Cool down exercises

Exercising is without a doubt, a fantastic way to improve your physical and mental wellbeing, but if you’re not careful it can be easy to over-do it and injure yourself! That’s where adding cool down exercises to the end of your workout comes in! But what exactly are cool down exercises? In this article, we’ll be learning more about what cool down exercises are and the benefits of doing them.

People stretching and doing cool down exercises

What are cool down exercises?

As well as warming up before exercising it’s equally important to cool down. Cool down exercises can be a combination of stretches and gentle movements that you do following a workout or any sustained period of physical activity. The main purpose of cool down exercises, or cooling down, is to gradually reduce your heart rate back down to your resting heart rate and regulate blood flow. Cool down exercises can also help to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness following your workout.

Why is cooling down after exercising important?

Cooling down properly following exercise, particularly intense workouts or endurance sports such as long-distance running, is important to make sure that your body recovers gently. When you are exercising your heart rate increases above your resting heart rate due to the increased demand for oxygen from your muscles. When you stop exercising your heart rate will begin to return to normal again, however if you skip cool down exercises this can happen too quickly resulting in a sudden drop of blood pressure which may leave you feeling dizzy or faint.

Just a few minutes of cool down exercises can help to prevent any sudden swings in blood pressure and will allow your heart rate to return to normal at a more gradual pace. We think that’s a few minutes well spent!

What are the benefits of cool down exercises?

Regulating your blood pressure

As we’ve already mentioned, the main reason you should be doing cool down exercises is to regulate your blood pressure following a workout. The benefit of this is that you’ll avoid any sudden drops in blood pressure and allow your cardiovascular system to recover from intense exercise gradually.

Preventing injuries

Whilst it’s still under debate just how much benefit cool down exercises have for preventing injury, stretching out your muscles post workout can help a lot with reducing stiffness and soreness following your workout.

If you’ve ever spent the day following a run struggling to sit down because of stiff muscles it may be worth looking at your cool down routine. By doing cool down exercises straight after your workout you’ll be stretching out your muscles whilst they are still warm, allowing them to recover more easily.
 
Already having some issues with exercise related injuries? Here are some common injuries and how to treat them:

Calf pain when walking – causes and how to treat it
Hip pain when walking – causes and how to treat it
Knee pain when walking – causes and how to treat it
Shin splints – what are they and how can I treat them?
Runner’s knee – what is it and how can I treat it?

Mental relaxation

Whilst all exercise has fantastic benefits for your mental health as well as your physical fitness, cooling down is a great time to relax your mind following your workout.

Cool down exercises generally focus on slow stretches and gentle movements, use this time to focus on your breathing, taking slow breaths in and out. It’s also a great time to slow down and reflect on your progress and accomplishments that you’ve achieved through exercise and focus on that feeling of wellbeing that you get from exercise.

Read more about the mental health benefits of exercise here.

How to cool down after exercising

So, we know cooling down is important, but how should you cool down properly after exercising?

Consider the type of workout you’ve just done. Which muscle groups have you been working? It’s important to focus on stretching these muscles out during your cool down exercises. For example if you’ve been running you’ll want to stretch out those leg muscles to avoid them getting too stiff.

Cool down exercises are easy to add onto the end of your workout and only need to take around 5 to 10 minutes. You could start by continuing the movement you were doing in your workout, such as swimming, cycling or running, and slowing it down to a relaxed pace and reducing any resistance. Gentle walking is a good cool down exercise that you can do following most exercises. Once your heart rate has started to reduce, switch to stretches that work your target muscle groups and help to increase joint flexibility.

Examples of cool down exercises

There are lots of cool down exercises that you can do to reduce your heart rate and stretch out those muscles. Here are a few cool down exercises you can include to work each part of the body.

Leg cool down exercises

Reduce your heart rate with a slow walk: A slow walk for 2-5 minutes will help to steadily reduce your heart rate following more intense exercise.

Stretch with thigh stretches: Stretch out your thighs by standing on one leg and pulling the other leg behind you, bringing your foot towards your back. Hold this position for 20 seconds then switch legs.

Core warm up exercises

Reduce your heart rate with jumping jacks: Jumping jacks work your whole body with a combination of jumping and arm swings that are great for stretching out the upper body and chest. For a cool down stick to a gentle pace.

Stretch with side bench stretches: Stand with your feet at hip width apart and your left hand on your left hip, raise your other hand over your head then lean towards your left side. Repeat this 10 – 20 times on each side.

Arm warm up exercises

Arm circles: Arm circles are great for stretching out your shoulders and upper arms. Stand with your feet apart and your arms to your sides. Swing your arms forwards in a circular motion for 10 reps and then do 10 more swinging your arms backwards.

Stretch out with shoulder stretches: Grasp your left elbow with your right hand and bring your left arm close to your chest. Hold this position for 20 seconds, feeling the stretch, then repeat on the other side.

Cool down exercises you can do at home

Most of the cool down exercises that we’ve mentioned can be done at home. If you don’t have a lot of space to move around you can make modifications such as switching the walk for marching on the spot and still get the same benefits.

Cool down exercises don’t generally require any expensive or unusual equipment either. However, you may want to use a yoga mat if you have a hard floor or incorporate resistance bands to help with stretching.
 
Read more tips for exercising at home here.

Cool down exercises: Final thoughts

Whatever your workout of choice or fitness level, it’s important to include cool down exercises to aid recovery! By adding just 5 minutes of cool down exercises to the end of your workout you’ll be helping to regulate your heart rate, avoid muscle soreness and improve your overall flexibility. Your body will thank you for not skipping your next cool down session!