Totalfit Blog

Cooldown routine: must-do or waste of time?

Is it necessary to set aside an extra 15 minutes for cooldown exercises when we have limited time for workouts? Find out below.

​​Skipping a warmup before your workouts is never a good idea as it can increase your risk of injury and limit your range of motion, resulting in weaker lifts. The warmup is crucial as it helps you avoid injuries and improve your performance (read more about the importance of warmups here).

But what about its counterpart: the cooldown routine? After completing your training plan for the day, you have two options:

  1. Either leave the gym right away


  1. Give 10 to 15 minutes for cooldown exercises as part of your training session

Ugh, 10-15 more minutes? I’m sure, like me, you have an endless to-do list, so choice #1 is very appealing.

Well, to cool down or not varies on the kind of training you completed.

Strength training - skip the cooldown

What? Skip the cooldown? Well, according to a 2018 review published in Sports Medicine, active cooldown exercises are not necessary after weight training. This goes against what you’ve been told, but the review suggests that in most cases of weight training workouts, active cooldown exercises are 100% unnecessary. Muscle soreness, injury prevention, and same-day or next-day sports performance aren’t affected. Passive cooldown will offer about the same benefits.

Intense workouts - active cooldown matters

Workouts with high intensity such as HIIT, steady-state cardio, or Tabata circuits, require cooldown exercises. While there is no clear definition of what constitutes an "intense workout," there are two signs to look for.

💓 Heart rate: To achieve an effective workout, aim to maintain your heart rate at 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. There are several formulas available to calculate this, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

🗣️ Talk test: If you don't have a heart rate monitor, don't worry. During high-intensity exercises, you should struggle to speak more than a few words without needing to pause for breath.
Why are cooldowns considered useless after strength training, but are crucial after high-intensity workouts?

There are two main reasons why it is essential to cool down after exercise.

  1. It helps regulate your blood flow after a workout, which can be disrupted by sudden stops in high-intensity exercise. This can cause a rapid drop in blood pressure and increase the risk of fainting.
  2. Cooling down gradually helps to safely slow your heart rate. Abruptly ending exercise can put stress on your heart, while gradually bringing it down can improve your heart health in the long run.

Learn how to create your own holistic recovery routine in this article.

What exactly is a cooldown?

Physical activity elevates your body temperature and heart rate and produces metabolic byproducts in your muscles. After finishing a challenging exercise routine, your body remains in an elevated state for a short period.

The primary purpose of cooldown is to allow the body to recover from the workout and return to its resting state. During the exercise, heart rate and blood flow to the muscles increase. When abruptly stopping the activity without cooling down, blood can pool in the muscles, making them feel heavy and achy. Cooldown helps gradually decrease the heart rate and blood flow, bringing the body back to its resting state. In addition to physical benefits, cooling down can improve mental well-being. It provides a period of relaxation and reflection after a hard workout, allowing you to focus on your accomplishments and set new goals for future workouts.

Totalfit recommends five recovery methods for your cooldown routine:

  1. Foam rolling: Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that involves using a foam roller to apply pressure to specific areas of the body. It can help reduce muscle tension and soreness, increase flexibility, and improve circulation. Foam rolling can also help prevent injury and aid in recovery.
  2. Stretching: Stretching is a crucial component of any cooldown. It helps improve flexibility, reduce muscle tension, and increase blood flow to the muscles. Incorporating both static and dynamic stretching into your cooldown can help improve your range of motion and aid in recovery.
  3. Breathing exercises: Breathing exercises are a simple yet effective way to promote relaxation and reduce stress. They can be done anywhere, and require no special equipment. Focusing on deep, slow breathing during your cooldown can help calm the mind and promote recovery.
  4. Hydrating: Hydrating is critical for recovery, especially after exercise. Drinking water during your cooldown can help replenish fluids lost through sweat and aid in muscle recovery. Proper hydration can also help reduce muscle soreness and improve performance in subsequent workouts.
  5. Meditation: Meditation is a practice that involves focusing the mind on a specific object, such as the breath or a prayer. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and promote relaxation. Incorporating a brief meditation practice into your cooldown can help promote recovery and improve overall well-being.

Incorporating these methods into your cooldown can promote recovery and improve overall well-being. It's important to work with a qualified fitness professional to determine the best approach for your individual needs.

And if you’d like to improve your recovery time and/or alleviate post-workout muscle soreness, check out these blog posts for more help:

Why recovery isn’t just for pro athletes

4 steps from Totalfit on how to create your own holistic recovery routine