Cooling down after a workout is a lot like flossing. It's a huge hassle and tempting to skip, but necessary if you want to stay free of injuries (or cavities).
Unfortunately, there's no perfect length of time for your cooldown routine. Everyone's body is different and needs its own time to relax after training. Learn how to figure out the best way to cool down after your next workout.
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How Long Should a Cooldown Last?
Cooling down after a workout should be a non-negotiable, but after a long training session, spending even more time at the gym can feel like a chore. But if you want to stay injury-free, cooling down is a must, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Plus, cooling down can actually improve your next training session.
Every time you exercise, you create tiny microtears in your muscles, which your body repairs with stronger muscle tissue. Often, though, this process is accompanied by delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), also known as achy muscles. By pumping more blood to your muscles, cooling down can actually help prevent muscle ache the day after a tough workout, helping you feel recovered for your next workout.
Stretching after a workout can also help prevent injury. After training, your muscles are warm and pliable, making this the perfect time to stretch and improve your flexibility. Consistent post-workout stretching can help improve your range of motion over time, improving your mobility and movement patterns during your actual workout. In the long run, this is great for injury prevention.
But when it comes to the nitty gritty, cooldown routines are a little more complicated. There's no ideal length of time to cool down after a workout, according to Pete McCall, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, host of the All About Fitness podcast and author of Ageless Intensity: High-Intensity Workouts to Slow the Aging Process.
"[Cooldown time] depends on how long and hard the workout was," he tells LIVESTRONG.com. "But typically, a structured cooldown of 4 to 6 minutes is appropriate." Technically, though, the entire time your body takes to return to its relaxed, pre-workout state can be considered a cooldown.
The more intense your workout, the longer your cooldown should take. While 4 to 6 minutes may be enough for some people to cool down, this may not even be long enough to stop sweating for others. So, McCall suggests paying attention to your heart rate and breathing. After a cooldown, your heart should feel steady and you should be able to hold a conversation.
Cooling Down After Different Types of Workouts
As mentioned earlier, your cool down depends largely on your workout. A cool-down routine should pay extra attention to the muscles you trained during your lift. So, if you focused on legs that day, giving your quads, hamstrings, calves and hips a good stretch is best.
After a run or bike ride, McCall likes to spend several minutes walking at an easy pace to help bring his heart rate down. Coming to a halt immediately after a sprint interval session is a pretty big jolt to your body. Instead, slowly work your way down to an easy walk to help control your heart rate and keep your muscles safe.
Usually, high-intensity training involves a combination of strength exercises (like push-ups or squats) and cardio. Plus, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) usually include moving between exercises as quickly as possible.
So, treat this as a hybrid cardio/strength session. Ease into your cooldown as you would after a run, gradually allowing your heart rate to come down. Then, once your breathing has slowed, you can start stretching and massaging your muscles.