Is Your Cooldown Helping?
[cover photo by Alec Zabrecky for UltiPhotos]
I asked our resident S&C experts Eze & Melissa what their thoughts were on cooldowns, here's our conversation...
Oli kicks us off...
Yo! So, cooldowns eh? Talk to me! What's in a good cool-down? Should we stretch? If so, what should we stretch, when should we do it, and does order matter?
My understanding of the type of stretching people usually do is that there is no scientific support that it is beneficial in any way. Not for performance nor for alleviating soreness.
I DO believe in the importance of moving the joints through a full range of motion on a regular basis. And basically, the more the better for folks with office jobs. These types of movements can be dynamic stretches, mobilization, and perhaps even yoga positions (which I think of as analogous to functional stretching).
I have repeated this many times to many players!
For a cool down, I think that can be helpful but I believe the main reason is psychological. People remember a training session as being easier if there's a cool down period. And therefore there will be less resistance to the next training session. My advice is that whenever possible, we leave the training area with a pleasant disposition and our heart rate mostly back to baseline.
Hi there, so, I agree with Melissa in these topics about cool down, and about stretching.
A good cool down can include activities that signal your brain that the greatest physical efforts of that training session or game have finished, so that the body can begin to send cell regenerations hormones throughout the body. Whether it is stretching, self-myofascial release, conscious breathing, or simply talking about your emotions in a team circle without being judged. So, let's get into a bit more detail on each of those...
- People usually do static stretching. There is no scientific support that static stretches improves performance, or alleviate soreness. In short there is no evidence it is beneficial in any way.
- As for general health, it is important to move the joints through a full range of motion on a regular basis. And basically, the more the better for folks with office jobs to avoid muscle dehydration that can cause aches which can transition into muscle spasms. Good types of movements can be dynamic stretches, mobilization, and perhaps even yoga positions (which I think of as analogous to functional stretching).
- In order for stretching to actually work, it has to be done in a particular session that dedicates both passive and active stretching. This is because there is something called "the stretch reflex", which is the capacity for muscles to elongate after being placed in eccentric muscle contractions for a short period of time (about 20 to 30 seconds). This effect usually feels very relieving for folks. However we have to be careful because the elongation only lasts about 20-30 minutes. If we consciously activate antagonist muscles at the same time that the agonist muscle is being stretched then we can have a positive impact on our body. In most cases though that is not what happens. Instead, we stretch an agonist muscle and then 20-30minutes later that stretch reflex wears off and the muscle find it's way back to the initial position that it was in before.
- If people tend to over-stretch, this can add to a greater risk factor of micro-muscles tears. This is because immediately after a game the muscles have been put into a lot of stress, especially if one emphazises concentric contractions - e.g. sharp acceleration and deceleration, such as in cutting. Prolonged stretching asks the muscles to do the complete opposite, and that change increases the risk factor for micro-tears.
- In conclusion about stretching in cool-downs: if it feels good and you´re used to doing after your workouts or games, go for it. Just don´t do it for more then 20 seconds per muscle group, and keep in mind the benefit is more psychological than physical.
About Self soft tissue massage
It adds another element to cool downs, that can also bring psychological benefits. But in contrast to stretching alone, there is more scientific evidence that it provides:
- Increased Range of Motion (ROM)
- Overall improvement in Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).
- And when combined with static stretching the feeling of soreness decreases significantly.
There are other benefits muscle architecture wise, but it get too technical.
About conscious breathing/meditations
- The few scientific evidence that there is about this topic, shows the benefit of meditation or conscious breathing as part of a cool-down after intense bouts of physical exertion, in providing more control over the sympathetic and para-sympathetic systems, which helps regulate the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream, which translates to less stress, and more dopamine release, so in a few words, it helps to calm the mind and body down.
And about the when..
It matters right after a workout or game, during or after the team chat. Preferably withing the first 30 minutes, but to my knowledge there is not yet scientific evidence to back a precise time for it.
In conclusion, to answer Oli's question... A good cool down should include activities that make you relax, and feel good psychologically and physically. If you are used to stretching because it feels good, go for it, but avoid overdoing it. If you add self soft tissue massage with a foam roller, a lacrosse ball or even with your hands, you will feel a lot better . If you combine self soft tissue massage with static stretching, the good feeling benefit will increase. Adding 2-3 minutes of conscious breathing/meditation can help bring stress levels down and signal de brain to release cellular-regeneration hormones.
1. Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review (2015) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S136085921500217X Self-Myofascial Release Effect With Foam
2. Rolling on Recovery After High-Intensity Interval Training (2019) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.01287/full