Here’s a familiar scene at the gym: Person enters the gym with earphones on with music blaring in an effort to drown out physical discomfort (but also, unfortunately, body awareness). Person uses the elliptical, recumbent bike, or treadmill for five minutes to warm up. Person then walks around in an unstructured and unfocused manner, randomly moving from exercise to exercise, all with variable intensities and volumes (for example, five sets of 15 bicep curls followed by two sets of 10 back squats followed by 6 sets of abdominal crunches for 60 seconds each). At the end of the workout, the person may sit down on a mat and hang out in a forward fold and a pigeon stretch for 30 seconds each. It’s awesome that our example-of-what-not-to-do person is taking time out of their day to move their body and get healthy. Incredible! Love the effort. BUT… there are better ways to go about planning and structuring a workout. After reading this article, my hope is that you learn from our hypothetical gym goer’s mistakes, and instead of unconsciously moving through random, unstructured workouts, you take the time to plan out a well thought out, organized training session so that you may achieve your fitness goals in the most efficient way possible. In part four of this series, I discuss why the cool down is so important and how to plan the most effective cool down for your specific needs.
THE PRIMARY GOALS OF THE COOL DOWN:
- Downregulation. In other words, calming yourself down and getting out of “fight or flight” mode. Stress is good for the body, but too much stress can lead to breakdown and illness. This is why it’s good practice to downregulate immediately after the hard stress of a workout.
- Clearing metabolic waste. Easy, cyclical movement leads to lymphatic drainage and therefore the clearance of unwanted metabolic waste in the muscles. Leaving excess hydrogen ions and byproducts of tissue damage in the muscle will lengthen the recovery process – nobody wants to be sore for longer than they have to be.
- Improving tissue quality and movement capacity. In regular human talk, making the muscles and joints work better.
HOW TO PERFORM A COOL DOWN (3 STEPS):
- Hop on a low-impact exercise machine and spend five to ten minutes moving at a pace well below your ventilatory threshold – you should be going at a pace easy enough to maintain a conversation. Relax your abdomen and focus on deep breathing, in and out through the nostrils. The low-level movement combined with the deep breathing are the only two ways (other than maybe hot-cold therapy) to consistently push fluid (and waste) through the circulatory and lymphatic vessels. Furthermore, the deep nostril breathing begins the process of nervous system downregulation – taking yourself out of “fight or flight” mode, and relaxing into “rest and digest” mode.
- After five to ten minutes on the exercise machine, find an open space where you can perform a bodyweight “flow”. Two of the most effective ways to accomplish this are to perform controlled articular rotations (CARs), or to move through body shapes that are specific to your mobility needs. To perform CARs, take any joint in your body (e.g. shoulders, ankles, neck), and move the joint through as big of a circle as your mobility will allow. The other way to perform a bodyweight “flow” is to move through a series of body shapes that are specific to your mobility needs. For example, if a physiotherapist or personal trainer has told you in the past that you have tight hips, you may spend two or three minutes moving back and forth between a lunge on either side and a body weight squat; you may hold each position for a minimum of one full inhale and exhale cycle. Performing CARs or moving through specific body shapes in a controlled manner primarily restores full range of motion in your joints, but also helps with the process of downregulation and the clearance of metabolic waste. This phase of the cool down should last another five to ten minutes.
- Spend five to ten minutes performing self-myofascial release (e.g. rolling on a foam roller or lacrosse ball) or passive stretches. While these practices may not be the best way to increase mobility, they are amazing for downregulation. So while other types of stretching may be more effective for increasing mobility, self-myofascial release and passive stretching kill two birds with one stone by improving mobility (to an extent) and relaxing the nervous system.
There you have it! After reading through this four part series my hope is that you, dear reader, are now able to plan an effective workout so that you can get the most bang for your buck every single time you step in the gym. I tried my best to keep this series as layperson-friendly as possible so I hope the information was easily digested. If you have any questions about how to plan your workouts, or if you are ready to fully take responsibility for your health and performance, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond for any of your personal training needs!
Patrick Koo – Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness Richmond