Full length of people in sports clothing warming up and stretching while exercising on the sidewalk outdoors

Fitness: Must-do Cool-down

Here’s why you should always cool down after a run or race in order to help your body recover more efficiently. – BY SEAN FALCONER

Many runners know they need to warm their muscles up before a run, especially if racing or planning to run hard from the start, but many neglect the equally important cool-down and recovery routine, which is designed to lower your heart rate and return the body to its resting state, flush out metabolic waste products (lactic acid) by kick-starting your lymphatic (natural drainage) system and bloodflow, and maintain healthy muscle function. So, if you don’t often do a cool-down, here are four simple steps to follow to get all these benefits, thus allowing you to return to training faster, while also decreasing your chances of injury.

  • Jog or Walk
    Start the cool-down process with easy-effort movement – faster runners can try slow jogging, while slower runners can try run-walking or just walking. If you just stop abruptly after a hard run, your body may rebel, and chances of you cramping increase dramatically. You could try doing:10 minutes after long slow runs.
    15-20 minutes after tempo or race-pace runs.
    20 minutes after harder effort interval workouts and races, including a 20-minute walk after a hard marathon or half marathon.
  • Hydrate and Refuel
    Recovery should include hydration and taking in fuel to replenish fluid and muscle glycogen, and to repair muscle damage. You should aim for a 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio within 20 to 30 minutes of finishing your run or race.
  • Flush out the Waste
    Putting your legs into cold water for three to five minutes after your workout will further help to remove the metabolic waste from your muscles. However, not everybody can handle an ice bath, so you can use cold pool water, or run a cold bath (and add a few ice blocks if you can handle colder). This is known as ‘flushing’ because it causes your veins to constrict, which in turn increases blood pressure, which in turn means faster bloodflow and quicker removal of waste. Even better is to use both cold and hot water, or a contrast bath. By swapping between the two temperatures five to six times, after a minute in each at a time, you will induce vasoconstriction (closing) and vasodilation (opening) of the veins to further speed up the flushing process.You could also go for a ‘flushing massage,’ which uses light pressure on the muscles to activate the lymphatic system and flush metabolic waste, but stay away from deep tissue massage for up to 48 hours post-run. Or you can simply prop your legs up against a wall and let gravity assist in the natural flushing process.
  • Roll and Stretch
    Finish your recovery using a foam roller to release muscle tightness, then add some gentle stretching. However, make sure you don’t overstretch a tight muscle, as you will compound the micro tears caused by running. The aim here is to get the muscles groups back to their full range of motion. After very hard runs, it’s best to wait 24 hours before doing any rolling and lengthening exercises, unless you have a specific area of tightness that you want to release.

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