In our last blog, we spoke about the importance of warming up to avoid injury. Now, we’re going to talk you through why it’s important to cool down after you exercise – and some people would argue that stretching after a workout is the most important thing you can do.
If you workout a lot, chances are you’ve experienced sore muscles, aches and pains, and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) from time to time. Though, if you bolt out of the gym quickly after your workout, you’re not stretching after your session and this can lead to more painful DOMS.
Why You Should Cool Down After Exercise
It’s really important to have a thorough cool down session and whilst a nice warm shower after the gym is a good way to soothe aching muscles, it’s just not going to cut it as a long-term strategy.
Here’s why you need to stretch post-exercise:
You may not know this but slowing your body down and sinking into some deep stretches boasts both physiological and psychological benefits.
The psychological benefits would be getting to know your body and its aches and twinges, and understanding the way your muscles work and the types of stretches you need to do.
But here’s the science bit: your muscles will experience a buildup of lactic acid when you work out, it’s this that causes the soreness and fatigue in the body. As well as that, your muscles are put through numerous moves that cause them to expand and contract quickly meaning they are usually left in what’s known as a shortened state – stretching can loosen this up and essentially extend the muscle, comparatively to when it’s contracted.
Stretching when your muscles are warm (and they will be from your gym session) also helps to increase the blood circulation. This will aid your muscles to recover faster so you can go hard in your next workout quicker than if you skip this all together.
Finally, stretching and cooling down properly is good for injury prevention, which we are obviously all for.
The Most Effective Way to Cool Down
If you’re strapped for time and are looking to have an effective cool down to go with your effective workout, then there are some key stretches that you can do to avoid injury and increased muscle soreness, without keeping you in the gym for much longer.
If you’ve worked on a particular muscle group, for example legs, then you can focus on the key muscles that are used – as well as the hip flexors and lower back – and you will reap the rewards of stretching. The same goes for if you just do an upper body workout; stretch the areas you have used.
However, it’s a good idea to dedicate some time to full body stretches as you use more muscles in any compound movement than you think. Speaking of full body, if you’ve done a full-body workout, you really will need to spend some time stretching all of your muscles so you don’t seize up – so hit that mat for between 15 and 30 minutes to ensure optimum recovery.
Techniques for Deep Stretches
We’ve touched on a few of the benefits of stretching here but one thing to bear in mind is that stretching will help you reduce your overall recovery time and prevent unnecessary injury.
Concentrate when you stretch, particularly if you’re holding a pose in weak areas or areas that are prone to injury – for example the knee or hip flexor. If you feel a pain then you need to stop the stretch immediately. If you experience this, the best thing to do is to rest, apply ice and compression and elevate the body part – also known as the RICE method.
It’s important to hold your stretch for up to a minute to gain the benefits, this can also help you push through the soreness from your workout.
If you invest time into a proper rehabilitation routine, you will also see a reduction in your overall aches and pains and an increase in your posture so it’s definitely worth your while to find an extra 10 – 15 minutes a session to warm your body up.
Above all, don’t forget to breathe.