What's a cool-down worth?
According to a recently published article in the New York Times, not too much.
The article touches on a handful of studies-one involving average active adults; the others, Spanish professional soccer players-that focused on groups participating in various controlled workouts. Some participants only warmed up before their workout while others warmed up and cooled down. Another group did neither.
So what benefits does a cool-down have on post-workout body soreness? The studies claim none. In these studies, the participants who neglected a cool down did not suffer from more soreness than those who did not cool down. On the other hand, the group of active adults who participated in a warm-up did face less soreness than those who did not warm up. And, other research has shown cool-downs to be effective in preventing blood from pooling in the extremities, which can lead to possible dizziness or fainting.
It's also important to take into account that the studies involved athletes and active adults. In the general population, however, many apparently healthy adults may have heart disease, or other undiagnosed conditions which make an active cool-down beneficial. A cool-down can reduce the possible occurrence of lightheadedness, musculoskeletal issues, abnormal heart rhythms and cardiac arrest1. While this is not a complete list of potential issues arising from an improper cool-down, it does highlight some issues not fully discussed in the article.
Take a look at these simple warm-ups and cool-downs that could be integrated into your client's-or your own-workouts, and share your own warm-up and cool-down tips in the comments below.
The point of the warm-up is to prepare and raise the temperature of the muscles in preparation for more intense activity. You could just walk briskly or bike for 10 minutes, but you could also:
- Try yoga. Starting with some deep breathing and sun salutations in a Vinyasa flow is a perfect beginning to your workout. Vinyasa movements are breath-synchronized, and flow in a dance-like way. A 10- to 15-minute routine of a cat-cow stretches followed by sun salutations - especially when practicing chaturanga dandasana instead of plank, knees, chest, chin - will quickly get your muscles engaged, and even have you breaking a sweat.
- Try a dynamic routine. This Men's Fitness warm-up focuses on warm-up movements that may mimic those in the upcoming workout. Dynamic stretches are the opposite of static ones. Instead of holding a stretch or position, dynamic stretching consists of movements that will get your blood flowing. Try reverse lunges, different types of push-ups, and leg swings.
The above-mentioned NYT article also speaks to the exercise scientists who are still advocates of the cool-down. Though not proven to be effective from a muscular soreness standpoint, they say that a cool down still has worthwhile psychological effects, to restore a "sense of normality" to your body. Considering this, the cool-down portion of a workout does not need to be as creative or elaborate to get the job done.
- Utilize a stability ball, as demonstrated by Fitness Magazine. Lie face up, essentially wrapping your back along the ball. Let arms drape, palms up, and walk your legs away from the stability ball. This relaxing stretch targets the legs, hips, back and shoulders. Who said cooling down has to be rigorous?
- A cool-down can be just as effective with no tools. Whatever you're doing, be it spinning or running, simply dial down the intensity level for a few minutes - about five to 10. Finish the cool-down off with head-to-toe static stretching - here's a thorough guide.
Do you begin every workout or every client session with a warm up, and end with a cool down? Share your experiences, routines, and other comments below.
1"The period immediately after exercise is particularly dangerous because of the high catecholamine levels that are associated with generalized vasodilation. Peripheral arterial dilation induced by exercise and reduced cardiac output, resulting from diminished venous return secondary to sudden termination of muscular activity, may lead to a reduction in coronary perfusion in early recovery while the heart rate is still elevated. The increased sympathetic tone in the myocardium may stimulate ectopic Purkinje pacemaker activity by accelerating phase 4 of the action potential, which provokes spontaneous discharge and leads to increased automaticity." AHA Scientific Statement, Exercise Standards for Testing and Training.