The cool down for running is to tell your body that you have stopped exercising. Allowing your heart rate to slow down and your muscles to return back to normal. It also provides a good mental transition from running harder to the end of your session.
Why Should You Cool Down?
The cool-down keeps the blood flowing throughout the body. Stopping suddenly can cause a little dizziness because your heart rate and blood pressure might drop rapidly. The cool down slowly allows them to fall gradually and give your body less of a shock instead of just stopping at speed. Your body needs that time to get used to stopping after exercise.
It allows you to return your heart rate to baseline gradually. This is better for the sake of training especially if you have been doing a speed session. If your heart anticipates a sporadic change in pace every time you run, then it is not going to know how to regulate itself properly in future training sessions. If you don’t allow it to return to a baseline after exercise. Abruptly stopping a workout also dramatically slows circulation, causing blood to pool in your legs instead of promptly returning to the heart and brain. Which can make you feel dizzy and even passing out.
To put things more simply: When you are running, your legs need blood to function and need that extra oxygen when you are working hard. The way in which your body prepares for this is by pooling the blood in the legs so that the reserve is there ready to be used. Without cooling down for running, your body doesn’t know whether you have stopped, going to run hard again and do some other form of exercise. It’s just a way of telling your brain and heart “Chill, the blood is coming back slowly!”
You may see that a cool down helps with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) but studies have proven this not to be true. Studies have actually shown that a warm-up helps with DOMS more than a cool down would.
How To Cool Down For Running
At the end of your run, take these steps to ensure you cool down properly.
After you finish your run, cool down for running by walking or slowly jogging for 5 to 10 minutes. Your breathing and heart rate should gradually return to normal. At this point don’t worry about what your pace is saying on your watch. This is about you feeling good after a session. If you do start with a run, gradually decrease the pace and finish with a walk for 2-3 minutes. Just to ensure that you are getting the most out of your cool down.
Drink water or sports drink in the hours post-session to hydrate yourself. This all helps with recovery as you will be at a deficit of fluids after a hard session. Especially if the weather is particularly warm outside. If you can get some added electrolytes in then that is an added bonus to recovery too!
Follow a 5-10 minute stretching routine to ease off any tightness you may have post-session to promote flexibility. It’s a win-win because your muscles are already warm, you might as well make the most of it!
Studies are constantly changing on what works best for runners in terms of warming up and cooling down. We know that warm-ups and cool-downs are beneficial to you in terms of injury prevention and preparing your body for pre, during and post-session.
Here is a great cool down video perfectly explained by Ben Parkes!