Many people dismiss cool down as a waste of time, or simply unimportant. In reality cool down is just as important as warm up, and if you want to stay injury free, it's vital.
Although warm up and cool down are just as important as each other, they are important for different reasons. While main purpose of warming up is to prepare body and mind for strenuous activity, cooling down plays a different role.
Why Cool Down?
The main aim of cool down is to promote recovery and return body to a pre exercise, or pre-workout level. During a strenuous workout your body goes through a number of stressful processes, muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments get damaged, and waste products build up within your body. The cool down, performed properly, will assist your body in its repair process.
One area cool down will help with is "post exercise muscle soreness." This is soreness that is usually experienced day after a tough workout. Most people experience this after having a lay-off from exercise, or at beginning of their sports season. I remember running a half marathon with limited preparation, and finding it difficult to walk down steps next day because my quadriceps were so sore.
Post exercise muscle soreness is caused by a number of things. Firstly, during exercise, tiny tears called micro tears develop within muscle fibers. These micro tears cause swelling of muscle tissues which in turn puts pressure on nerve endings and results in pain.
Secondly, when exercising, your heart is pumping large amount of blood to working muscles. This blood is carrying both oxygen and nutrients that working muscles need. When blood reaches muscles oxygen and nutrients are used up. Then force of contracting (exercising) muscles pushes blood back to heart where it is re-oxygenated.
However, when exercise stops, so does force that pushes blood back to heart. This blood, as well as waste products like lactic acid, stays in muscles, which in turn causes swelling and pain. This process is often referred to as "blood pooling."
So, cool down helps all this by keeping blood circulating, which in turn helps to prevent blood pooling and also removes waste products from muscles. This circulating blood also brings with it oxygen and nutrients needed by muscles, tendons and ligaments for repair.
The Key Parts of an Effective Cool Down
Now that we know what cool down does and why it is so important, letís have a look at structure of an effective cool down. There are three key elements, or parts, which should be included to ensure an effective and complete cool down. They are;