Part 2 – Tips and resources from Mark Sexton, Chartered Physiotherapist                               MarkSexton                           

Cool down and Stretching 

After exercise our body takes time to return to its normal resting state – heart rate, circulation, muscles and even the cells of our body need time to return to rest. The key thing is to keep your whole body moving as this happens. Gradually reduce the intensity of your movements through the cool down.

The key thing that we can learn from the top level athletes is about half the time should be spent moving, or what is termed a ‘dynamic cool-down.’ The other half of the time should be spent doing gentle static stretches holding each stretch for 10-20 seconds.

Suggested Cool Down activities are detailed below, along with YouTube links to examples of stretching techniques.

Many of the key tips on Cool Down echo those from my previous piece on Warm Up. Above all, listen to your body – none of the movements or stretches should be painful.

The Cool Down is a flexible process. After a 5 to 10 Km run, your body will take about 20min to cool down. That means about 10min dynamic cool down, and 10 min gentle stretching. How long you spend may vary according to your fitness level, experience, the weather, time of day, or how demanding a particular training session has been.

The ideal Cool Down helps your body (and mind!) recover from the performance of your run. It allows you to monitor your body for any injury, and the stretching component of Cool Down is important to prevent some injuries. Increasingly, runners are also bringing core strength exercises into their Cool Down as research indicates it reduces injury and improves performance.

A Cool Down Sequence

Part 1 Dynamic Cool Down

First gradually decrease your running pace over 3-5 min to a walk.

Next, proceed to gentle whole body movements. You can decrease the vigour of your movement over 5 to 7minutes. The key here is to keep moving continuously. Below are some suggestions of movements that can be done for 30 seconds each either along for example, a 20-50m stretch of running path, or on the spot:

Caution – Some of these movements may not be suitable for you if you have any injuries or joint pain.

  • High knee march with opposite arm reach
  • High knee march with alternate open arms/hug across chest
  • Side step – walk or skip sideways to the right and to the left
  • Straight lunge, walk forward with deep long strides
  • Walk or jog forwards while bringing your heels up towards your bum
  • Circle arms in swimming movements as you walk/jog
  • Dynamic calf stretch

Part 2 Static Stretching

Stretching is best done when a body has already warmed up.  It is generally agreed that the best time for a stretching session is therefore as a part of an athlete’s cool-down.  This is important for your long term and ongoing flexibility as well as to assist with the cool-down process after a training session.

A gentle and easy stretching session helps reduce normal post-exercise soreness.  It also helps you to identify and deal appropriately with any aches, pains or slight injuries you might have following any given training session.

For the stretching component of the cool-down the main muscle groups to work on are:

  • Calf
  • Thigh/Quadriceps
  • Hamstring
  • ITB IlioTibial Band
  • Hip Flexor

When warm, you can hold stretches for 5-15 seconds, 2-4 repetitions each.

Photos of stretches on the NHS website.

These demonstrations of stretches on Youtube contain good descriptions of each stretch to guide you:

As described previously, remember to listen to your body and only go as gently as is appropriate for your level of fitness, stopping if there is any pain or discomfort.  If any injury has occurred during a run, it may not be until the cool-down, or any time in the following 24-48 hours that you may begin to notice some element of pain or discomfort.

Delayed onset muscle soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS is a normal feature of muscle strengthening, where the muscle groups that we have been exercising can be sore for a few days after a training session.  This pain may only emerge 24, 48 or 72 hours after a session, but should only last for between 24 and 72 hours.  It is best managed with movement – a walk, a gentle dynamic warm-up or some gentle easy stretches, over which time symptoms should gradually ease.

And finally…Again, one of the key things about injury prevention in your warm-up, in your training and in your cool-down is that you listen to your body.  This means that as you are going through your exercises that you are listening and feeling for any discomfort, unusual tightness or pain and that you adapt your training session accordingly.

Enjoy your running,

Mark Sexton

6 Manor Street Dublin 7   /    Phone 01 6710222


Twitter @SextonPhysio

Sports Injury Prevention – part 1

Sports Injury Prevention – part 3