Cool Down Exercises

Learn how to cool down properly to recover faster and avoid injury. Includes cool down examples and exercises.

by Brad Walker | First Published April 11, 2002 | Updated October 17, 2019
Many people dismiss the cool down as a waste of time, or simply unimportant. In reality the cool down is just as important as the warm up, and if you want to stay injury free, it’s vital.

Although the warm up and cool down are just as important as each other, they are important for different reasons. While the main purpose of warming up is to prepare the body and mind for strenuous activity, cooling down plays a very different role.

The main aim of the cool down is to promote recovery and return the body to a pre exercise, or pre workout level.

Cool Down Stretching Exercises and Examples

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Many people dismiss the cool down as a waste of time, but the cool down is just as important as the warm up. And if you want to stay injury free, it’s vital. Keep watching for more info.

WHY COOL DOWN?
During strenuous exercise or a tough workout your body goes through a number of stressful processes: Muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments get damaged, and waste products build up within your body. The cool down, performed properly, will assist your body in its repair process. One area the cool down will help with is relieving some of the effects of DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS is the soreness that is usually experienced 24 to 48 hours after a tough workout. This soreness is caused by 2 main things.

MICRO TEARS
During exercise, tiny tears called micro tears develop within the muscle fibers. These micro tears cause swelling of the muscle tissues which in turn puts pressure on the nerve endings and results in pain.

BLOOD POOLING
When exercising, your heart is pumping 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. Then 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, as well as waste products like lactic acid, stays in the muscles, which in turn causes swelling and pain.

EFFECTIVE COOL DOWN
There are three key components, or parts, which should be included to ensure an effective and complete cool down. 1. Exercising at a very reduced intensity and diaphragmatic breathing exercises. 2. Low-intensity, long-hold static stretching (very gentle self massage or foam rolling is also helpful); and 3. Re-hydrate and re-fuel. All three parts are equally important and any one part should not be neglected or thought of as not necessary. All three elements work together to repair and replenish the body after exercise.

COOL DOWN EXAMPLE
Here’s an example of an effective cool down for someone who exercises for general health, fitness and fun. Start with 3 to 5 minutes of easy exercise. Be sure that the easy exercise resembles the type of exercise that was done during your workout. Include deep breathing as part of your easy exercise to help oxygenate your system. Follow with about 5 to 10 minutes of low-intensity, long-hold (30 to 60 seconds) static stretching. The aim here is not necessarily to improve your flexibility; it’s to gently lengthen out those muscles that have been constantly contracting during your game or workout. Re-hydrate and re-fuel. This part of the cool down can be done as you perform the other two parts. 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.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
Getting serious about your cool down will make sure you recover quicker from your workouts and stay injury free. Discover how to take your flexibility to the next level with the advanced stretching techniques from the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility. More than 70,000 people just like you have used our Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility to turn muscles made of rock into loose, limber, supple muscles that move with pain free ease! Visit our site to claim your copy today, and discover how to get loose, limber and pain free in less than 10 minutes a day. And if you enjoyed this video, be sure to like, comment and subscribe!

Why Cool Down?

During strenuous exercise or a tough workout your body goes through a number of stressful processes: Muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments get damaged, and waste products build up within your body.

The cool down, performed properly, will assist your body in its repair process. One area the cool down will help with is relieving some of the effects of DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness.

DOMS is the soreness that is usually experienced 24 to 48 hours after a tough workout. 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 then finding it difficult to walk down steps the next day because my quadriceps were so sore. That discomfort you feel is “delayed onset muscle soreness.”

This soreness is caused by 2 main things:

  1. Micro tears: During exercise, tiny tears called micro tears develop within the muscle fibers. These micro tears cause swelling of the muscle tissues which in turn puts pressure on the nerve endings and results in pain.
  2. Blood pooling: When exercising, your heart is pumping 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. Then 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, as well as waste products like lactic acid, stays in the muscles, which in turn causes swelling and pain. This process is often referred to as blood pooling.

The cool down helps all this by keeping the blood circulating, which in turn helps to prevent blood pooling and also removes waste products from the muscles. This circulating blood also brings with it the oxygen and nutrients needed by the muscles, tendons and ligaments for repair.

3 Key Parts of an Effective Cool Down

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

  1. Exercising at a very reduced intensity and diaphragmatic breathing exercises;
  2. Low-intensity, long-hold static stretching (very gentle self massage or foam rolling is also helpful); and.
  3. Re-hydrate and re-fuel.

All three parts are equally important and any one part should not be neglected or thought of as not necessary. All three elements work together to repair and replenish the body after exercise. Refer to the examples below for more detailed information about each component.

Cool Down Examples

To follow are two examples of effective cool downs. The first is an example of a cool down used by a professional athlete. The second is typical of someone who simply exercises for general health, fitness and fun.

Example 1: A cool down 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 workout. For example, if your workout involved a lot of running, cool down with easy jogging or walking.
  • Include deep breathing as part of your easy exercise to help oxygenate your system.
  • Follow with about 20 to 30 minutes of low-intensity, long-hold (30 to 60 seconds) static stretching. Many people make the mistake of stretching too hard or too vigorously during this part of the cool down. The aim here is not necessarily to improve your flexibility; it’s to gently lengthen out those muscles that have been constantly contracting during your game or workout.
  • Re-hydrate and re-fuel. This part of the cool down can be done as you perform the other two parts. 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.
Example 2: A cool down 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 workout. For example, if your workout involved a lot of running, cool down with easy jogging or walking.
  • Include deep breathing as part of your easy exercise to help oxygenate your system.
  • Follow with about 5 to 10 minutes of low-intensity, long-hold (30 to 60 seconds) static stretching. Many people make the mistake of stretching too hard or too vigorously during this part of the cool down. The aim here is not necessarily to improve your flexibility; it’s to gently lengthen out those muscles that have been constantly contracting during your game or workout.
  • Re-hydrate and re-fuel. This part of the cool down can be done as you perform the other two parts. 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 cool down and following the above examples will make sure you recover quicker from your workouts and stay injury free.

While the recommendations on this page are a good place to start, you'll get a lot more benefit when you add the right stretches to your training program. With the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility you'll...

  • The Stretching Handbook, DVD & CD-ROMDo away with stiff, tight muscles and joints;
  • Improve your freedom of movement;
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  • Improve your sporting performance; and
  • Take your flexibility to the next level.

You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretches for every major muscle groups in your body. Plus, the DVD includes 3 customized sets of stretches (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. And the Handbook will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly and safely. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly.

If you want to improve your flexibility and loosen up stiff, tight muscles fast, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.

Research and References

Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.

Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.