Why touching your toes shouldn't just be your 'cool-down'
“Awesome, I crushed that workout. I'm feeling strong and full of energy! Can I touch my toes -- perfect! Nice chest stretch against the wall -- ahh! Okay cool, good to go.”
If you are anything like me, you have followed this procedure after your workout. Whether it be a time constraint, you feel you’re flexible enough or like me, you just get kind of lazy.
However, not following up your workout with a proper cool down, may not only hinder your progress, but it can increase injury risk and muscle tightness. All setting the foundation of poor body mechanics and inevitable pain.
Just like our warm-ups (mentioned in a previous post), cool downs apply to everyone. It doesn't matter if you’re a teenager or a senior, proper cool downs apply to you. You can be Beyonce or Michael Jordan, cool downs will still apply to you.
What is a cool down?
A cool down is the activity following a workout just performed. They're performed essentially to do simply that, 'cool-you-down'. More importantly however, they are meant to bring the heart rate back to it's average resting rate, which assists to bring the body back into homeostatsis (body’s state of balance or its 'happy place').
Why do we need to cool down?
We perform a cool down because during the workout muscles are becoming shortened causing tightness and we want to lengthen these short muscles to give them some more elasticity and “happiness” - don’t deprive your muscles of happiness.
Not only are muscles shortened, but the muscle tissue has also been broken down and damaged, which may cause soreness. This soreness is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). You know this feeling. Not that lingering tiredness a little while post workout, but that moment 36-48hrs afterward. That moment when you come across a flight of stairs and your only thought is, "yep... well shit." This soreness is sometimes inevitiable, but the extent of the pain may be diminished with the execution of a proper cool down.
Calming the nervous system is also a priority in partaking in the cool down. I won't into a lot of detail, but the nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord, sensory organs and nerves that work to connect those organs to the rest of the body. The nervous system gathers information/stimulus to then analyzes it, where it is then turned into movement.
Following a workout the nervous system is essentially me in my 4th grade math class about to start his division mad minute - sweating, freaking out, and stressing. We will want to bring the body out of this state of stress and back in the calm enviroment.
Taking into consideration all of the above mentioned the main reason to perform a cool down coincides with the reason of the warm up - injury prevention.
Injuries aren’t fun, so let's take the few minutes required following your workout to help keep our body happy. Don’t deprive the two of you from this happiness. Happiness is out there and sometimes it’s in the form of stretching.
“Alright, I get it! I’ll perform the cool down - I want happiness. But how exactly does one perform a cool down?”
Listed below is a cool down that can be performed by the general population. It should’nt take longer than 5-8 minutes:
1. Foam Roll (self-myofacial release) - 5-8 minutes
The bad guys to hit on the roller are the main muscles that were used during activity. For more on this particular method refer to my other article here.
2. Active Straight Leg Raise - 45 seconds/leg
Lying flat on your back with your leg against a beam (or wall) with the knee straight. If you cannot lock the knee or fully straighten out, lower yourself back until the knee can do so.
You will then bring your toes towards you, giving you more of a stretch in the calves and hamstrings, also engaging the quads a bit more. Hold this for 45 seconds and then raise the opposite leg up in the air bringing the knees parallel, then lower back down. Repeat 5 times. Repeat process again for the opposite leg.
3. Thoraic Spine Roation - 8 roations/side
You will want to get down into the classic “fetal position”. Bring both arms extended forward with palms touching. Squeezing the knees together, then bring your top arm up and rotate around to the opposite side. The head will then follow the moving arm - doing this will have the cervical spine and thoracic spine going in the same direction. Try to get the shoulder as close to the floor as possible. Hold for a few deep breathes and then return the arm back to start. Repeat 6-8 times and then perform the same for the other arm.
4. Child’s Pose + Lat Stretch - 30sec/side
The popular yoga position - If you’re not familiar, then you will want to get down on your hands and knees. With your toes touching and placing your knees more than hip width apart you will want to lower your chest to the floor, with arms extended straight out. Then push your hips as close to your heels as possible. Take deep breaths in the nose, out the mouth. On exhale try to lower hips closer to heels.
5. Kneeling Hip Flexors - contract + relax glute 5x/side (glute hold 10sec)
You will want to get into a “proposal stance”. One knee is resting on the floor (or a foam pad for comfort), the other leg forward with the knee at 90 degrees. You will let want to squeeze the glute on the same side as the knee touching the floor. You may feel a stretch in the front of that hip.
6. Self PNF Stretch - 30 sec total
Stretch can be performed against a wall, beam, body ball, TRX. Whichever modality you have available, you will want to have one hand grasping handles or against the wall. You will gently push your hand into the wall or beam (you will feel the muscle working but literally see no movement).
Hold this contraction for about 5 seconds, then relax allowing the body to fall slightly deeper into the stretch, feeling it across the chest and front of the shoulders.
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