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Cooldown - recover faster and avoid injury

Brad Walker explains why it is important to undertake a cooldown program after training and competition.

Many people dismiss the cool down as a waste of time, or unimportant. In reality, the cooldown is just as important as the warm-up, and if you want to stay injury-free, it is vital. Although the warm-up and cooldown are just as important as each other, they are essential for different reasons. While warming up the primary purpose is to prepare the body and mind for strenuous activity, cooling down plays a different role.

Why Cool Down?

The cool down's main aim is to promote recovery and return the body to a pre-exercise, or pre-workout level. During a strenuous workout, your body goes through several stressful processes, e.g. muscle fibres, tendons and ligaments get damaged, and waste products build up within your body.

The cool down, performed correctly, will assist your body in its repair process. One area the cooldown will help with is "post-exercise muscle soreness." This is the soreness that is usually experienced the day after a challenging work out. Most people experience this after having a lay-off from exercise, or at the beginning of their sports season. I remember running a half marathon with very little preparation and finding it difficult to walk down steps the next day because my quadriceps were so sore. That discomfort is "post-exercise muscle soreness."

Several things cause this soreness. Firstly, during exercise, tiny tears called micro tears develop within the muscle fibres. These micro-tears cause swelling of the muscle tissues, which puts pressure on the nerve endings and results in pain.

Secondly, when exercising, your heart is pumping a large amount of blood to the working muscles. This blood is carrying both oxygen and nutrients that the working muscles need. When the blood reaches the muscles, the oxygen and nutrients are used up. The force of the contracting (exercising) muscles pushes the blood back to the heart where it is re-oxygenated.

However, when the exercise stops, so does the force that pushes the blood back to the heart. This blood and waste products like lactic acid stay in the muscles, which in turn causes swelling and pain. This process is often referred to as "blood pooling."

So, the cooldown helps all this by keeping the blood circulating, which helps prevent blood pooling and removes waste products from the muscles. This circulating blood also brings the oxygen and nutrients needed by the muscles, tendons and ligaments for repair.

The Key Parts of an Effective Cool Down

Now we know what the cooldown does and why it is so important, let us look at the structure of an effective cool down. There are three key elements, or parts, which should be included to ensure an effective and complete cool down. They are;

  • Gentle exercise
  • Stretching
  • Re-fuel

All three parts are equally important, and any part should not be neglected or thought of as unnecessary. All three elements work together to repair and replenish the body after exercise. To follow are two examples of useful cooldowns. The first is an example of a cooldown used by a professional athlete. The second is typical of someone who exercises for general health, fitness and fun.

Cool Down Routines

Example 1: - For the Professional

  • 10 to 15 minutes of easy exercise. Be sure that the easy exercise resembles the type of exercise that was done during your work out. For example, if your workout involved a lot of running, cool down with easy jogging or walking
  • Include some deep breathing as part of your easy exercise to help oxygenate your system.
  • Follow with about 20 to 30 minutes of stretching. Static stretching and PNF stretching is usually best.
  • Re-fuel. Both fluid and food are important. Drink plenty of water, plus a good quality sports drink. The best type of food to eat straight after a work out is that which is easily digestible. Fruit is a good example.

Example 2: - For the Amateur

  • 3 to 5 minutes of easy exercise. Be sure that the easy exercise resembles the type of exercise that was done during your work out. For example, if your workout involved a lot of running, cool down with easy jogging or walking
  • Include some deep breathing as part of your easy exercise to help oxygenate your system.
  • Follow with about 5 to 10 minutes of stretching. Static stretching and PNF stretching is usually best.
  • Re-fuel. Both fluid and food are important. Drink plenty of water, plus a good quality sports drink. The best type of food to eat straight after a workout is that which is easily digestible. Fruit is a good example.

Getting serious about your cooldown and following the above examples will ensure you recover quicker from your workouts and stay injury-free.


Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • WALKER, B. (2007) Cooldown - recover faster and avoid injury. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 46/ October), p. 4

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • WALKER, B. (2007) Cooldown - recover faster and avoid injury [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni46a2.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming and triathlon coaching. He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention.