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The Importance of Cooling Down After an Intense Workout

Did you know that your central nervous system (CNS), the ruler of your "fight or flight" instinct, can mistake an intense workout for an extreme survival situation? In this lesson, we'll explore what happens when you skip the cool down and how to tap into your nervous system to help improve your workout recovery.

Are you being chased by a bear...or was that just a really intense workout?

During high-intensity exercise, your body can enter a "fight or flight" mode, which is an evolutionary response to stress. It thinks you're in a survival situation, like running from a predator.

Just like in a survival situation, intense exercise triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which rev you up so you can do what it takes to survive. When exercising, these hormones can make your body feel like it's under stress.

This stress response can impact your central nervous system (CNS). It's like your CNS is sounding an alarm, saying, "Whoa, this is intense!"

Your CNS has two main parts:

  • Your “fight or flight” sympathetic system, which helps you deal with threats and stress. It triggers the release of stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline).

  • Your “rest and relax” parasympathetic system, which calms you down by releasing “chillaxing” hormones like acetylcholine that lower your heart rate and help you relax.

That's why proper cool-down and relaxation techniques are crucial. They signal to your CNS that the stress is over, and it's time to return to a more relaxed state. It's like telling your body, "Okay, time to chill."

If you skip the cool down, your body will stay in fight or flight mode:

  • Your body stays stressed and on alert — and you’ll likely suffer from all of the things that come with that (like bad sleep, cravings, etc.)

  • Your blood lactate levels remain high, which can interfere with your recovery

  • It can lead to more soreness after your workouts

  • It may lead to injuries

  • And it can even cause your blood to pool, leaving you feeling faint

Think of the cool down as putting the finishing touches on a masterpiece:

👩🏾‍🎨 Reduce Heart Rate: It gradually lowers your heart rate. Picture it as a gentle glide rather than a sudden stop. This prevents dizziness and helps your heart adjust gradually.

👩🏾‍🎨 Muscle Recovery: Cooling down includes stretching. This can aid in muscle recovery and flexibility. Think of it as a way to thank your muscles for their hard work.

👩🏾‍🎨 Preventing Injury: It reduces the risk of injury. Abruptly stopping intense exercise can lead to muscle cramps or strains. Cooling down eases your body out of the intense phase.

👩🏾‍🎨 Mental Reset: It's not just physical; it's mental too. A cool down can help you mentally shift from "beast mode" to a calmer, more relaxed state. It's like hitting the reset button for your mind.

Ideas for Your Post-Workout Cool Down

The following activities can soothe your “flight or fight” system while activating your “rest and relax” system:

🙆🏽‍♀️ Static Stretching

Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds. Focus on major muscle groups like legs, arms, and back.

😮‍💨 Deep Breathing

Try deep breathing exercises. Inhale slowly for a count of four, hold for four, then exhale for a count of four. It's like hitting the relaxation button for the nervous system.

🧘🏾‍♀️Yoga or Pilates

Recommend a few yoga or Pilates poses. These can promote flexibility and relaxation.

💆🏽‍♀️ Foam Rolling

Rolling out tight spots can feel like a mini massage for your muscles.


A leisurely walk post-workout is a great way to cool down.

💦 Hydrate

Drink water Hydration is key to recovery


A short meditation session helps calm the mind and ease stress.

🚲 Light Cardio

Some low-intensity cardio, like cycling at a relaxed pace, can be a good transition from intense exercise to rest.

So, while exercise is fantastic for your health, your CNS can sometimes mistake it for a stressful event. That's why it's essential to balance intense workouts with relaxation and recovery strategies.



Get the tools, support, and guidance to help you reach your health and fitness goals without the added stress of trying to balance it all.



Hey there! My name is Marissa Rivera-Davis, and I'm a certified health fitness professional and founder of Her365 Fitness, a 24-hour studio gym & wellness community for women. I help women find the time and energy to move more and eat better so they can finally achieve the health & fitness goals that matter to them. My mission is to empower women with the skills and support they need to break free from a mindset of limitation & restriction to find pleasure and joy on their path to improved well-being. Learn more here.

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