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Why You Shouldn’t Skip Cool Down Exercises

This important step gives your body time to return to its resting state while reducing muscle cramps, dizziness and injury

People in gym doing cool down stretches

Swimming 25 laps, walking 5 miles, doing one hour of yoga or a kickboxing class — there are many ways that you can get in your weekly exercise.

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But one constant you should be doing regardless of how you’re working out? Cool down exercises.

And there’s a good chance you might be forgetting this important step in your workout routine.

So, why are cool down exercises so important?

Exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer Karen Feakes, CPT, explains why you shouldn’t skip cool down exercises and how they can benefit your overall health.

Why is it important to cool down after a workout?

It might seem like cool down exercises aren’t that big of a deal, but Feakes says they play a very vital role in how your body works. She explains how.

Brings your blood pressure and heart rate back to a resting state

“The biggest thing with cool down exercises is that it brings down our physiological responses: The changes in heart rate, blood pressure and also in respiratory response,” explains Feakes.

“When we exercise, we’re seeing a change from that resting state to the exercising state. And when we bring down exertion, we start to see a drop in those functions. The most important reason to make sure that you have a little bit of a cool down, or at least a slow down in exertion, and bring the body back to that resting state is so that the pressure changes happen gradually.”

If you stop abruptly after working out, it can be jarring for your body, which was working hard by pumping blood through your system to suddenly not be doing so. Cooling down after exercise is important to gradually help your body return to its natural resting state.

Reduces muscle cramps

Another benefit of cooling down? Doing so will help reduce any muscle cramping you may experience.

“Depending on how high your heart rate is during exercise, you may see a lactic acid build-up, which can lead to muscle cramps,” notes Feakes. “For instance, if you’re doing sprints repeatedly, that’s going to drive your heart rate into an anaerobic state and you will have an accumulation of lactic acid within the muscle tissue.”

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By cooling down after exercise, you’re giving your body time to clear out some of the lactic acid from your system.

Lowers your chances of injury

Allowing your body to slowly recover from intense exercise helps in the short term, but it can also help in the long run by lowering your chance of injury.

If you skip a cool down after an intense sweat session, you may experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

“DOMS occurs when we have microscopic tears within the muscle fibers,” explains Feakes. “Going through a recovery process like a cool down can reduce DOMS. It can also reduce the risk of injury overall if we give the muscles an opportunity to come back to their resting state without it being too abrupt.”

What are the three stages of a cool down?

Generally, the three stages of a cool down are:

  1. Movement. This can be as easy as taking a stroll around the block or hopping on a stationary bike for a few minutes.
  2. Stretching. Stretching helps with your overall flexibility and helps you feel less sore throughout the day.
  3. Mindfulness. You can spend a few minutes doing a meditation or focusing on breathwork. “Concentrating on your breath can relax the mind as well as the muscles,” says Feakes.

How long is a cool down workout?

Feakes says your cool down workout can be anywhere from three minutes to 10 minutes long. The amount of time can vary depending on the type of exercise you’ve been doing.

“If you have a lot of high-intensity intervals in your workout, where you may have a heart rate into the anaerobic range, you may want a longer cooldown,” she says.

“As a rule of thumb, three minutes is the absolute minimum because you do want to be able to see that heart rate come down nice and slow. You want your blood pressure, particularly the systolic blood pressure, to come down and normalize before you stop that activity completely.”

What happens if you don’t cool down after exercise?

A sudden dip in your blood pressure or heart rate may cause you to feel dizzy or a little lightheaded.

And if you have a medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, a cool down is even more important.

“For somebody who has hypertension, diabetes or some type of heart function issue, a cool down is going to be very necessary for you to feel well after exercise,” shares Feakes.

Exercises for cooling down

There are a lot of ways you can cool down after exercising. But if you’re looking for some stretches to try, Feakes recommends the following static stretches, which help release muscle tension and aid in recovery.

Standup quadricep stretch

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet as wide as your hips.
  2. Bend your right knee behind you so your foot reaches your glute.
  3. Use your hand to hold your ankle in place.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with your left foot.

Extending hamstring stretch

  1. Start by standing near a raised surface like a step, stair or curb.
  2. Place the heel of your right foot on the raised surface.
  3. Bend forward at your hips, while keeping your spine straight and slightly bending your left leg.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with your left foot.

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Calf stretch

  1. Start by standing near a wall with your feet as wide as your hips.
  2. Place your hands flat on the wall at shoulder level.
  3. Take a step back with your right leg, keeping your foot flat.
  4. Bend your left leg and lean forward while pressing your right heel into the ground.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with your left leg.

Arm extensions

  1. Start by standing near a wall facing sideways so your right arm is closest to the wall.
  2. Raise your right arm and place your palm on the wall so your arm is extended.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with your left arm.

Shoulder circles

  1. Stand with your arms at your sides.
  2. Lift your shoulders and roll them towards your back in a circular motion.
  3. Repeat this motion five to 10 times and then repeat in the opposite direction.

The final stretch?

While cool downs are a vital part of your workout routine, Feakes also stresses the importance of warming up.

“Warming up and cooling down go hand-in-hand,” she says. “With a warmup, you can ease into the exercise that you’re doing. You’re probably working into a warmup without really realizing it. You’ll see your heart rate increase. You’ll see your respiratory response increase.”

After you finish your workout, don’t overlook cooling down. Give your body and your mind some time to slowly return to its natural state — it’s a short amount of time out of your day that has a big payoff.

“Having a cool down routine plays a role in how your body functions for several hours and how you feel the next day after doing a bout of exercise,” emphasizes Feakes.

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