As you near the end of your workout, your sweat-soaked clothes feel 10 pounds heavier, your muscles are fatigued and your heart is pounding in your chest. Although the end of the workout is near, it is not over. The blood pumping through your veins and the energy stored in your muscles need to be slowly brought to normal levels to allow your body to recover and avoid some of the harmful problems that occur after high-impact exercise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, subtracting your age from 220 will tell you your safe maximum heart rate. Remaining within your maximum heart rate ensures your safety while you are exercising. Knowing this number allows you to determine the intensity of your workouts by figuring your pulse throughout the exercise. A pulse rate of 70 percent or under reflects a moderate workout, and 71 percent and above indicates an intense workout. The intensity of your workout will determine the length of the cooldown period required to lower your pulse to its normal level.
Numerous exercises find their way into a cooldown routine. They can range from walking in place to various stretching exercises. The type of exercises you use to lower your pulse and return your body to its pre-workout condition will vary depending on the type of exercise program you are performing and the muscle groups you used during the routine. Stretching your warmed-up muscles throughout a cooldown period will keep them flexible and limber, helping you to avoid injury.
Determining a cooldown period duration will depend on the intensity of your workout and the type of exercises or stretches you performed during your cooldown. The goal of the cooldown is to reduce your pulse to its normal rate or to about 10 percent higher than normal. Generally, it will take between five and 10 minutes of cooling down to reach your normal heart rate, but always monitor your pulse to ensure that you reduce it to the proper level before stopping your cooldown period.
The Other Side
Fitness experts disagree on some of the benefits of the cooldown and what exercises are best for this purpose. Some question the benefit of burning lactate in the body, since it is a beneficial byproduct of exercise. Most agree that a cooldown period alleviates blood pooling in the legs and reduces cramping in large muscle groups, but more research is needed on the benefits of the cooldown period. As exercise physiologist Hirofumi Tanaka states, “The cooldown is an understudied topic.”
Lynda Schwartz is a fitness professional who began writing in 2004. She has contributed to "Women's Day" and "Good Housekeeping" magazines, as well as covered fitness and well-being for online publications. Schwartz holds a bachelor's degree in exercise science and health promotion.