A thorough cool down, like a warm-up, is essential following any game of football or training session, but it is still often overlooked by many footballers. The aim of a cool down is to allow the body to gradually make the transition from a full exercise mode to a non-exercise state, therefore avoiding injury, stiffness and muscle tiredness the following day.
The benefits of an effective cool down session are numerous. Firstly, it assists the removal of waste products that accumulate in the muscles during rigorous exercise, such as lactic acid. Secondly, it works to gradually decrease the body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure and also, releases hormones that counter the effects of adrenaline, that can make you feel restless after strenuous exercise. Moreover, immediately following a football match is the ideal time to work on improving joint and muscle flexibility. The muscles are warm and can be more easily manipulated using stretching exercises.
The overarching result of an efficient cool down is improved recovery time of the footballer or athlete. In the modern game, footballers are increasingly called upon to play two or even three games a week and a proper cool down is therefore essential. Indeed, in recent years, the cool down exercise has become increasingly pivotal in the match and training regimes of professional football clubs.
Sometimes players neglect doing a cool down session owing to the cold conditions experienced in the British winter. However, that’s no excuse – parts of the cool down can be completed inside the gym, or perhaps in the dressing room.
5-10 minutes of cool down is generally considered adequate and essentially involves gradually decreasing the intensity of exercise. In general terms, a cool down consists of a hard paced run with gradual reductions to reach jogging level, finishing in a brisk walk, with muscle stretching exercises incorporated at intervals.
Slowly reducing exercise intensity in this way helps to lower the heart rate gradually, avoiding a sudden cessation of strenuous activity that can actually force the heart to work harder initially. A gradual decline in heart rate reduces stress on the organ.
Following the run, various muscle groups must be stretched, especially those that are frequently strained in football, such as the hamstring and lower back muscles. As well as traditional stretching exercises, it is also advisable to do around 5 minutes of calisthenic type exercises, such as alternate toe touches with your legs apart and lying on your back and cycling legs in the air.
The cool down session should be finished with 2 minutes of jogging at a slow pace, while kicking arms and legs loose. After all that, you should feel the benefits the following morning (or, rather, not feel the side-effects of the previous morning!).