We know the importance of warm-ups before cardio sessions, but should you do a cool-down after running?
Running is an amazing form of cardiovascular exercise. It can help you stay fit, build your endurance, strengthen muscles and bones, and burn excess body fat. You don’t need much kit, either – just running shoes, shorts, top and moisture-wicking underwear. But it’s not perfect – its high-impact nature means it’s tougher on your body compared to other forms of cardio. And unlike commuting by bike, it’s harder to incorporate into your day-to-day routine.
It’s often a case of squeezing a run into our already time-poor lives – particularly when juggling around work or family commitments. In these situations, it can be tempting to squeeze either side of a run. Often we skip the warm-up or cool-down and just focus on the session itself. But is there an issue with this – particularly skipping the cool-down?
“The biggest ‘don’t’ is not doing a cool-down,” says Nick Hancock, running coach and co-founder of Maximum Miles Coaching. “If one of my athletes is short on time doing an interval session, I’d rather they cut a couple of intervals out than skip the cool-down.”
He adds that there are multiple issues with not cooling down properly. “We increase the risk of muscle stiffness and soreness by skipping the cool-down. Quite typical with runners are things around your ankles, Achilles, calves and hamstrings. The other danger of neglecting a cool-down, particularly after running in cold weather, is that you run the risk of hypothermia.”
Below, Hancock shares the benefits of cooling down, the step-by-step process to doing it properly, and how long one should last.
Benefits of a cool-down after running
“One of the main benefits is that when we are running our core body temperature is raised,” says Hancock. “If you don’t steadily bring that core body temperature down, particularly in cold conditions, you can kind of shock the system and become hyperthermic.
“Also going from having quite warm muscles to stopping completely, your muscles are just going to get cold very quickly. You want to bring that temperature down gradually to not increase the risk of injury.”
How to cool down after running
“A fairly typical cool-down that I’ll have an athlete do is 10-15 minutes gentle jogging – that easy-paced effort to bring the heart rate down to at least what it would be on your easy runs. If your heart rate is still raised, either keep cooling down or slow down.”
He notes that the intensity of the session will determine the length. “If it’s an easy run, you probably don’t need to cool down in terms of running more. If it’s been something quite hard, it’s probably going to need 15 minutes worth of cool-down.”
Hancock’s cool-down isn’t limited to easing off the intensity of a run, though. “Refuelling as soon as possible with something rich in carbohydrates is a good thing to do. The whole anabolic window when it comes to protein intake has kind of been debunked over the last few years – as long as you’re getting enough protein throughout the day, you don’t need to panic about getting protein in straight away. But carbohydrates are a different story. Carbohydrate and glycogen reabsorption is at its highest within the first 20-40 minutes after a run, particularly a hard one. Also replenishing those lost fluids through rehydrating is key.”
While Hancock isn’t the biggest advocate of stretching, he says if you are going to do a post-run stretch, then don’t overdo it. “If somebody is going to do stretching, then keep it dynamic – it’s more mobilisation movements rather than trying to stretch your hamstrings out for five minutes.”