It’s tempting to finish that last interval of a workout and call it a day. The hard work is done, right? But before you can shower and eat, it is beneficial to cool down after a run.
Purpose of a Cool Down
The most basic purposes of a cooldown are to transition from work to rest and to start the recovery process.
Cooldowns are most beneficial after a hard workout (tempo run, interval run, etc) or long run. The harder the effort, the more important it is to gradually bring your heart rate down and start the recovery process.
The old theory of lactate build-up causing soreness is no longer valid. Soreness comes from muscle damage, which occurs whether or not you cool down. A cool down is less about clearing out by-products from energy production and more about transitioning your body from a state of work/stress to rest/recovery.
If you suddenly transition from an interval at your VO2max to standing still or sitting, your body will not efficiently transition from work to recovery. You’ll likely experience blood pooling in your legs, which simply does not feel great. If, like many runners, you then go straight from your run to shower to work, you do not have the time to lower your stress response. You simply transition from one stressor to another, thus hindering recovery.
The purpose of a cooldown is not to accumulate junk miles. There is no need to go run five or six more miles after a workout (unless the workout is part of a long run). However, if you are running high mileage, a cooldown run of two or three miles can supplement your weekly mileage.
How to Effectively Cool Down After A Run
Your cool down does not need to last a long time in order to be effective. Even five to 10 minutes of easy running or walking will achieve the purpose of a cool down. This will lower your heart rate and signal to your body to begin repairing. If you often experience nausea after a workout, a cooldown can minimize that by gradually restoring your circulation to normal.
Easy running will accomplish the purpose of a cool down after a hard workout. You can jog for as short as 5 minutes or as long as 20 minutes, depending on how you feel and the overall mileage of the run.
You do want to listen to your body’s signals. If your plan calls for a two-mile cooldown but you are shuffling and struggling, call it a day after a couple of minutes and then simply walk. A cooldown should not add physical or mental stress.
After a long run or easy run, walking is an effective cooldown. You can extend also your cooldown after a hard workout by walking. Walking will gradually lower your heart rate and cortisol levels. Research shows that nature can encourage recovery; a light walk allows you to enjoy the outdoors.
Foam rolling and stretching can serve as functional cooldowns also. After a hard workout or long run, try elevating your legs up against the wall. Elevating your legs promotes healthy circulation and passively stretches your legs. For many runners, this position can be calming as well. Anything that is calming encourages the end of the stress response and the start of recovery mode.
Sample Post-Run Cooldowns
If you have five minutes:
3 minutes of walking or light jogging
2 minutes of stretching or foam rolling
If you have 10-15 minutes:
5-10 minutes easy running
5 minute of foam rolling or stretching
If you have 20-30 minutes:
10-20 minutes of easy running
2-3 minutes of walking
5-10 minutes of stretching or foam rolling
How do you cool down after a workout?