Warm down exercises are used to end our training sessions.
Not only is a good warm-up before a training session necessary, we need to pay important attention to the “warm down” phase too.
What are the warm down exercises?
But what is this “Warm Down”?
Generally speaking, a training session is usually divided into 3 main parts:
- Warm up: general and specific warm up exercises including dynamic stretching, work on exercise technique, joint mobility exercises…
- Main block: The training session itself
- Warm down, or cool down: exercises that favour a return to the basal levels of all systems and conclude the session in a leisurely manner and with control of both the heart rate and the rest of the systems.
What are the benefits of warm down exercises?
After a period of physical exercise, whether it is strength training or a cardiovascular training session, the different systems: cardo-respiratory, skeletal muscle, nervous, endocrine, are altered as a result of the acute responses to exercise.
After a HIIT training session, or a running session, for example, the heart rate is too high, blood pressure is too high, lactate accumulation in the blood etc.
Breathing pattern work has countless benefits on a physiological level; but also on a mental level, it helps us to feel more relaxed, less nervous, and, at the same time, helps the oxygenation of muscles and brain.
And this does have a direct influence on the recovery of the athlete.
After a training session, especially if it has been intense, has required a lot of concentration, and even if it has been at the end of the day, cortisol levels are usually very high, and we feel a certain level of stress.
I find it particularly useful to apply breathing exercises at the end of the session, to bring down cortisol levels.
What are warm down exercises
Within scientific literature, we find what the authors call an active or passive warm down.
On the other hand, there is the active return to calm, which is the focus of this article, comprising activities that involve movement.
It’s believed that an active warm down is more effective for post-exercise recovery than a passive recovery.
However, reviews in scientific literature and evidence do not conclude or affirm that this type of action actually occurs:
- Significantly reducing the appearance of stiffness;
- Improving the long-term adaptive responses to training;
- Improving the indirect markers of muscle damage;
- Improving movement ranges; or
- Reducing post-exercise effects
What is certain is that they produce greater benefits than what is considered to be a passive warm down.
What are the warm down phases
The warm down or “cool down” phase is the final part of our training session.
In general, it’s quite common that, after the main part of the warm up, the session ends without dedicating enough time to return to the initial levels before the activity.
It’s necessary to give it the importance it deserves, because it’ll help us achieve, both acutely and chronically, a better recovery after the effort generated. In such a case, we can differentiate 2 parts:.
- Warming down at the cardiovascular level
- Exercises to promote muscle recovery
Exercises to be carried out
Depending on the type of training session you have done, it will be more appropriate to do one type of warm down exercise or another.
If another training session is to be carried out in the following hours, this should also be taken into account.
For activities where the lower body has been involved, or cardiovascular training sessions in which the lower body has been involved in intense zones, walking is a good exercise to do:
- Promoting venous return;
- Cleansing of accumulated waste substances through blood oxygenation;
- Decreasing the heart rate
Regarding stretching, it’s a subject that currently generates a lot of confusion and debate as to whether it’s advisable or not, and if it has benefits.
Generally speaking, in the warm down we usually include passive stretching:
- We’re not looking for flexibility work, but rather to improve and/or recover mobility, due to the increase in temperature of the muscles after exercise.
- They’re usually performed 5 – 10 minutes after the end of the activity.
The increased body temperature favours the elastic properties of connective tissue, such as collagen, present in muscles and tendons, allowing a greater magnitude of stretching.
Stretching at the end of a training session is often said to reduce stiffness, although there is little scientific evidence for this
Within stretching, we find dynamic stretching, passive-static stretching, ballistic stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.
- The first ones are usually included in the warm up, performing movements or patterns similar to those of our sport, in order to improve the range of joint mobility.
- Static stretches are slow and steady stretches, in which the end position is held for a period of approximately 20 seconds.
They are easy to learn and improve mobility and flexibility.
This type of stretching is most commonly used in the final part of the training session, without seeking to force the stretching too much and avoiding any sign of pain.
On the other hand, something that I use in my training sessions and those of my athletes are conscious breathing techniques, which recover the basal values of the heart rate and reduce the levels of stress induced by the exercise so that we feel more relaxed, and it really is a great way to warm the body down.
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to reduce stress in the body:
- This is because when you take a deep breath, you send a message to your brain to calm down and relax.
- The brain then sends this message to your body.
- The things that happen when you’re stressed, such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing and high blood pressure, decrease when you take deep breaths to relax.
- That’s to say, it will help us to bring the markers that are altered back down to normal levels.
If we think for example of activities such as Yoga, especially in its more dynamic disciplines, all practices end in the SAVASANA position, which is in the supine position.
- Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension and relieve stress.
- Breathing deeply while performing the warm down brings oxygen to your muscles, releases tension and promotes relaxation.
As indicated above, although massages or percussive therapy are considered passive recovery, they can also be included in the warm down to accompany the above.
More recently, foam rolling has also been incorporated into the warm down repertoire, although to a lesser extent than stretching.
A small proportion (4%) of Asian athletes and a moderate proportion (38%) of UK elite teenage athletes claim to use foam rolling after training.
Foam rolling is often performed to reduce muscle soreness and mitigate the effects of exercise on reduced range of motion. In fact, it’s been found that when performed after exercise:
- It reduces the delayed onset of muscle pain;
- It increases range of motion; and
- It improves sports performance the next day.
For example, MacDonald et al. found that the foam rolling group demonstrated less muscle soreness and improved dynamic (but not passive) hamstring range of motion and vertical jump performance.
However, foam rolling also reduced the contractile properties during the following day.
Although there is still a lack of scientific evidence on the physiological, performance and injury prevention benefits of the return to active rest, it is true that it produces psychological benefits that can help the athlete to feel more relaxed, reduce post-exercise stress levels and improve the recovery process on a subjective level.
- MacDonald GZ, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(1):131–142.
- Murray AM, Turner AP, Sproule J, Cardinale M. Practices and attitudes towards recovery in elite Asian and UK adolescent athletes. Phys Ther Sport. 2017;25:25–33.
- Van Hooren B, Peake JM. Do We Need a Cool-Down After Exercise? A Narrative Review of the Psychophysiological Effects and the Effects on Performance, Injuries and the Long-Term Adaptive Response. Sports Med. 2018;48(7):1575-1595.
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