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Cooling down after a workout helps (5 points)


Aerobic exercise: How to warm up and cool down

Done correctly, warming up and cooling down may offer help in reducing your risk of injury and improving your athletic performance.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Before you jump on the elliptical machine or hit the running trails, consider doing a brief warmup first. And think about following your workout with a quick cool-down session. Sure, a warmup and cool-down may add a few minutes to your exercise routine, but they might also reduce stress on your heart and other muscles.

Why warm up and cool down

Warmups and cool-downs generally involve doing your activity at a slower pace and reduced intensity.

Warming up helps prepare your body for aerobic activity. A warmup gradually revs up your cardiovascular system by raising your body temperature and increasing blood flow to your muscles. Warming up may also help reduce muscle soreness and lessen your risk of injury.

Cooling down after your workout allows for a gradual recovery of preexercise heart rate and blood pressure. Cooling down may be most important for competitive endurance athletes, such as marathoners, because it helps regulate blood flow. Cooling down doesn’t appear to help reduce muscle stiffness and soreness after exercise, but more research is needed.

Although there’s controversy about whether warming up and cooling down can prevent injuries, proper warmups and cool-downs pose little risk. Plus, they seem to give your heart and blood vessels a chance to ease into — and out of — an exercise session. So if you have the time, consider including a warmup and cool-down in your workout routine.

How to warm up

Warm up right before you plan to start your workout. In general, warm up by focusing first on large muscle groups, such as your hamstrings. Then you can do exercises more specific to your sport or activity, if necessary.

Begin by doing the activity and movement patterns of your chosen exercise, but at a low, slow pace that gradually increases in speed and intensity. This is called a dynamic warmup. A warmup may produce mild sweating, but generally won’t leave you fatigued.

Here are some examples of warm-up activities:

  • To warm up for a brisk walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes.
  • To warm up for a run, walk briskly for five to 10 minutes.
  • To warm up for swimming, swim slowly at first and then pick up the tempo as you’re able.

How to cool down

Cooling down is similar to warming up. You generally continue your workout session for five minutes or so, but at a slower pace and reduced intensity.

Here are some examples of cool-down activities:

  • To cool down after a brisk walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes.
  • To cool down after a run, walk briskly for five to 10 minutes.
  • To cool down after swimming, swim laps leisurely for five to 10 minutes.

A word about stretching

If stretching exercises are part of your workout routine, it’s best to do them after the warm-up or cool-down phase, when your muscles are already warm.

Stretching can improve flexibility and range of motion about a joint. Stretching may also help improve your performance in some activities by allowing your joints to move through their full range of motion. However, studies haven’t consistently shown that stretching helps prevent muscle soreness or injury.

Be kind to your body

Finding time for regular aerobic workouts — plus warming up and cooling down — can be challenging. But with a little creativity, you can probably fit it in. For example, walking to and from the gym can be your warmup and cool-down.

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  1. Warm up, cool down. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/warm-up-cool-down. Accessed May 6, 2019.
  2. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. 2nd ed. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition. Accessed May 6, 2019.
  3. AskMayoExpert. Physical activity (adult). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2019.
  4. Van Horren B, et al. Do we need a cool-down after exercise? A narrative review of the psychophysiological effects and the effects on performance, injuries and the long-term adaptive response. Sports Medicine. 2018;48:1575.
  5. Popp K, et al. Pre- and post-activity stretching practices of collegiate athletic trainers in the United States. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2017;31:2347.

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You can do cooldown exercises at the end of your workout to ease yourself out of strenuous activity. Cooldown exercises and stretches lower your chance of injury, promote blood flow, and reduce stress to your heart and other muscles.

Plus, you’ll bring your heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure levels back down to their normal levels before you continue carrying on with your usual activities.

Dedicate at least 10 minutes of your workout to cooling down. Read on to learn some of the best ways to do so. From here, you can choose the exercises that appeal to you the most and put them together to create your workout recovery and relaxation routine.

For everyone

Do these exercises at a slower speed and lower intensity than your normal workout. Breathe deeply while cooling down to deliver oxygen to your muscles, release tension, and promote relaxation.

1. Light jogging or walking

This is one of the most straightforward ways to cool down. Do 3 to 5 minutes of light jogging followed by 3 to 5 minutes of brisk or easy walking.

2. Upper body stretch

  1. From a standing or seated position, interlace your fingers and press your palms up toward the ceiling.
  2. Draw your hands up and back as far as you can while maintaining a straight spine.
  3. Then place your left arm in front of your right and turn your palms to face each other, stretching your hands up and back.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side.

3. Seated Forward Bend

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  1. Sit with your legs extended in front of you.
  2. Lift your arms.
  3. Hinge at your hips to fold forward.
  4. Place your hands on your legs or the floor.
  5. Hold this position for up to 1 minute.

4. Knee-to-Chest Pose

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  1. Lie on your back with your left leg bent or extended.
  2. Draw your right knee in toward your chest, interlacing your fingers around the front of your shin.
  3. Hold this position for up to 1 minute.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side.
  5. Do each side 2 to 3 times.

5. Reclining Butterfly Pose

  1. Lie on your back with the soles of your feet together and your knees out to the sides.
  2. Place your arms alongside your body or overhead.
  3. Hold this position for up to 5 minutes.

6. Child’s Pose

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  1. From tabletop position, sink back to sit on your heels, reaching your arms forward or alongside your body.
  2. Allow your chest to fall heavy into your thighs, breathing deeply.
  3. Rest your forehead on the floor.
  4. Hold this position for 1 to 3 minutes.

After running 

7. Standing quadriceps stretch

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  1. From a standing position, bend your right knee to bring your heel toward your buttock.
  2. Hold your ankle with one or both hands.
  3. Keep your knees in alignment next to each other, and don’t pull your knee out to the side.
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.
  6. Do each side 2 to 3 times.

8. Downward-Facing Dog

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  1. From tabletop or plank position, move your hips up and back, keeping your spine straight.
  2. Spread your fingers and press your weight evenly between hands.
  3. Pedal out your legs by pressing one heel into the floor at a time.
  4. Hold this position for 1 minute.

9. Head-to-Knee Forward Bend

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  1. While seated, extend your right leg and press your left foot into your right thigh.
  2. Align your breastbone with the inside of your right leg as you raise your arms overhead.
  3. Hinge at your hips to fold forward, placing your hands on your body or the floor.
  4. Hold this position for up to 1 minute.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

For seniors 

10. Standing Forward Bend

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  1. From a standing position, slowly hinge at your hips to bend forward.
  2. Lengthen your spine, and allow your head to fall heavy toward the floor, keeping a slight bend in your knees.
  3. Place your hands on the floor, hold opposite elbows in front of or behind your thighs, or interlace your hands behind your back.
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

If your hands are unable to reach the floor, you can modify this stretch. Place hands on a block or sturdy object instead of the floor. You’ll still reap the same benefits.

11. Shoulder stretch

  1. From a standing or seated position, lift up your right elbow and place your hand near your neck or spine.
  2. Place your left hand on your right elbow to gently press your right hand further down your spine.
  3. To deepen the stretch, bring your left arm alongside your torso and reach your left hand up to clasp your right hand.
  4. Hold a towel or resistance band to allow you to reach further.
  5. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat on the opposite side.

12. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

  1. Sit with the right side of your body next to a wall.
  2. Swing your legs up along the wall as you lie down on your back.
  3. Place your hips against the wall or a few inches away.
  4. Place your arms alongside your body, on your stomach, or overhead.
  5. Hold this position for up to 5 minutes.

13. Corpse Pose

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  1. Lie on your back with your arms alongside your body, palms facing up, and your feet slightly wider than your hips, with your toes splayed out to the sides.
  2. Relax your body, and let go of any tightness or tension.
  3. Allow your body to fall heavily to the floor as you breathe deeply.
  4. Stay in this position for 5 minutes or longer.

For kids 

14. Spinal twist

  1. Lie on your back with your left leg bent or extended.
  2. Draw your right knee in toward your chest.
  3. Extend your right arm over to the side and place your left hand to the outside of your right knee.
  4. Gently twist over to the left side.
  5. Hold the twist for 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat on the opposite side.

15. Marching arm circles

  1. March in place with your arms extended out to the sides at shoulder height.
  2. Circle your arms forward 8 to 10 times.
  3. Circle your arms backward 8 to 10 times.

16. Body shakes

  1. Gently shake your right arm, then your left arm, and then both arms at the same time.
  2. Then, shake your right leg, then your left leg.
  3. Next, shake your head, your hips, and your whole body.
  4. Shake each body part for 15 seconds.

Benefits of cooling down 

Cooldown exercises start the recovery process, increase flexibility, and promote relaxation.

  • A gradual cooldown keeps your blood circulating and prevents it from pooling in your veins, which can cause you to feel lightheaded or dizzy.
  • Cooling down allows your body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate to return to their normal levels.
  • Stretching your muscles while they’re still warm can help to reduce lactic acid buildup, reducing your chance of muscle cramps and stiffness.
  • In addition, stretches elongate the connective tissue around your joints, increase mobility, and improve range of motion.

All of these benefits work to improve your body’s overall function and flexibility, allowing you to feel better, perform at a higher level, and have less chance for injury.

When to see a pro 

Consider seeking out a personal trainer if you want assistance with modifications or to take your workouts to the next level.

An exercise professional can help you to develop a specific cooldown routine based on your needs. They may adjust the type of workout you do according to any injuries, areas of concern, or goals you have in mind.

A professional can make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly and provide valuable feedback so that you’re staying safe while maximizing your workout potential.

The bottom line

Set yourself up for success by setting time aside to gradually cool down after you exercise. This gives your body a chance to recover, regulates your bodily systems, and helps to ease you back into the normal pace of your daily life.

Allow yourself enough energy to complete your cool down without pushing yourself beyond your limits. Go only to your edge and never bounce or force your way into any position.

On days when you’re not feeling especially active or energetic, you can swap out part of your workout and focus on more of these cooling, relaxing exercises to benefit your mind and body.

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