Cooling down after a session - while not as important as warming up - is an important component of several athletes' routines, and many swear by the benefits of a cool down.
Benefits of a Cool Down
Cooling down has several purported benefits, though it should be pointed out that opinion is mixed and evidence patchy for several of these. Possible benefits of cooling down are:
- Literally cooling down: allowing the body to return to (or at least get close to) its normal temperature gradually
- Returning the heart to its resting rate
- Helping to remove waste products from muscles
- Reducing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
- Providing a fresh supply of oxygenated blood to fatigued muscles
- Reducing dizziness
As is always the case when opinion is divided about the potential benefits of an activity, it's worth experimenting and seeing what works for you. Try both cooling down and not cooling down after sessions and noting how you feel later on in the day and in the following days and how well you recover. If you feel better then keep doing them; if not then you may as well save yourself some time.
One important non-physiological benefit of cooling down after group sessions is that it allows runners to socialise and share in the runner's high that is often experienced after a tough session or race. Most runners get very talkative after a good race! Unlike warm ups - which are usually best individualised - there is little harm in athletes of all abilities cooling down together, assuming that everybody is taking it easy.
Another benefit is that a cool down jog can help you add a few extra miles to your weekly total. However, since the cool down is likely to be taking place after a hard session or race, be careful not to overdo it and impede your recovery.
Components of a Cool Down
There are two main components of a cool down:
5-15 minutes can be spent on this according to taste. A longer cool down has the benefit of allowing more time to gradually recover, whereas a short one allows for the athlete's attention to be turned to other important aspects of recovery, such as rehydration, refuelling and rest.
Jogging pace should be slower than usual easy run pace. Those who wear a heart rate monitor will notice that their pace-to-heart-rate ratio is higher than usual following a hard session.
Following a repetition-style session it can sometimes be nice to alternate walking and slow jogging when cooling down.
After a longer sustained effort (e.g. a long run at marathon pace, or a threshold run) a gradual reduction in pace taking place over about 15 minutes can work well. E.g. 5 minutes at your usual easy run pace, 5 minutes a little more slowly, then 5 minutes very slowly.
2. Static Stretching
See our article on stretching for advice and tips. Remember to stretch gently and that you shouldn't hold stretches for too long following a hard session or recovery could be negatively affected.
5-10 minutes spent stretching is sufficient post-workout.
Combining Cool Down & Recovery
Since it is important to rehydrate and refuel as soon as possible after a session, it is worthwhile combining your cool down with the start of your recovery.
Rehydration can take place during a session and certainly before a cool down begins. Re-fuelling with solid food may be difficult to stomach prior to the jog/walk component of the cool down, but a sugary drink will likely be tolerable. Remember that how soon you re-fuel and rehydrate will affect how well you recover so it's worth trying to find something that you can incorporate.