Why Cool Downs?
Almost every amateur or professional athlete, weekend warrior, or sports enthusiast can tell you about the importance of proper warm-ups. Even if they themselves do not always take the time to do it, they are at least aware that they should. Warm-ups are important. They allow the body to stretch and prepare for the challenges ahead. They are a safe, reliable way to reduce the chances of a serious injury, such as groin pulls and torn tendons during a workout. We hear much less about proper cool-down periods following exertion. Perhaps we should though. There is a growing body of evidence that cool-down periods can also help the body recover faster and may prevent some forms of injury.
During intense workout sessions, the body is busy supplying oxygen and tearing down muscle fibers, along with a whole host of other important biological processes. Whereas the focus of warm-ups is to increase blood flow to muscles and heart rate to prep them for the oncoming challenges, cooldowns allow the body to transition more safely to the original resting or semi-resting state. Body core temperatures will begin to fall, the heart rate gradually decreases and muscle fibers begin to relax and heal.
Warm-up to Prepare: Cool Down to Repair
One of the biggest benefits of a slow cool down is that it allows the body to start throwing off lactic acid and other waste byproducts. If you remember your high school biology class, you may have heard of something called the Krebs cycle. In a nutshell, the Krebs cycle is a complex chain reaction that changes the way the cells are powered, caused when oxygen demands begin to outstrip oxygen input. In other words, you become short of breath. The cells, which still have to function, switch gears. The lactic acid buildup is the result.
A cool-down helps your body flush this excess toxic buildup. Walking after running, for instance, or a gradual slowdown of less and less intensity allows the body to adjust and recover. Blood that has been delivered to meet the temporary crisis of intense demands can now begin to return to normal.
Stopping abruptly, on the other hand, can lead to blood pooling, muscle, and joint stiffness, and pain. Another important cool-down strategy is to immediately replenish fluids and electrolytes. Drinking coconut water, for instance, helps the body rebalance and adjust to the healing process that kicks into gear after a workout.
Stretching Exercises for an injury-free workout
Sports participation is a leading cause of injury in young people. Injuries can have both short- and long-term consequences. An injury can immediately sideline a player. This puts both the fun of participation and the health benefits of exercise on hold. An injury that keeps a child out of the game over the long term can also increase the chances of gaining weight, losing fitness, and even possibly developing arthritis in later years.
It may not always be possible to avoid sports injury, especially in physical contact sports. Participants can help protect themselves by correctly preparing before and after a game or practice session. This is done by warming up muscles and then stretching.
How to stretch correctly during a workout
Whether the activity is skiing, running, or playing a group sport such as basketball or football, stretching keeps the body flexible. This can cut down on injuries, especially to the knee and ankle. Stretching again after activity should be part of an injury prevention plan, too.
Before any kind of physical activity, including stretching, the body needs to be warmed up with some light exercise. Walking, running in place, or doing jumping jacks for a few minutes will warm up muscles.
Try these stretches for a complete injury-free workout.
- Forward lunge. Kneel on one knee. Place the other leg forward at a right angle (knee right over ankle). Lean forward to feel the stretch in the inner thigh. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch legs.
- Side lunge. Stand with feet far apart. Bend one leg and lean toward that knee. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Bend and lean toward the opposite leg.
- Standing quad (thigh) stretch. Use a wall or chair for support. Raise one foot behind you. Use the hand on the same side of the body to grasp the foot at the ankle and pull it toward the buttocks, stretching the thigh. Keep the knees close and hips forward. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then release. Switch legs.
- Seat straddle lotus. Sit down with the soles of the feet together in front of you. Press knees to the floor. Place the forearms on the inside of the knees. Push down as you lean toward the ground. Lean forward from the hips. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Side seat straddle. Sit on the floor with legs spread apart. With both hands, hold onto the shin of one leg. Lean forward, chin to knee. Hold for 20 to 30seconds. Switch legs.
- Seat stretch. Sit with legs straight out in front. Holding shins or ankles, lean forward from the hips. Bring the chin toward the knees. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Knees to chest. Lying on the floor, bend your knees and bring them to the chest. Rock gently. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
After every workout, repeat these same stretches to help the body cool down and increase flexibility while muscles are still warm.
Tips for success
Follow these tips for a successful workout:
- Don’t bounce when stretching. Bouncing in a stretch can cause damage.
- Take it slow. There’s no prize for finishing a stretching routine first. Go slowly to get all the benefits.
- Stay fit year-round. It’s a good idea for your child to keep in shape even during the sport’s off-season. Then they’ll be ready for competition when it starts up again.
- Find the appropriate gear to wear. Help reduce injury by using protective equipment that fits correctly, is well-maintained, and is designed specifically for the sport being played.
- Respect an injury. If you already have a sprain or other injury, check with the pediatrician or sports trainer before you get back into action.
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