by Thomas Kurz
This article is based on a section titled “Cool-Down” from Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance (Kurz 2001).
In this article you will learn about the final part of a workout—the cool-down.
When the main part of a workout is over, it is then time for the cool-down—the gradual lowering of the intensity of exercises until athletes stop sweating and their breathing feels normal. The cool-down proper should include exercises that slow down the physiological functions of the athletes’ bodies and enhance recovery after the workout. It may start with a slowed-down version of the last exercise of the main part, or with a low-intensity game.
The cool-down may be used for performing exercises that correct posture defects resulting from the sports training or of other origin. When the athletes begin to breathe normally, they can do some muscle stretching, using mostly static stretches. One can start with the more difficult static active stretches that require relative freshness. For taekwondo fighters these may be slow-motion high kicks or holding the kicking leg in the high chamber position needed for multiple kicks.
After an athlete has achieved his or her maximum reach in these stretches, he or she can move on to either isometric or relaxed static stretches, or both, following the isometric stretches with relaxed stretches. For example, the athlete can do three repetitions of an isometric stretch leading to the side split and then do one or two repetitions of a relaxed stretch leading to the side split. (Isometric stretches are those in which stretched muscles are tensed prior to increasing the stretch to cause the reflexive relaxations and thus elongation of the muscles; then, at the new length, tensed again to strengthen these muscles. In relaxed stretches the stretched muscles are not tensed and the stretch reflex through which muscles resist stretching is bypassed by stretching muscles very slowly and letting their stretch receptors adjust to increasing muscle length [Kurz 1994, 2001].) Neither of these stretches should be done in a warm-up. It is a very common error to do static stretches at the beginning of a martial arts workout. I have explained why it is wrong to do static stretches in a warm-up in the article A Well-Run Workout: The Warm-Up.
Athletes who need a precise sense of time (duration of a round) or space (size of ring or mat) can use the cool-down for exercises perfecting these abilities. The coach selects a time period, gives a signal and all athletes walk around and each stops when he or she feels that the set amount of time has elapsed. To improve the feel for the size of the ring or of the mat, blindfolded athletes move, either individually or in rows, to assigned spots or lines, stopping when they believe they are on their mark.
It is good to end the cool-down with walking, especially if the workout included nonheterolateral movements, such as a homolateral gait (left leg and left arm forward), bicycling, rowing, weight-pulling or weight lifting with both arms. Vigorous walking using the heterolateral, i.e., normal gait pattern (left leg and right arm forward) reorganizes one neurologically, restores the balance of cerebral hemisphere activity (a condition of creativity), and relieves stress (Diamond 1979). If the workout is held indoors, such an after-the-workout walk can also be done outdoors for a better effect. Jogging and walking outdoors, in a park or in natural surroundings, is best for speeding up recovery and calming down athletes after a workout. This is especially important after workouts just prior to important competitions. Brian Sharkey (1990) writes: “Aerobic exercise [such as jogging and brisk walking] reduces anxiety and depression; it serves as a tranquilizer and can even help you fall asleep.”
Recovery after intense efforts that generate excess lactate can be speeded up with light activity consisting of aerobic efforts just above the aerobic threshold and well below the anaerobic threshold or onset of blood lactate accumulation (between 30–50% of the athlete’s VO2max). Aerobic exercise helps remove excess lactate. After long aerobic efforts, however, such active rest should not be employed (Wawrzynczak-Witkowska 1991). Active rest is effective even if the same muscle groups are exercised but using different movements. Everyday observation reveals that after an intense technical or speed workout with lots of kicks or a strength workout with squats and deadlifts, a brisk walk or a jog loosens one up sooner than just sitting around, and both the workout and the active rest involve the same muscles.
After all exercises of the cool-down, the coach, with the athletes, should briefly go over the objectives fulfilled in this workout.
In the next article I will discuss examples of good and bad workouts.
Diamond, J. 1979 [Reissued 1983]. Your Body Doesn’t Lie. New York, NY: Warner Books, Inc.
Kurz, T. 2001. Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Company, Inc.
Kurz, T. 1994. Stretching Scientifically: A Guide to Flexibility Training. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Co., Inc.
Sharkey, B. J. 1990. Physiology of Fitness. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Books.
Wawrzynczak-Witkowska, A. 1991. Znaczenie odnowy biologicznej w procesie treningowym. In W kregu psychofizykalnych zagadnien profilaktyki i terapii w sporcie, ed. W. Tlokinski, pp. 5–8. Gdansk: AWF Gdansk.
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