Cooling Down: How and Why
Updated: May 10
The cool down is a prime opportunity to prepare your body (and your mind) for the next training session. The harder you push your muscles to scramble up that wall, the greater their need for repair. This article will outline a few tools to aid recovery speed and quality so that you can keep pushing your body to its limit while mitigating the chance of injury.
Active cool-down. The goal of the active cool-down is antithetic to the warmup – instead of a gradual ramp up toward complete neuromuscular activation, our focus here is to ramp down the intensity of training, helping our bodies adapt to our unique training cycle. In order to prevent interference with glycogen resynthesis, limit this part of the cool-down to under 30 minutes (Van Hooren & Peake, 2018).
Slow down. Simple as can be, the first step towards a complete cooldown is to decrease your rate of movement. As you begin to fatigue, pay close attention to your form. If you’re struggling to control the way you move, continuing to push yourself will foster bad habits and movement patterns. Start decreasing the difficulty of your climbs, continuing to move deliberately and taking more time between attempts.
Keep the blood flowing. Throwing in a very light cardio session here can also help to increase blood flow without further fatiguing your muscles; but again, make sure your focus is on gradually slowing movement to a point of rest. You can use the same exercise here as you did in your warmup to ensure you’re targeting the muscle groups activated during your workout, just decrease intensity and increase duration.
Stretch? The literature does not offer much support for static stretching as a means of reducing injury or muscle soreness when performed directly before or after a workout. However, static stretching on its own has been shown to have significant positive impacts on exercise performance in the long-term by improving muscular flexibility and peak extension (Kokkonen et al., 2007).
Perform a series of short-duration (~20 seconds), high-intensity stretches after completing the active cool down. This can have a positive impact on muscular flexibility while minimizing the reduction in muscular strength associated with long-duration static stretching directly before/after a workout.
Stretch the next day, or at least 6 hours before your next training session and 6 hours after your previous session. Make sure you spend time on each major muscle group, especially those implicated in your climbing sessions. Take your time with these stretches – focus on your breath, breathing in as you extend outward and breathing out as you feel your body fill the space you have created. If you need some direction here, yoga routines can be helpful. We would also love to help in person! Join us for in-house yoga Tuesday-Thursday to get your flow flowing.
Massage. After strenuous exercise, massaging your muscles can reduce inflammation and increase production of mitochondria in the cells, speeding up recovery (Crane et al., 2012). If you can’t justify a visit to your favorite massage therapist after each workout, do it yourself! Grab a foam roller to hit the bigger/harder to reach muscle groups, then finish off with your hands, pressing firmly and moving in a circular motion. For those delicate fingers, consider picking up an Acupressure Massage Ring from the front desk!
Eat. Carbohydrates for glycogen synthesis, and protein (amino acids) to help rebuild the muscle fibers. Bear in mind that ingesting protein AND carbohydrates together after exercise increases the rate of muscle-glycogen storage relative to ingesting carbohydrates alone (Zawadzki, Yaspelkis & Ivy, 1992). Try to eat within an hour after your workout to maximize recovery speed.
Everyone is different. Listen to your body and be honest with yourself about your limits – if you feel that you need more or less of something, try it out and report back to yourself.
Crane, J. D., Ogborn, D. I., Cupido, C., Melov, S., Hubbard, A., Bourgeois, J. M., & Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2012). Massage therapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage. Science translational medicine, 4 (119), 119ra13-119ra13.
Ivy, J. L., Katz, A. L., Cutler, C. L., Sherman, W. M., & Coyle, E. F. (1988). Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: effect of time of carbohydrate ingestion. Journal of applied physiology, 64 (4), 1480-1485.
Kokkonen, J., Nelson, A. G., Eldredge, C., & Winchester, J. B. (2007). Chronic static stretching improves exercise performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39 (10), 1825-1831.
McHugh, M. P., & Cosgrave, C. H. (2010). To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 20 (2), 169-181.
Mohr, A. R., Long, B. C., & Goad, C. L. (2014). Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. Journal of sport rehabilitation, 23 (4), 296-299.
Van Hooren, B., & Peake, J. M. (2018). 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 Medicine, 48 (7), 1575-1595.
Zawadzki, K. M., Yaspelkis 3rd, B. B., & Ivy, J. L. (1992). Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 72 (5), 1854-1859.