You've heard the warnings about properly cooling down after exercise. You've read all the reasons why your body needs time to recover and repair after a tough workout. But it turns out that science may not actually support this time-honored fitness advice, after all.
"We now know that lactate isn't responsible for muscle damage or soreness, and cooling down does not rid muscles of it," says Ross Tucker, Ph.D, a South African physiologist.
Proof: In a representative 2007 study, healthy adults walked backward briskly for 30 minutes on a treadmill set at an incline that mimicked walking downhill. Some of the group warmed up with a walk beforehand, others did the same easy walk as a cool-down, and a few did neither. After two days _ about the time when delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) sets in _ the researchers found that those who warmed up reported less muscle soreness, but those who had cooled down were just as sore as those who did nothing.
If you're thinking you just gained an extra five minutes to post a sweaty selfie instead of stretching after your sweat session, not so fast:
"During lengthy, strenuous exercise, blood vessels in your legs expand, and blood can pool there if you shift suddenly from high to zero exertion, resulting in dizziness or fainting," explains Tucker. "A few minutes of jogging, walking, or other light exertion will normalize blood flow."
In other words, a cool-down may not prevent sore glutes, but if you want to avoid a potentially dangerous situation _ not to mention an embarrassing one _ you'll still want to spend some time transitioning after you workout, even if it's just for a few minutes.
And if the body benefits aren't enough incentive, know that taking time to unwind after a tough workout can also boost your mood and relieve stress.
"How many times during the day can you take time for yourself without the phone ringing, emails requiring a response or your kids needing something?" says certified personal trainer Nikki Oliva, who insists that her clients chill out for five to seven minutes after she puts them through a grueling workout. "A cool-down is beneficial not only for your body, but also for your mind. A strong body and strong mind go hand in hand _ you certainly need both to achieve your fitness goals."
If nothing else, stretching and cooling down allows you to reflect on your hard work and enjoy a moment of peace. Here, Oliva offers two simple ways to unwind after exercise, depending on your workout of choice:
Cardio cool down: Gradually slow to a walk and then perform static stretches of the muscles used _ quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hips, and glutes. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and keep breathing and drinking water.
Strength-training cool down: Allow yourself a moment to just breathe and get some water _ you may even want to walk around a bit if you have room _ and then start stretching all the muscles used in the workout from the top down. Hold each move for 20-30 seconds, and be sure to breath while you stretch.
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