After a race, a long run, or really any exercise of moderate level for longer than 30 minutes, it’s important to give your body a proper cooldown. A cooldown is to recovery what dynamic stretching is to performance. Get it?
While you might prefer to immediately flop on the ground in exhaustion, the best thing for your recovery is actually to keep moving. Why?
Running hard causes lactic acid and other waste products to accumulate in your muscles, this waste can result in stiffness as it pools in the muscles like coagulating butter. If skipping your cooldown becomes habit, the stiffness can become a chronic, injury-causing condition that can seriously hamper the enjoyment derived from running. Cooldowns help to flush the waste from the muscles, promoting faster recovery and much less hobbling around like someone who just ran an ultramarathon. Which, maybe you did just finish an ultramarathon, but you get the point.
During exercise, your muscles help the amount of blood returned to the heart by contracting with more force around the blood vessels. This allows the blood to return to the heart quickly for re-oxygenation and recirculation. When you stop suddenly, the muscles are no longer contracting against your blood vessels and gravity causes the blood to pool in the lower extremities. This can lead to dizziness or even fainting.
Keeping your blood circulating through your body is important because blood carries essential nutrients and oxygen to your muscles and cells, which assists in the growth and repair, which gets you ready for your next workout faster. This means more opportunity to progress and improve.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort, simply engaging in a 10-15 minute slow jog can be effective enough for your body to gradually return to its normal metabolic rate and remove the waste products from your muscles. The harder your workout or race, the greater the importance of at least a 10-minute cooldown.
Your cooldown should begin right after you cross the finish line, rehydrate and catch your breath. Depending on your temperature preferences, you may want to change your shirt or throw on a pair of pants before you start one of the following cooldown routines:
After a light effort run:
After a hard effort run:
Long run cooldown:
Race day cooldown:
Whatever you do, try to avoid sitting down immediately after a run. Not only will getting back up be hell, but you’re missing an opportunity to feel your best and progress.