessary for your heart rate to return to within 20% of your resting heart rate, stop perspiration, and your breathing has returned to normal.
For weight training, it is a little more complicated, but a general idea is that it should take around 15 minutes, and should target the muscle groups you targeted during your training. Here you can look at using dynamic stretches for your target muscle group, along with a slow walk.
The optimal time for static stretching is when the muscles are warm, which is exactly what they are when you have finished your training. Dynamic stretches are more suited for cold muscle tissue, such as in a warm up. Static stretching for between 10-30 seconds can increase flexibility, as well as your range of motion.
Wincing on a foam roller may not be the coolest looking thing in the gym, but you know what is cool? Not being sore. There are studies that have shown that busting out the foam roller after a workout can reduce DOMS in the days following your workout. Foam rolling helps to break apart the adhesions in muscle tissue and increase blood flow.
You need to be able to do it properly, however, otherwise, you are wasting time. You need to focus on the muscle you were targeting during your training, and use slow, controlled rolling over each muscle belly. Oh, and when you find that tight knot in your muscle, don’t roll over it, practically melt as if you were hot butter and the foam roller was hot toast on the knot.
Replenishing water intake is not limited to a particular window after your workout, but the sooner you get water back into the system, the faster the recovery process can begin. Water is the basis of which all chemical interactions happen within the body, so the longer you stay dehydrated, the longer your recovery process will take.
Remember, don’t guzzle a whole bunch of water down as soon as you can, as this can lead to discomfort. Sip on 250ml of water over half an hour after finishing your workout, then judge it by your thirst.
While cooling down may not actively assist in reducing DOMS, the combination of these four things, plus cooling down, speeds up the recovery process, which in turn could delay DOMS. It may not be essential, but cooling down still its place in your post training routine.