Training Tips >> How Cooling Down Can Help You Run Faster Times
You’ve fought your way through your training, your heart’s still beating like crazy and you have to bend over to catch your breath… You’re proud of your effort – but your workout isn’t quite over yet. A proper cool-down can speed up your recovery and increase the effectiveness of your training.
To produce an effective training stimulus, you have to break out of your comfort zone and stress your body. The more intense your workout is, the longer it will take your body to recover. It’s only during the recovery process that your muscles rebuild and get stronger for future workouts, which results in the desired training effect. To achieve the greatest possible effect, your recovery has to be just as important as the training itself: the cool-down run is the first step of your recovery. The harder your workout or race was, the more important your cool-down is.
Why you should always do a cool-down run
Just as a warm-up prepares your body for the workout, the cool-down helps your body return to a state of rest. The cool-down relaxes your muscles and lowers your heart rate and breathing from your workout intensity. It helps your body to eliminate lactic acid and other waste products faster and to repair micro-injuries. It also provides your muscles with oxygenated blood, which speeds up the recovery process and helps you avoid sore muscles. All of these positive effects of cooling down help you to recover faster from your training and be ready for your next workout sooner!
You should run slower than your base training pace
Your cool-down shouldn’t put any extra stress on your body, so keep the pace nice and easy. After hard intervals, your heart rate might shoot up again after a few meters. If this happens, you can walk for a few minutes and then try to run a few meters here and there until your heart rate has returned to its pre-workout rate. The main thing is that the pace of your cool-down should be slower than your base training pace.
An expert tip: run your cool-down barefoot
To give my feet a break from my running shoes and to increase circulation, I like to run barefoot in the grass along the inside of the track. But gravel paths and trails are also good options for cool-down runs because they help minimize the impact, just make sure to put your shoes back on :-).
How long should your cool-down be?
How long your cool-down should be mainly depends on your fitness level and the workout you just completed: the better shape you’re in, the longer your cool-down can be. But you should cool down for at least 5-10 minutes. After a hard workout, I sometimes notice that the cool-down loosens me up and I start running faster without consciously speeding up.
The last training stimulus has the biggest effect
If a simple cool-down run is too boring for you, there is a way to kick it up a notch: some coaches and athletes believe the last training stimulus is the most effective and thus has the biggest training effect. With my interval runs, I also try to finish with the fastest run and not keep training until my performance starts to drop. So you could make an argument for cool-down runs being counterproductive. But if you consider all the positive effects of cooling down, the benefits clearly outweigh the harms. What you can do and what many aspiring runners do is to create an additional training stimulus after the cool-down by running a few accelerations. You start out slow and then increase your pace over a distance of 40-60 meters until you are nearly sprinting. Repeat this sequence 3-5 times. In between repetitions, you can either slowly walk back to where you started or rest for 2-3 minutes.
Takeaway: Runners who regularly cool down recover faster, are ready for their next workout sooner and have a lower risk of injury and overtraining!