I see it all the time. The teams I work with get done with practice or a game and away they go. I see it at running races and triathlons. This also goes for people that have physically demanding jobs (delivery persons, waiters, factory & construction workers, police, fire, teachers, etc). As soon as they’re done, they’re done. Rarely do I ever see anyone do a proper cool down any more. I mention it to my coaches and they complain about time constraints etc. I mention it to other athletes and get the same from them. Heck, even I do it. We use all of our time for our workouts, but don’t leave time for a cool down. Rarely does anyone skip a warm up, but rarely do they have time for a cool down despite the evidence showing that it is just as important as the warm up (and possibly more important in regards to injury prevention).
Part of the reason behind doing a cool down is that the lower lever activity helps keep blood flowing to and from the muscles properly. This helps keep toxins that are produced during heavy exercise as a result of microtraumas to the muscles from pooling in the muscles. They are flushed out by the continued muscle contractions and fresh nutrients and oxygen which the muscles need to repair themselves are delivered. And yes, heavy exercise does cause muscle and tendon damage, but that is part of the process for making muscles stronger. Break them down, and the body builds them back better than before. But it needs help doing it, and that is why the cool down is important. The longer and harder the workout, the longer the cool down should be.
What I find to be the most important part of the cool down is stretching. Research has shown that a dynamic warm up is better than static stretching before activity, but the old fashioned static stretching still does the trick after workouts. Exercise can cause muscles to shorten and tighten up, and the best time to address this is while the muscles are still warm. By stretching at the end of the cool down, the muscles are still pliable and receptive to stretching and it helps return them to preworkout length. Once the muscles have fully cooled down the tightness is pretty well set in and much more difficult to fix. On a regular basis I have athletes come into my athletic training room complaining of muscle tightness or sore or painful muscles and they have specific onset or mechanism of injury. They often will have tried doing extra stretching before activity to compensate, but will have no improvement as a result of it. After doing a proper history on them I find that they do no cool down or stretching after activity, and that simply getting them to do a proper cool down with stretching will steadily start alleviating their problems. In effect, when not doing a cool down, you are training your muscles to be shorter and tighter.
There are several other added benefits to doing a proper cool down. By restoring muscles to their proper length, instead of causing them to shorten with each workout, there will be an increase in range of motion. This causes a decreased chance of muscle strain and rupture. Also, when muscles are tight, the opposing muscles have to work harder to do their job, which increases fatigue, limits strength and speed. By keeping your muscles longer and more flexible you can see slight endurance, speed and strength improvements. It can help you better perform at your job, decreases fatigue, and generally makes you feel better the whole day.
Need help figuring out a proper warm up or cool down, or just have questions? An athletic trainer can help you.
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