Most people take the time to only plan out their workout routine, and very few actually dedicate the time to prepare and recover from their workout. Warming up is a crucial part in a workout routine because it gets your muscles and joints limber and ready. On the other hand, cooling down post-workout helps you get back to a resting state, prevents stiffness, and reduces lactic acid build up so you're not extremely sore the next day. Additionally, it improves blood flow which in turn helps your body get enough oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, so your post-workout protein shake effectively delivers the important nutrients your muscles need to repair and recover!
Unfortunately, many gym-goers love to get out of the gym as fast as possible, so as soon as their workout is done they immediately head for the door. This is a huge mistake because it makes recovery inefficient, and if you want to get into the gym faster and better your recovery needs to be a big priority! So, take the time to warm up and cool down!
We've already covered how to warm- up, and now we're going to show you how to cool down properly so you know how to prepare and recover from your intense training. Luckily, cool downs won't add another 15-30 minutes to your workout, you can effectively do it in as little as 5-10 minutes. There are four main ways to approach cooling down, which we'll be detailing below. There is no right or wrong way to do so, just pick the cool down workout that you like best and best fits your training style!
Do some cool-down stretches
When it comes to warming up, static stretching is ineffective. Recent research has shown that stretching cold muscles actually decreases the muscles ability to produce force which increases the risk of injury. Stretching warm muscles, on the other hand, can help relieve muscle cramping, decrease risk on delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and improve range of motion in the joints.
Static stretching is easy, you simply hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds and release. We recommend doing a few cool down stretches after intense training like doing HIIT or weight lifting. Below are the best upper and lower body cool down stretches that you can do after your high-intensity training:
- Standing quad stretch: While standing, hold onto a countertop or chair back to assist in balance. Bend your knee back by grasping your ankle with one hand. Assist in bending your knee back as far as possible. Hold this position for 30 seconds, and then release your leg. Repeat on the other side.
- Seated single-leg hamstring stretch: Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend your leg left leg at the knee to position the sole of your foot against your opposite inner thigh. Your leg left should be bent and right leg stretched out in front of you. Begin to extend both arms and reach forward towards your right foot. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
- Calf stretch: Face a wall, and place your hands in front of it so that your arms are fully extended. Step one fat back into a small lunge by bending your front leg and keeping your back leg straight. Deepen the stretch by leaning into the wall and pressing your back heel down. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
- Bent-knee cross body stretch: Lie on your back and swing one leg over the other so that you're rotating through your lower back. Keep your shoulder blades on the floor to give your lower back and obliques a good stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
- Figure four stretch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross your left ankle over your right knee and keep your left foot flexed. Bring your right knee towards you and your left arm through your left and interlacing your fingers below the crease of your left knee. Pull your knee toward your chest using your arms. You should feel the stretch on your left glute and hip. Hold for 30 seconds, and then release your leg. Repeat on the other side.
- Piriformis stretch: Sit down on the floor with both legs extended out in front of you. Cross your left leg over your right and place your left foot firmly on the floor, Twist your upper body to the left and place your left hand behind you. Place your right elbow on your left knee and press outward to help deepen the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.
- Biceps stretch: Stand upright and place your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers. Straighten out your arms and turn your hands so that your palms are facing down. Begin to raise your arms as high as you can so you can feel the stretch in your biceps. Hold for 30 seconds and then release.
- Overhead triceps stretch: Stand upright and roll your shoulders back and down. Reach your left arm up to the ceiling and bend your elbow to bring your palm towards the center of your back. Bring your right hand up to gently pull your left elbow downwards. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch arms.
If you really want to take your recovery to the next level, consider purchasing a foam roller and roll your muscles as your cool down! Foam rolling is a method known as myofascial release which helps increase blood by applying pressure to a specific muscle with a foam roller. Additionally, it helps reduce lactic acid build up, and increase muscle flexibility so you're prepared for your next workout! This method is best for those strength training, but it's also beneficial for any high-intensity training, like sprinting and HIIT.
There are foam rollers of all shapes and sizes. Some are small and shaped as a ball with spikes, or there are long to medium cylinder tubes that are smooth or contain ridges. All of these are great and work well, so pick the one that you think best fits your need. As a word of warning, foam rolling can be slightly uncomfortable and painful, but that's just a sign that its working and breaking up the lactic acid build up!
Do light cardio
The key to cooling down is to do it gradually. After your muscles have been working hard for an extended period of time you don't just want to suddenly stop all movement. This will increase your chances of being extremely sore the next day. So, anyone doing long cardio sessions can benefit from doing a lighter version of their cardio workout, but lifters can benefit as well!
After your cardio workout or strength training, consider hopping on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes and just walk! Walking a few laps while lightly swinging your arms will help reduce your heart rate, relieve built-up tension, and lower your body temperature.
Do deep breathing yoga
Yoga is very similar to stretching, but doing deep breathing yoga has additional benefits. Yoga poses are great for relieving your muscles from tension, but adding deep breaths helps to lower your heart rate (which is ideal for a good cool down), improves blood flow, and even helps the decrease the release of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Pick your favorite yoga poses, they don't have to be complicated, there are various great beginner-friendly ones, and add 3-5 deep breaths when holding each pose. This will help you unwind and feel relaxed after an intense training session.
Cool down to maximize your recovery
Take your recovery seriously by spending 5-10 minutes either stretching, doing light cardio, foam rolling, or even doing a quick yoga session. You'll be thankful that you did the next day! Besides taking a few minutes to cool down using the methods above, remember to hydrate and take a post-workout supplements, like Whey Protein Powder or BCAAs, to help maximize your recovery even further!