Runners Cool Down Guide

Let's take a closer look at what a cool-down really does for us. The main objective of a cool-down is to assist the body to return to pre-exercise conditions. It aims to reduce your heart rate and breathing rate. The cool-down lowers the body's core temperature and creates a gateway to further recovery. Other benefits of a cool-down:

  • Blood pooling in your legs is prevented;
  • Lactate from your muscles and blood is removed quicker;
  • Adrenaline level in your blood is reduced;
  • Muscle stiffness is reduced and likelihood of future injury is decreased.

During any training run of more than 20 minutes the muscles go through a series of stressful processes. Ligaments, tendons, and muscle fibres get damaged and waist products are released.

The cool down supports your body in its repair process. It will help with reducing "post exercise muscle soreness", also known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the soreness and stiffness that is usually felt the day after a tough training session.

This soreness is caused by tiny tears called micro tears developed within the muscle fibres. These micro tears cause swelling of the muscle tissues. Then this swelling puts pressure on the nerve endings of the fibres which results in pain.

Secondly, during a hard workout your heart is pumping a more than usual amount of blood to the working muscles. This blood carries the needed oxygen and nutrients for the working muscles. The nutrients and oxygen are used by the active muscles and then the blood is pushed back to the heart by the force of the contracting muscles for re-oxygenation.

Blood starts pooling in your legs when the exercise stops. Because the muscles don't produce force anymore and the blood is not pushed back to the heart. This pooling blood which stays in the muscles contains lactic acid and will cause swelling and pain.

A cool-down keeps the blood circulating to remove unwanted waist products away from the muscles and to transport the needed oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and ligaments for repair.

Cool Down Routine

A runner's cool down process is an active stage which should resemble the main physical workout activity or marathon race. Meaning, the time spend on cooling down depends on the amount of time you spend running and the intensity. When you have finished an easy run of just a few miles your cool down process can be between 10 to 15 minutes, divided into 5 to 8 minutes of jogging and 5 to 10 minutes on stretching. In case you have just come back from a long distance run or full marathon race, you need to cool down for 15 to 25 minutes or longer. Cool down should consist of these three stages:

  • Easy jog or walk for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Stretching of your muscles with static stretching routine.
  • Refueling by eating nutritional food and re-hydrating with lots of water or sports drinks.

The Optimal Cool-Down Routine

Within the first 20 minutes after your main work out, try to have a recovery drink containing carbohydrates and protein. It has been shown that taking in carbohydrates soon after an (intense) work-out, you will be able to maintain your blood sugar level and avoid any immune system suppression. Read more about nutrition and carbohydrates.

Your cool-down should start with easy running for 5 to 8 minutes. The best clearance of lactate, adrenaline, etc from your muscles occurs if you start your cool-down run at 65 to 75% of your maximum heart rate, and slow down to an easy jog or walk for the last 5 minutes. Always try to keep moving after you finish a training run or marathon race.

As important as the cool-down run is your stretching routine. While your muscles still warm and have a good blood flow, stretching can be performed with low risk of injury. It is important to stretch after every work-out to prevent the tightening of muscles because this could lead reduced stride length. Experience will tell you how long you have to hold your stretches to keep your full range of motion but try to aim for holding stretched between 15 to 30 seconds. Take good care of the main muscle groups in your legs such as the hamstrings, calves, thighs, and buttocks as well as shoulder and neck areas. Stretches should be performed twice but three times would be favorable after a hard or long training run or endurance race of more than 10 kilometers.

Always after finishing a race or hard workout, do not be tempted to sit down and relax. Take the time for a cool-down and stretching, to promote a speedy recovery.


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