By Seth Riggleman
What is the most important thing to remember when it comes to a workout? Warm-ups, sets, repetitions, weights, frequency or maybe a cool down? It’s easy to show up to the gym walk up those stairs and slap plates on a barbell and just start cranking out reps. With all the fad workouts and dieting programs, it’s easy to fall into bad habits. Selecting the proper warm-up, workout and cool down is something that should be taken seriously. This article is going to focus mainly on the cool down portion of your workout.
Your workout puts a lot of stress on your body; the short window after an exercise is a crucial time to help your body speed up its recovery. Immediately practicing a cool down after exercising will not only help you perform better with your next workout but will also help kick start your body's natural recovery process. Nutrition plays a big part in recovery also but it doesn't stop with what you’re eating.
Following your workout immediately with a cool down is a key component in speeding up your recovery. Spending ten to twenty minutes doing one of the following techniques will help you recover faster, reduce muscle soreness and keep you motivated! A few examples that we will focus on in this article are:
Static & dynamic stretching
1 - Myofascial Release/Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a common recovery technique used by physical therapists, trainers and coaches to help speed up recovery. Why you should “roll out” after a workout? “Rolling out” helps aid in improving range of motion, relieves joint stress, improves neuromuscular efficiency and alleviates muscle soreness. Anyone, whether you’re an experienced athlete or just recreationally active, will suffer from exercise-induced muscle soreness commonly known as muscle swelling, muscle soreness or temporary muscle damage. If you’re finishing up a really intense workout session, grab a foam roller and roll out the muscle group you worked on for 5-15 minutes. Foam rolling can be a useful strategy to reduce muscle soreness, gain temporary flexibility and shorten total recovery time. It does this by disrupting nerve impulses in the muscle tissue which leads to a reduction of inflammation and promotes mitochondrial biogenesis in the cells. Mitochondrial biogenesis is the process by which cells increase ATP production, which is the #1 fuel for cells in your body!
Some useful foam rolling techniques can be found here:
2 - Lymphatic Drainage
Active lymphatic drainage is one of the simplest forms of recovery and also one of the most effective forms. While you’re exercising, your muscles contract and pull blood to the area being used, to maintain activity. With this increased blood flow, fluid will accumulate and give you that “pumped” feeling that’s commonly described in fitness industry. Too much accumulation of fluid, however, can hinder the recovery process. Reducing the accumulation of this fluid can be vital to a faster recovery, and there are several ways to promote lymphatic drainage.
Using gravity can be one of the simplest and most convenient ways. This can be done by merely raising the body part, that’s experienced muscle inroad, above your heart. For example, after a strenuous lower body workout, laying down with your legs elevated can allow gravity to take its course. Walking for a short period of time (5-10 minutes) after you work out can also help to promote lymphatic drainage and is an effective way to properly calm the body after the traumas of intense exercise.
3 - Stretching (dynamic & static)
Stretching prior to a workout is beneficial and can be just as beneficial to your post exercise recovery process. First lets look at what the differences are between dynamic and static stretching.
Dynamic stretching - performing functional movement patterns that simulate multi-joint movements; typically performed prior to physical activity. An example of a dynamic stretch would be a lunge with a torso twist. Engaging your legs, hips and core together.
Static stretching - taking a muscle to its end range of motion and maintaining that position statically for a sustained time period (holding 30 seconds or more) to increase flexibility and decrease the risk of injury. An example of a static stretch would be a groin stretch, also known as a “butterfly’ stretch.
The objective of stretching is to increase flexibility and decrease the chance of injury by lengthening the fibers of the muscle and fascia. Stretching is also a great tool to improve your athletic performance. Dynamic stretching has shown to be more beneficial prior to exercise in a warm up. Static stretching aids in the increase of flexibility, power, balance, agility, reaction time and strength. Using self-myofascial release techniques, like foam rolling or trigger point therapy, with static stretching can drastically boost your recovery.
Exercising a well-structured warm up, workout and cool down is paramount to achieving a high level of fitness. Recovering quickly and efficiently will boost your progress, motivation and overall energy level. Recovery is just as important to your progression as the actual workouts themselves. Allowing your body the proper avenues to recover can be crucial to your progress and can help prevent injury and reduce soreness. Ask your local personal trainer or coach to show you proper stretching techniques and how to use your foam roller efficiently.