COOLDOWNS – THE LOW DOWN

You’ve probably heard that cooldowns are essential for several aspects of recovery, including injury prevention, decreasing symptoms of muscular soreness and preventing stiffness. They have been part of exercise routines for decades, but does research support the prominence that cooldowns are a given?

 

Cooldowns come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from a quick stretch to full dynamic slowing down of moves similar to the ones you were doing during the session. In general, there are two types of cooldown: passive and active.

A definition of an active cooldown is: ‘an activity that involves, low-to-moderate intensity exercise or movement performed within one hour after training or competition1’.

Passive cooldowns are varied but involve little voluntary muscular movements and can include sitting, standing, lying rest, stretching, foam rolling, vibration therapy, cold/hot-water immersion, and compression garments (this list is not exhaustive).

Until recently there hasn’t been any comprehensive analysis of the benefit of active versus passive cooldowns. However, recently, an international team of researchers in The Netherlands and Australia took all of the existing research ever conducted about cooldowns, checked it for quality, and then reviewed all of the results. This new research paper reveals some pretty interesting findings.

Cooldowns 2

DOES A COOLDOWN PREVENT STIFFNESS AFTER EXERCISE?

 

Muscle stiffness is a common phenomenon after training and is caused by a tightening of the muscular tissue and the tendons that connect the muscle to the bone, also called musculotendinous tissue. Like DOMS (see below) it can last for a few days after training.

 

The findings are unambiguous; all research conducted on this has concluded that an active cooldown makes no real difference to muscle stiffness after exercise. However, passive stretching (simply holding a stretch for 6-10 seconds) has been shown to decrease some symptoms of stiffness.

 

DOES A COOLDOWN REDUCE OR PREVENT DOMS?

 

DOMS stands for delayed-onset-muscle-soreness. It’s that “ache” that you may feel after a bout of heavy training, and generally comes 1-2 days after training, rather than instantly. It is caused by the by-products of muscle breakdown, which hang around in the muscle for a while after training, and generally take a few days for the body to get rid of (hence the soreness lasting for a few days).

 

Although some studies have shown that a cooldown can make the effects of DOMS more bearable in elite athletes, the majority of studies show that there is no difference in DOMS symptoms when you compare people who have cooled down against people who have not cooled down at all. In fact, some studies even suggest that a cooldown makes DOMS worse (due to the continuing usage and breaking down of muscle during the active cooldown period).

 

There is no evidence to suggest that stretching (before or after exercise) has any effect on DOMS at all.

 

IS CARB-REFUELING BENEFICIAL?

 

Carb-refueling is the idea that you benefit from eating carbohydrates as soon as possible after exercise and that an active cooldown while consuming carbs increases blood flow to the muscles. This allows them to take in the carbs and refuel quicker.

 

We know that glycogen is stored in the muscles and the liver, and both sets of stores go down during exercise as the body uses it as a fuel. Post-exercise carb-refueling (or post-exercise-muscular-glycogen-re-synthesis) is the process of the muscles refilling their stores of glycogen (carbs) after exercise.

 

While eating carbs soon after exercise is a proven way to restore glycogen levels in the muscles and liver, it turns out that the kind of cooldown you do makes little difference, although some evidence shows that an active cooldown could actually slow down this process.

 

DOES A COOLDOWN IMPROVE PERFORMANCE?

 

While some studies have found that doing an active cooldown can slightly increase subsequent performance (either the same day or next day), just as many studies have shown no real difference in performance, and some have even found decreases in performance. Although a reason for these conflicting results could be because of the differences between the methods of the studies, and it is clear that more research is needed, at this point the evidence suggests an active cooldown does not increase performance. It is worth noting that all of the performance-specific studies to date have been done on explosive high-intensity interval training, like LES MILLS GRIT, so these findings may not hold true for endurance athletes such as marathon runners.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE ON COOLDOWNS

 

Evidence suggests that a quick stretch is probably the only beneficial part of a cooldown, and some of the rest of the cooldown process may not assist recovery.

 

Despite this, many people just “feel better” psychologically after doing some kind of cooling down activity, which is largely down to the placebo effect. The placebo effect is well documented as something which can in itself, be hugely beneficial in all sorts of circumstances, so if you think a cool down helps you, there is every chance that it does.

 

Bryce Hastings, Les Mills Head of Research says enjoying the “feel good” benefits of cooldown is as easy as gradually reducing activity levels until the heart rate and breathing return to normal.

 

If the workout you’re doing doesn’t feature a structured cooldown, and you want to wrap up your exercise by bringing your heart rate down, you can have quick stretch of the major muscles (quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, calves, and chest), this will not only make you feel better, but may also help with stiffness too.

 

Hastings advises that if you really want your body to benefit from enhanced recovery and improved flexibility then a restorative workout such as BODYBALANCE is the way to go. A weekly BODYBALANCE session will help increase your flexibility and core strength, not to mention leave you feeling calm and strong.

 

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COOLDOWNS

  • There is no evidence that a cooldown has any effect on DOMS (the muscle pain you may feel a day or two after training)
  • A quick stretch is probably the beneficial part of a cooldown
  • Simply holding a stretch for 6-10 seconds may decrease some symptoms of stiffness
  • The feel good factor of doing some kind of cooling down activity can’t be underestimated
  • A restorative workout such as BODYBALANCE is one of the most effective ways to enhance recovery and improve flexibility.

 

Mike Trott is as UK-based fitness professional who specializes in sports personality psychology and sports exercise physiology. He has conducted academic research into group exercise interventions and personality, exercise addiction, and foam rolling physiology, and is also a multi-award-winning Les Mills instructor, trainer and presenter.

 

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Reference: 1. Van Hooren, B. and Peake, J.M., 2018. Do We Need a Cool-Down After Exercise? A Narrative Review of the Psychophysiological Effects and the Effects on Performance, Injuries and the Long-Term Adaptive Response. Sports Medicine, 48(7), pp.1575–1595.

 

 

At Altered Images Gym Bromsgrove we have a wide range of training options to help you achieve a healthy lifestyle. From our gym and free weights areas, including an exclusive ladies only gym to our swimming pool and squash courts. We have a friendly team on hand to help you with all your questions and guide you to the best training routine for you. Call us today on 01527 874395 to arrange a free visit, we would love to show you around!

THREE WAYS TO DO BETTER PUSH-UPS

Mastering the push-up is easy when you say goodbye to these common technique issues.

 

In a previous article we learned that doing push-ups on your knees can be just as effective as doing them on your toes. Now, we’re going to address a few push-up technique issues that could be holding you back from realizing your push-up potential.

Push-Ups technique

ISSUE #1: The Rocker

 

A lot of kids learned to do push-ups on their knees with their feet up in the air and it carries over into adulthood. It’s probably taught this way because the lower leg is thought to act as a counter-balance to the upper body (think of a see-saw!) and it makes the push-up a little bit easier. But there are two big reasons why you should lose this habit immediately:

 

  • The distribution of mass in our bodies is such that the mass of the lower leg is tiny compared to the mass of the upper body. Imagine an adult on a see-saw with a child: it’s not going anywhere! In exchange for the small gain of the counterbalance effect, you’re essentially grinding your knees into the floor. The rocking effect requires the knee joint to act as a fulcrum on the floor. The patella, or knee cap, is floating in front of the joint and, as we rock on the knee, it gets mashed around, causing discomfort and possibly pain.

 

  • Having your knees as the only two points of contact on the floor can make you unstable. If you’re working to try to get stronger in the push-up, this instability can take your focus away from the pushing motion, instead you are simply concentrating on not falling over. When this happens you’re no longer isolating the push muscles and it makes it that much harder to get stronger.

 

Here’s the solution: Rather than keeping your feet dangling up in the air, place your toes solidly on the floor. With your toes on the floor, you’ll find that the tibial tuberosity (the head of the bone in your lower leg) actually makes contact with the floor rather than the patella. And the four points of contact (knees and toes) will make your body more stable so you can focus on isolating the arms and chest.

 

ISSUE #2: The T

 

When most people think of a push-up position, they think of the capital letter T – the arms are out wide and even with the shoulders.

 

In this position, the motion is outside of the line of action of the pectoral muscles, so the anterior deltoid and muscles of the shoulder become the primary movers. Since the shoulder muscles are relatively weaker when compared to the pectorals, the force generated is less. So if you choose to do push-ups in the T position, you may find that you struggle to do push-ups on your toes, or simply tire sooner.

 

Instead of thinking of a T, it’s a good idea to replicate a position that’s closer to an arrow shape.

 

When your arms are in this position the hands are in line with the center of the chest and the motion is within the line of action of the pectorals. This allows the bigger chest muscles to take over and the shoulder muscles are used for stabilization. When the larger chest muscles are recruited, it becomes easier to do the push-up on your toes and it takes longer to fatigue.

 

ISSUE #3: The Eccentric

 

If you’re still struggling to do push-ups on your toes, give this one last thing a try. Start in a plank position with your knees off the floor and lower yourself down into the push-up. At the bottom, drop your knees to the floor and push yourself back up until your arms are extended. Lift your knees and repeat. Why does this work? It’s taking advantage of a well-known training principle: your muscles are stronger while they are extending (eccentric) than they are while they’re contracting (concentric). On the gym floor, training the eccentric phase of a movement is called “negative” training and is commonly used to build strength once you’ve hit a plateau using traditional techniques. Follow this approach and over time you’ll find that you’ll get stronger and develop confidence in your ability to do the push-up. After a while, you’ll be able to mix in a few full on-the-toe push-ups.

 

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Alex Hernandez is a North Carolina-based BODYPUMP and LES MILLS GRIT trainer who also teaches BODYCOMBAT, BODYJAM, and BODYBALANCE. He is a proponent of purposeful training to improve movement and performance, embraces the idea of the unsteady state, and as a master trainer for Trigger Point Performance, he regularly shares his expertise in self myofascial recovery. He is also a mechanical engineer.

At Altered Images gym in Bromsgrove we have a great team and helpful personal trainers who can ensure that you are using the right techniques during your training sessions. If you would like to know more about our facilities and personal training sessions please don’t hesitate to visit our website or give us a call on 01527 874395.

Getting Started

Popular concerns and our responses about getting started

 

After reading through the following list, you might just discover you’re more ready to start that healthy lifestyle than you thought! 

Despite the uncertainty and anxiety some people feel about the thought of joining a gym, the truth is that you’re pretty much ready to start exercising straight away – you just don’t know it yet!

Let’s look at some of the most popular reasons that hold people back …

 

“I don’t have the right exercise clothes”   /  “I don’t own any trainers”

All you need is a pair of jogging bottoms, soft, flat shoes, a t-shirt and sweater – and you’re good to go! The hi-tech trainers and breathable clothing can wait. (You might never need it!) Soft shoes will be fine to embark on a training programme providing you’re not running or doing rapid direction changes (eg squash/racket ball) 

 

“Everyone else knows what to do and I won’t be able to use the equipment”

Statistics show that almost 90% of people use the Quick Start function on programmable equipment and to be honest, if you can programme a microwave, you can set up an exercise bike! 

Our job is to teach you how to set up the equipment and put you at ease. We will show you as many times as you need until you’re confident enough to do it on your own.

 

“Everybody is young and fit”

 We have members in every age bracket from 14-89 as we appeal right across the board – all shapes and sizes, all fitness levels and backgrounds.  Altered Images is a gym for people just like you.

 

“I need my glasses to read the displays on the gym equipment”

That’s fine – the equipment has large coloured LED displays which are easy to read. We also provide large print programme cards in case you would rather exercise without your glasses. For our visually impaired members we have created easy-to-read printed workout cards with bright colours and larger fonts that allow them to exercise.

 

“I’m worried that I’m so unfit I won’t be able to do anything”

This is a popular misconception! Fitness is a relative concept, meaning that wherever you start, within a week or two you will have progressed enough to increase your levels by 50-100% because the body reacts positively to exercise 99% of the time. So after training, your body gets used to it and 3-5 days later is ready for more exercise. This is known as the Stimulus-Response concept; the stimulus is exercise and the response is your body getting fitter and stronger – FACT!

 

“I have an injury/health condition that surely means I can’t exercise”

Injuries fall into two categories: long-term (chronic) injuries which require management and short-term (acute) which require treatment then management.

Generally, exercise will be beneficial. Eg  with a long-term problem such as osteoarthritis in the knee joint, most people will benefit from increased hamstring exercises to help stabilize  the knee. Short-term problems often require treatment so we would refer you to our neighbouring Physio clinic right next door for assessment and treatment, which may include ultrasound, acupuncture or hydrotherapy. The physios there will prescribe a series of corrective exercises and once a full recovery is made, would offer an exercise plan to manage your condition and minimize the recurrence of the problem. You could also be referred to a personal trainer for specific training if needed. As a general rule exercise should form part of your long term health plan.

I hope we’ve answered all your questions and you now feel ready to join us at Altered Images to get started on your fitness journey. Call us today to speak to one of our helpful team and arrange a visit to see our facilities on 01527 874395.