The importance of a warm-up at the start of an exercise is well-known by now. Anybody who took a gym class in school knows that a bit of light stretching and gentle exercise before you start on your intended workout can prevent injury and improve performance.
What is less understood, however, is that a period of cooling down at the end of a workout is just as important, both to let your muscles adapt to the energy and as a psychological aid.
Andy Bedford, senior fitness instructor at Haddins, says there are many reasons why cooling down is so crucial.
“The cool-down helps the heart rate and blood flow to return to their normal levels progressively and safely which prevents the risk of blood pooling,” he tells us.
“This is a process in which the valves and veins in the legs do not work effectively and can lead to aching legs, varicose veins and also dizziness.”
Cooling down can also take the form of gradually reduced effort instead of a sudden stop. On a treadmill, stationary bike, rowing machine or other cardio, for example, simply reducing pace to a walk or slow repetitions can be enough.
According to Bedford, the benefits are as much psychological as physical. As well as giving you the chance to catch your breath and let your muscles adapt, it is an opportunity to regulate the mind. There is science behind it, too.
“The cooling down process also helps to replenish glycogen stores, which can be extremely beneficial towards the next workout and getting a good rest later in the evening,” Bedford adds.
Failing to cool down could do more than just leave you sweating in the changing room – and let’s face it, nobody wants that.
“There are a number of dangers linked to failing to cool down,” says Bedford. “These can include fainting and dizziness. On top of this, it can lead to major fatigue post-workout and fatigue and aching the next day, in turn preventing further training. Failing to cool down can be particularly dangerous for those suffering from heart problems as it can lead to heart arrhythmia.”
Before starting on any exercise regime – whether introductory or advanced – speak to a qualified fitness instructor and have them explain some basic warm-down techniques that are suitable for you.
Starting from Dhs1,140 (one month). Open Sun-Thu 5am-9.30pm, Fri 8.30am-12.30pm, Sat 2pm-6pm. Primal Fitness at Haddins Gym, Zayed Sports City (02 403 4233).