Importance of the Cool Down
Our previous warm up article discussed the importance of getting the blood flowing and stretching before playing football, or any sport for that matter. Just as important is the cool down. Similar to the warm up, this post-workout routine will differ between athletes, but there will be some important common pieces between them.
One of the easiest things to do after a grueling match out on the pitch is to head to the sidelines and sit or lay down to catch your breath. While catching your breath is important, keeping moving is just as important when it comes to recovery and subsequent preparation for the next match. You don’t need to keep the intensity as high as the match itself, but even something like walking around for a while can really benefit recovery.
Have you ever felt dizzy after a workout, or have you fainted or vomited after a workout? If you have been involved in football or other sports for long enough, there’s a good chance the answer is yes. There can be many reasons for this, but one of the common reasons is not implementing a proper cool down immediately after exercise. If your heart has been elevated for long enough and then suddenly drops when you stop working, blood can pool in your lower extremities and be a factor that promotes this feeling.
Furthermore, as your body cycles through various energy systems and feedback loops, lactic acid will accumulate in your blood, which is more easily eliminated with a light cool down at the end of your workout. This will also help you feel more normal after the workout, and will make it easier to do any stretching, and will also reduce soreness, allowing you to adequately prepare for the next match.
The type of stretching most athletes, especially footballers, prefer for their cool down is static stretching. This is opposite of what we said for the warm up stage, but when you think about it, the two routines are for opposite purposes, so it kind of makes sense. Static stretching is the more relaxed style of stretching where you remain stationary and hold a stretch for 20-30 seconds, if not longer. One of the most classic static stretches is the sit-and-reach stretch for hamstring flexibility.
In our experience, we find that stretching a muscle group for 30 seconds (3 reps total) is sufficient, but the longer the better. There is also a more advanced type of stretching called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF stretching) that is extremely effective in improving flexibility. This may not be very practical for some individuals, as it requires a partner and some knowledge about the stretching itself, but it’s definitely worth learning more about if you want to improve your flexibility.
PNF stretching basically involves a partner helping you bring a particular muscle group to a stretch. For example, you may be on your back while your partner helps lift your leg up so that your hip is in extension and you are stretching your hamstrings. Once in the stretched position, you could push your leg against your partner’s shoulder for a few seconds and relax again. When you relax, you’ll immediately find that your partner can bring your stretch a tiny bit further, at which point you can repeat.
In any case, static stretching at the very least will do the trick, but it is very important to do some very light cardio immediately after your workout for cool down, and then begin with your stretching after that. If you have both of these cool down aspects in mind, then you’re on a good track!