Following sporting activity, the benefits of cooling down are becoming increasingly recognised by sports professionals. But how does cooling down actually help the body and what does it involve? We're here to tell you.
Over the last few seasons English football teams have introduced the practice of a cool down at the end of a training session or match. This has been influenced by the increase in foreign coaches and players in this country; cool downs have been practised for many years by European teams, most notably the West German teams of the 1970's and 80's, whose disciplined approach meant that a cool down was essential, especially during tournaments in which games were only a few days apart. Track and field athletes had previously used the cool down in an effort to optimize recovery after activity. Although there is a lack of scientific research on the physiological effects of a cool down, there are several theories on the beneficial effects that justify its use following training sessions and matches.
During training sessions and matches the body's systems are maximally stressed. This leads to an increase in body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. There is also a build-up of waste products (such as creatine kinase and myoglobin) in the muscles. In addition, the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and endorphins into the circulatory system. If an athlete simply stops after exercising, the levels of circulating adrenaline and endorphins are high and this can cause a feeling of restlessness and even a sleepless night. The waste products in muscles are thought to cause tiredness and stiffness, and it is not good for anyone to have a rapid decrease in body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.
For these reasons it is thought that a cool down is beneficial. It allows a gradual decrease in temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, back to resting levels. By gently working the major muscle groups, waste products are actively removed. During the gentle exercise of the cool down the body releases hormones that counter the effects of adrenaline and allow rest and sleep after exercise. Because of the increase in tissue temperature the post-exercise period is an ideal time to stretch and improve or maintain joint range of movement and flexibility.
Players may not feel like doing a cool down after a strenuous game, but they must understand that because of the possible benefits mentioned above it is worth doing. By getting into the habit from an early age, players will be more disciplined about performing a cool down.
The Cool Down
1. Post-match cool down
The cool down is the first part of a player's recovery from intense exercise. After matches and training sessions the ideal cool down should consist of:
5 minutes of easy stretching for all major muscle groups.
5 minutes of calisthetic type exercises (alternate toe touching with legs apart; arms straight at chest height swinging to left and right;alternate kicking feet up to waist height; lying on back and cycling legs in the air).
2 minutes of jogging at a slow pace, while kicking arms and legs loose.
Ideally, to improve the scientific basis of the cool down, one of the players should be fitted with a heart rate monitor and a gradual decrease in heart rate from approximately 170 bpm to 100 bpm should be observed.
In the British winter, weather conditions may not be conducive to an effective cool down so it may be desirable to do the stretching and calisthetic exercises whilst indoors, in a gym or back in the dressing room. This will provide more benefit than simply running in out of the snow, or rushing the cool down because it is raining.