Love it or hate it, we all appreciate why we should warm up before any exercise, especially something as blisteringly intense as a satisfying Street Fit® Hip Hop Workout®. Cooling down, on the other hand, might seem a little less important. Is there really any benefit to cooling down, or would it be better to squeeze a few more minutes of the fun stuff into your sessions?
After looking at some of the research on the subject it appears that cooling down after exercise does have some benefits, although the picture is not as clear as you might think.
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Defining the ‘Cool Down’
A cool down is a period of reduced activity that follows a high intensity workout or pastime. It often consists of low intensity cv exercise (e.g. walking, jogging) plus additional stretches and, occasionally, relaxation techniques.
Why we Cool Down: the Myths
Some of the widely accepted reasons for cooling down after exercise are actually hotly debated by those in white coats. For example, it is now believed that slowing down gradually may not help with the removal of lactic acid from the muscles and therefore may not speed recovery or reduce muscle soreness as commonly thought. Studies* have also shown that heart rate decreases just as rapidly during a cool down as it does when exercise is stopped abruptly. So what are the benefits of cooling down?
Draining the Muscles
When we engage in intense exercise, blood is pumped to the limbs in order to provide a ready supply of energy to the muscles. The action of the muscles also returns this blood to the heart. When we reduce our activity and stop moving our limbs, we also stop pumping the blood back to our heart. The effect of gravity then causes this blood to pool in our legs. The heart works as part of an intricate feedback mechanism, and responds to this reduction in blood return by decreasing output. Since the blood vessels in your limbs are still dilated, there is a drop in diastolic blood pressure and blood supply to the brain can be compromised, leading to nausea, dizziness and sometimes fainting. In addition, long-term blood pooling in the legs increases the risk of varicose veins.
Stretch it Out
Although the removal of lactic acid from the muscles may not be promoted by a simple reduction in exercise, stretching the muscles does help with this. Therefore, by incorporating stretches you are not only increasing flexibility, you are helping your muscles to recover and they will feel less stiff in the morning.
Reflection and Rapport
For class members, the cool down phase is a good time to reflect on what went well and what they need to work on between sessions. This is an ideal time for Instructors to ask questions, gain feedback and generally build rapport with their members. Some Instructors may consider introducing relaxation exercises and/or meditation to really bring the session to a serene end, although they should bear in mind that not all members will want this.
*e.g. Takahashi, Okada, Hayano and Tamura (2002), Yamagata University, Japan