Cool downs are often an overlooked part of performance programs. Yet, it’s still a very important piece of the performance puzzle. The cool down is your first step in your recovery process, it’s the kick-starter of recovery post an intense training session. You know that for you to be able to work harder, you need to recover well and, a cool down is your front line in the defense against over-training and poor recovery.
Why is a cool down important?
Without the physiology lesson it’s important to understand that the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, nerves) control which ‘state’ we are in – sympathetic (fight or flight) or parasympathetic (rest and digest). Try to visualise this like the revometer in your car, 0 is the start of the parasympathetic (sleeping, recovery) and 240 is the top end of the sympathetic state (competition, 1RM testing etc). The nervous system is not in one or the other states, rather we are in a state of flucuation depending on what we are doing. The idea of a cool down is to take yourself from a sympathetic state and transition to a more parasympathetic state. Therefore, to promote your body to start it’s recovery processes you need to take your nervous system from 200 back down towards 0.
Cool downs also a great place to add in some extra mobility/felxibility work. If you’re really struggling from a mobility or flexibility point of view, your cool down is the place to work on these qualities. However, it is slightly different to your warm up, warm up mobility might be working on positions that you want to get into for the workout. But your cool down, you can really work on any sticky or tight areas, or even just start the recovery process of some areas that you might have worked out that day.
How to structure yor cool down
A simple structure that you can follow for your cool down:
1.Foam rolling – You can go quite global with this, working on all the major muscle groups. Or you can be quite specific, if there’s certain areas that you’ve worked particularly hard that day. If you’ve done more of a leg biased workout, then you can focus a little bit more on the legs. And you can even just work on specific tight spots that you might have on a regular basis.
2.Stretching – This can come in the form of specific mobility work, using bands, and even partner assisted or PNF stretching. You can also throw in some yoga moves if that’s what you like to do. The idea here is just to get into some different positions and try and lengthen some of the tissues (muscles, tendons, liagments, fascia) that might have become “tighter” during your workout or just some tight that you might have in general.
3.Breathing – Your breath can control the tempo of your heart rate, it can control the tempo of your nervous system. You can use your breath to go from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state. Simple breathing techniques can make that happen, relatively quickly as well. For example one effective technique is box breathing. To execute this breathing technique simply inhale for a certain period of time (3-5 seconds), then hold your breath for that same time (3-5 seconds), then exhale (3-5 seconds), and then hold your breath again (3-5 seconds). Repeat this process for a minute and you’ll notice that your heart rate will be decreasing.
Remember, the idea is to go from a heightened state, all the way down into a relaxed state. A cool down should be included after every single training session, whether it’s on the training track, or in the gym. You’ll start to see noticeable changes in your ability to go from being really up and about after your training session, to being able to relax faster. Positives of this, you’re kick starting that recovery process so your body can start to make some changes for the better.