How to Cool Down After Running and Racing

How to Cool Down After Running and Racing

By Proviadaki Eirini, Msc, PhD, Medical Trainer at GS Physiomed

& Stelios Masias, Medical Trainer at GS Physiomed


Walking postrun efficiently transitions blood from the working muscles to the resting flow patterns. Stopping abruptly after runs encourages blood pooling and can cause dizziness. A runner’s cool down process is an active stage which should resemble the main physical workout activity or marathon race. In case you have just come back from a long distance run or full marathon race, you need to cool down for 15 to 25 minutes or longer. Within the first 20 minutes after your main work out, try to have a recovery drink containing carbohydrates and protein. It has been shown that taking in carbohydrates soon after an (intense) work-out, you will be able to maintain your blood sugar level and avoid any immune system suppression.

Let’s take a closer look at what a cool-down really does for us. The main objective of a cool-down is to assist the body to return to pre-exercise conditions. It aims to reduce your heart rate and breathing rate. The cool-down lowers the body’s core temperature and creates a gateway to further recovery. Other benefits of a cool-down:

  • Blood pooling in your legs is prevented;
  • Lactate from your muscles and blood is removed quicker;
  • Adrenaline level in your blood is reduced;
  • Muscle stiffness is reduced and likelihood of future injury is decreased.

During any training run of more than 20 minutes the muscles go through a series of stressful processes. Ligaments, tendons, and muscle fibers get damaged and waist products are released.

The cool down supports your body in its repair process. It will help with reducing “post exercise muscle soreness”, also known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the soreness and stiffness that is usually felt the day after a tough training session.

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Here are a few ways to go about easily doing this:

  • Easy Effort Run—Cooldown Routine:
    • 3-5 minutes of brisk then gentle walking—think of exiting off the expressway, and transition from running to brisk walking to easy effort walking.
    • (Optional) 5-10 minutes – Perform form drills for form, strength, and mobility.
    • 5-10 minutes – Perform total body flexibility (foam rollingstretches)
  • Quality Run (hard effort)—Cooldown Routine:
    • 5-10 minutes of easy effort running or run-walking after your tempo, speed, or other quality running.
    • 3-5 minutes of brisk to then gentle walking.
    • 5-10 minutes of total body stretching (include foamrolling in the warmup routine or 2-6 hours after hard workouts).
  • Long Run Cooldown Routine:
    • 10 minutes of easy effort walking.
    • 5-10 minutes – cold water bath, shower, garden hose, river or lake soak.
    • 5-10 minutes in Yoga Pose “Legs Up on the Wall” or “Viparita Karani”. You can perform this on the floor, on the ground in the shade of a tree, and in bed. It refreshes circulation, gently stretches the legs, and is a great way to reflect on your long run.
    • Wait 2-6 hours after a long run finish for stretching, massage, or self-massage (foam roll).  This allows your body (muscles) time to replenish fluids, energy and recover from the demands of the long run, which makes for more optimal timing to stretch and release tight muscles.
  • Race Day Cooldown Routine:
    • 5-10K races –> 10 minutes of easy effort running or run-walking followed by 5-minutes of easy effort walking.
    • Half-full marathon+ races –> 10 minutes of easy effort walking.
    • 5-10 minutes – cold water bath, shower, garden hose, river or lake soak to reduce swelling.
    • 5-10 minutes in Yoga Pose “Legs Up on the Wall” or “Viparita Karani.”
    • 2-6 hours post long run finish – total body stretching and foam rolling.
    • 24-48 hours post long distance race – massage.

Don’t be a slave to your training program.

If your legs tell you to rest, listening to them can bring more good than bad.

“The greatest challenge for a marathon runner is not finish the race but making it to the starting line without injuries, healthy and rested”.

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