Fitness classes typically finish with three to five minutes of programmed cool-down activity. Most often, cool-downs include lower-intensity movement, as well as a mix of dynamic and static stretching. Group fitness instructors have a goal to guide participants’ bodies back to a steady state, and provide physical and mental closure to the class experience. Unfortunately, many fitness class attendees dismiss the cool-down as a waste of time. As the music slows down, they scamper out the door or begin to pack up. While it might seem like a good idea to cut out before the cool-down to save time and get to your next commitment, here are three reasons why those last few minutes of class are some of the important:
1. It makes you feel better.
During a workout, the heart is pumping at an accelerated rate to feed working muscles with oxygen-rich blood. When exercise stops abruptly and working muscles slow down, blood may pool, particularly in the lower extremities. The slower rate of muscular contraction reduces the rate at which oxygenated blood moves back to the heart and brain. This temporary reduction of blood oxygen can cause dizziness or light-headedness. A gradual cool-down helps the body return to homeostasis at a steady rate, and decreases the risk of feeling ill. In fact, a good cool-down will actually leave your body feeling relaxed and refreshed. Gradual cool-downs, as well as extended warm-ups, are especially important for older adults and individuals with chronic health ailments such as cardiac or pulmonary conditions. These individuals benefit from having more time to adjust to increasing or decreasing intensity.
2. It enhances your flexibility.
During and after a workout, the body temperature is elevated. Blood has been pumping to working muscles and soft tissue is primed for flexibility work. A mix of dynamic (moving) and static (hold for 15-30 seconds) stretches can enhance flexibility, which can improve quality of movement—both during exercise and the activities you do as a part of everyday life. It is worth noting that stretching after a workout does not specifically prevent soreness. Nevertheless, stretching does feel really feel good after a tough fitness session and may assist with injury prevention. Stretches for major muscle groups are encouraged to enhance flexibility and aid in posture-related fatigue or stress.
3. It gives you time to celebrate and reflect.
The end of a workout is the perfect time to reflect on the mental and emotional benefits of exercise. It’s your time to recognize the time and effort it took to come to class and participate in a challenging workout. Reflection on personal accomplishments can go a long way in generating self-confidence and creating intrinsic motivation for future workouts. The cool-down is also a good time to take stock in how you feel. You might notice that you feel more energized and focused to set goals for the rest of the day.
Ideally, a cool-down is part of every workout. While this might not always be realistic, it is important to note that the more intense the workout, the more crucial the cool-down becomes. Aim to make the cool-down about 10% of your total workout time. A good cool-down includes a lower-intensity variation of the work performed, as well as stretches for the major muscle groups, such as the hips, shoulders, chest and back. Fortunately, group fitness instructors generally include a balanced cool-down as part of every class experience, so stick around for the last five minutes of class to feel better, enhance flexibility and celebrate a job well done. Your body and your mind will thank you.
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